Downsizing isn’t the easiest thing to do, particularly when it comes to your car. If you’re used to the style and the amenities of a bigger, more expensive car, moving a few rungs down the segments could be one of the toughest decisions.
You’re giving up space, you’re compromising on engine size and you’re ignoring the prestige factor. Then shouldn’t the replacement car, however small it is, offer some sort of compensation? It should, but the sad fact is that most of the cars in the lowly small hatch segment offer pretty much nothing by way of compensation except higher fuel efficiency.
One of the very few exceptions has been the Ford Fiesta, which with its smooth yet sprightly engine, superbly weighted steering and agile chassis has added spice to this otherwise bland segment.
It impressed us so much that it was the wheels Supermini of the Year in 2010, and even afterwards we’ve never missed an opportunity to drive this lively little hatch. So, although there isn’t much that’s changed in the 2012 Fiesta, the fact that it’s a new model year was excuse enough for us to snag one from Ford.
American cars, especially the sub-compact ones, have never been the best out there when it comes to build quality, reliability, maintenance costs and residual value. One look around after stepping inside the Fiesta, and you know things have changed for the better, at least in quality and craftsmanship.
The cabin with its high quality, soft-touch material all round and finely upholstered leather seats (our test car was the top-of-the-line Titanium spec) is several notches above its Japanese counterparts, including our other favourite, Honda Jazz.
It also brings with it features like push-button start, heated seats and auto-dimming rear-view mirror that are still rare in cars this size, albeit in the top-end trim. And from outside the Fiesta looks as handsome and racy as it has always been.
As is the case with many models in the segment, the Fiesta coming to the Middle East doesn’t get the same engine as the US and other markets. While these markets get a 1.6-litre, 120bhp engine, our Fiesta is powered by a 1.4-litre Duratec that’s good for 96bhp and 170Nm of torque.
However, the good news is that this engine doesn’t leave you feeling short-changed. On the contrary, it is one of the liveliest units doing service in a compact hatch. Although the acceleration is just above average, the eagerly revving 1.4, mated to a four-speed automatic tranny, delivers enough punch for a feisty drive and never sounds strained, even when pushed hard.
The new electronic power steering makes manoeuvring the car at low speeds a breeze, while not taking anything away from the superbly responsive steering that endeared us to this car in the first place. Handling remains one of the best in class, while its supple ride quality makes you feel like you’re in a heavier, more expensive car.
Talking about the price, most of the above-mentioned extras like leather seats, keyless start and so on are available only in the Titanium trim, which is priced at Dh72,000. Not the most affordable hatch, and for about the same price, you can get yourself a Jazz, which has got more room inside and has traditionally held its value better.
It makes downsizing a loss less painful, but in Titanium spec the Fiesta seems to be a bit overpriced. But if you care little about leather seats and the like, and a spirited drive is ample compensation for you, then the Ambiente (Dh58k) and the Trend (Dh62k) would make better sense. They come with smaller wheels and less of the goodies, but the driving experience will be the same — a real pleasure.