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The automatic choice? Maybe not quite

Launching an automatic variant may not suffice to stand out in the crowded starter sedan segment.

autos Updated: Apr 06, 2012 18:50 IST
Sumant Banerji
Ford-Fiesta
Ford-Fiesta

First came the price correction... oops... ‘rationalisation’. Then came an automatic transmission. Or was it the other way round? Anyway, lacklustre sales notwithstanding, Ford had not given up on its “technology marvel”, the new Fiesta. In a market where even a new colour triggers a demand rush, will a new transmission perform? Let us find out.

Exterior
The Fiesta resides in a segment that has seen arguably the most launches in recent times. What more, barring the SX4 to some extent, all offerings are quite good looking...Verna, Vento, Rapid, City all command contemporary styling and good looks. The new Fiesta does look part of this crowd though and can hold it on its own.

The first noticeable thing is the car’s sleek yet sweeping head lamp, not wide like most of its rivals: but that gives character. That is carried on in the blink-and-you-miss-it slot grille. Prominence is given instead to the large air dam and integrated fog lamps. In bright blue and red, the car is a stunner — almost.

Almost, because the rear is a let down. Predominantly built and sold as a hatchback the world over, the third box at the rear appears an ill-designed afterthought. The tail lamp cluster reminds you of the Renault Fluence. Common!

Interior

Step inside the car and there are...well...issues. Ford has invested so much in the technology that it seems to have forgotten details like ergonomics. Dark shades inside — a black-grey combination — may be stylish, but may not be a good thing in the Indian summer. Rivals are still riding beige.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/4/06_04_biz1.jpg

The dashboard is a huge slope that the company calls futuristic. But it intrudes so much into the cabin that it is overwhelming. The use of chrome does lighten things a bit, but it is tacky.

On the positive side, the car comes loaded with features like the first-in-class voice-control technology that lets you dictate commands to your paired mobile device or the radio/CD/MP3 player. To get it to work, you may have to acquire an American accent though.

Ride and handling
Ford’s focus has been on performance and handling, and that shows. It is the shortest car in its class but also one of the widest which gives it a great stance. Further, aerodynamic to the core, it is very agile without being unstable. In terms of handling it hits the sweet spot so often missed by others. The steering response is great and it soaks in less than average roads pretty well. On very bad roads it may be found wanting. But its cornering is almost like German cars.

Performance
The Fiesta automatic is powered by a 1.5-litre petrol engine that belts out 109 PS of power and 140 Nm of torque. On paper that is less powerful than the City and Verna. But the catch really is the Fiesta’s supreme dual-clutch transmission (DCT) that makes the car punch above its weight. DCT uses two clutches — one for even numbered gears and the other for the odd. This aids gear shifting resulting in negligible jerks or lag, so often the undoing of automatic transmissions.

Also, the Fiesta uses a 6-speed gearbox unlike the 5 gears of competitors. This enables it to spread out the gear ratios further and makes the car more refined. This is a faultless car to drive, very eager and trigger happy. It is also very quiet inside the cabin especially with music playing. The only grouse: hard revving makes it less engaging. Paddle shifts could probably have addressed that.

Fuel economyhttp://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/4/06_04_biz2.jpg

A word of caution here. The fuel economy figures in the table are supplied by Pune-based testing organisation ARAI. The figures are highly deceptive not only for the Fiesta but others as well. Ford claims 16.97 kpl, but in actual road conditions, the car gave us 10 kpl when pushed, with air conditioning on.

Even when driven sensibly it never gave us more than 12kpl, at par with Verna and City.