Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCI Ambiente (2009) Driving Impression

Ford Fiesta 2009

Judging by current sales figures, South Africans have immediately taken to the new generation Ford Fiesta. It’s not hard to understand why. Boasting a stylish design, smart cabin and a range of frugal, punchy engines at high-value prices, the compact Ford Fiesta seems to be a very strong new competitor to traditional rivals from Volkswagen, Renault etc. In South Africa, the market for such vehicles with diesel engines remains restricted, mostly due to the high cost of such models – Volkswagen’s cheapest Polo turbodiesel is priced well above R200 000! The new Ford Fiesta 1,6 TDCI Ambiente, however, can be had for around R30 000 less. Is it a good buy?

Where’s the glamour?

Ambiente is of course Ford’s most basic trim level. When applied to the new Ford Fiesta, it does rob this otherwise sexy compact hatchback of some glamour. The wheels are 15-inch steel items, but at least they’re covered with plastic lids that do a good job of emulating an alloy wheel design. The exterior is also devoid of any brightwork – there aren’t even foglamps – so the overall appearance is rather “basic”. Nevertheless you’d be hard-pressed to call it ugly.

The facia design of the latest Ford Fiesta is particularly striking, boasting a nifty cellular phone-inspired interface for the audio system and deep-set, beautifully detailed instrumentation. The build is good too, but the trim quality takes a noticeable dive as you start poking around lower down in the cabin. In Ambiente trim the cabin does a reasonable job of not coming across as being sparsely equipped. The steering wheel features remote audio controls, a radio/CD player is fitted, air-conditioning keeps the cabin cool and the front windows are electrically powered. The upholstery is a dark grey cloth which feels durable and the front seats are superb. It also scores highly for driver comfort, with the seat boasting height adjustment and the steering wheel being rake and reach adjustable.

Space in the rear is not quite class-leading, but the boot, measuring 284 litres, is one of the bigger ones in this segment. A full-size spare wheel is fitted. One negative aspect about the rear accommodation is the limited headroom, caused by the sloping design of the roofline. Another is the fact that the rear seats don’t fold completely flat when tumbled forwards.

Focus on economy for Ford Fiesta

The Ford Fiesta TDCI is powered by a 1,6-litre turbodiesel engine that was partly developed by the folks at PSA (Peugeot-Citroen). As you may know, the French know a thing or two about building diesel powerplants. This engine develops 66 kW, and an impressive 200 Nm of torque is available at a low 1 500 rpm. Like most small diesels with common-rail direct injection, there is quite a lot of clatter at start-up, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s unrefined. Once up and running, refinement is impressive, as is the power delivery. The 0-100 km/h time of 13,5 seconds may seem too long, but in general use the power is sufficient. It is a very frugal engine, too, and the stated average of 5,14 litres/100 km is not completely unrealistic. Drive cautiously and you may even do better than that!

Ford Fiesta is fun to drive

Ford has had a good run of building fun-to-drive compact cars, and the latest Ford Fiesta continues the trend. The steering may be electrically assisted and is largely devoid of feedback, but the weighting and accuracy are both good. What’s more, the suspension tuning is excellent, with the Ford Fiesta striking a fine balance between cosseting ride comfort and engaging dynamics. Its ability to iron out road imperfections mirrors that of a C-segment car. In fact, overall NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) suppression is probably class-leading.

Many small turbodiesels are tricky to drive smoothly around town due to a lack of low-down torque, often accompanied by turbo-lag. The Ford Fiesta is significantly better, with enough torque being on hand to avoid stumbling in traffic. Also helping in this regard is a five-speed manual transmission that delivers smooth, fast shifts.

Ford Fiesta - Verdict

Seen in isolation, the Ford Fiesta 1,6 TDCI Ambiente appears to tick all the boxes. It doesn’t only offer the expected excellent fuel economy, but also delivers superb driver comfort and a feeling of overall refinement that not too long ago would have been unheard of in such a compact diesel car. Even against its turbodiesel rivals the Ford Fiesta seems to excel, being offered as it is at a seemingly reasonable price. But all is not what it seems. The excellent fuel economy aside, this Ford Fiesta does not make more economic sense than one of its cheaper petrol-powered siblings. Consider this… The Ford Fiesta 1,4 Trend boasts such features as Bluetooth, alloy wheels, rear electric windows and remote central locking for about R20 000 less… And although the 1,4 petrol can’t quite match the TDCI’s frugality, it’s no fuel guzzler either. How much fuel can R20 000 buy you, after all? And then remember the higher specification of the 1,4… Not so simple anymore, is it?

We like:

  • Fuel economy
  • Smart looks
  • Good build quality
  • Driver comfort
We don’t like:
  • Sparse equipment level
  • Price
Fast facts

Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel

Power: 66 kW @ 4 000 rpm

Torque: 200 Nm @ 1 500 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Wheels: 15-inch steel

Top speed: 180 km/h

0-100 km/h: 13,5 seconds

Fuel economy:  5,41 litres/100 km


Also consider:

  • Renault Clio 3 1,5 dCi Expression: A surprisingly classy, well-made product that isn’t getting the recognition it deserves. Similarly packaged to the Fiesta, and boasting a few more features, the Clio is a strong candidate, but ultimately suffers poor resale due to a general perception of poor parts availability and reliability of the Renault brand – the Clio 3, however, seems to be an innocent victim.
  • Hyundai Getz 1,5 CRDI HS: One of Hyundai’s first mainstream turbodiesel offerings is surprisingly good, with lots of power and impressively low fuel consumption. The interior, however, is not as modern as the rivals listed here, and it “feels” a less substantial product. The engine also lacks the others’ refinement.
  • Nissan Micra 1,5 dCi Acenta: As a result mostly of its quirky design, the Nissan has been largely ignored by mainstream car shoppers. It’s just about competitive in terms of power and specification, but the cabin is very tight and the price rather high.