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2010 ford fiesta powershift
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Ford's updated Fiesta hardly looks any different to the current model.
In fact, most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the outgoing European-sourced model and the updated Asian-made version that arrives next month.
At this week's launch of the Thai-built Fiesta in the resort city of Phuket in south-western Thailand, we got behind the wheel of a few different models - though all of them were the equivalent of the sporty Zetec model (known as the S in Thailand).
While we would have loved to get into the base-model CL, which now offers more airbags, stability control and Bluetooth as standard, Ford Australia claims the range-topping Zetec is now the best-selling model. It claims that since the introduction of the current-generation Fiesta in late 2008, Zetec sales have jumped from 10 per cent to 43 per cent of overall Fiesta sales.
Crucially, too, the first car we drove was a 1.6-litre petrol model fitted with the new "Powershift" dual-clutch transmission. The new engine-auto combination is surprisingly standard on the base CL Fiesta and fixes an anomaly with the outgoing Fiesta range - where the conventional four-speed auto was mated with a smaller, less powerful engine than the excellent manual Fiesta.
The Powershift is the same gearbox first introduced locally in the Ford Focus diesel, and similar to the 'DSG' unit found in the impressive rival Volkswagen Polo, but with one fundamental difference - Ford's works better in traffic.
While the DSG's indecisiveness and lag in stop-start traffic can be annoying - and potentially dangerous in some situations - the Fiesta's transmission is a very different beast.
Sure, it doesn't feel anywhere near as clinical or technologically advanced - there's no manual selection mode, for example - but Ford's Powershift is a fine bridge between the conventional torque-converter automatic and the next-generation automated manual gearbox.
Probably the biggest revelation about the Powershift 'box, though, is the 'L' mode. Traditionally intended to be used as a low-speed gear, we found 'L' to be far more fun than 'D'.
It makes the gearbox hold on to gears for longer, hardly ever letting the revs drop below 4000rpm at higher speeds.
While the dual-clutch 'box is quick-thinking and pretty intuitive, 'L' mode gives the driver a lot more of a feel for the car than when the stick is in "D" mode - particularly on windy, hilly roads. It will increase fuel consumption, though otherwise Ford says the new auto matches the manual's 6.1 litres per 100km.
There is evidence of cost-cutting as a result of the switch to the cheaper production source.
The soft-touch plastics on the dash and doors of the outgoing Fiesta have now switched disappointingly to a cheaper, painted hard-touch plastic that reduces overall cabin quality.
There were also a few rattles and squeaks inside our test cars, including one annoying creak in the driver's side seat-belt adjuster - which is right next to the driver's ear.
Other downers include Ford's decision to drop the rake adjustment from the Fiesta, which makes it harder to find the right driving position.
The Fiesta is already the dynamic benchmark in the city-car segment, though Ford says it has still tweaked the suspension of the sportier Zetec model to make the car even more responsive.
As we wound our way through some of the well maintained rural roads around Phuket, the Zetec's body felt controlled and balanced even over bumpier patches, and the tyres gripped well.
For buyers more focused on fuel consumption, the new optional 1.6-litre diesel - expect a $2000 premium - is arguably the pick of the Fiesta litter. Already seen locally in the Fiesta Econetic that is Australia's most fuel efficient car with consumption of 3.7 litres per 100km, the differently calibrated oil-burner unit in the regular Fiestas still uses only 4.4 L/100km.
The Zetec diesel we drove also proves you can have a car that is both frugal and fun to drive. The engine has plenty of pulling power, and even sounds a bit sexy - lacking the traditional diesel clatter or rattle. Ford now needs to work on matching the diesel with the petrol's dual-clutch auto, as for now it's available only with a manual gearbox.
And for buyers looking for a compact sedan, the new four-door Fiesta offers a fairly large, 430-litre boot complete with 60/40 split-fold rear seats.
However, with no increase in wheelbase (distance between the front and rear axles), rear seat legroom remains tight. Head room is also limited by the Fiesta's sloping roofline.
Lap-sash belts are provided for each of the three rear seats, though the middle seat passenger misses out on a head-rest.
On the road, however, the slightly longer and slightly heavier sedan feels just as composed as its hatch sibling.
Price 36900EGC Engine 0LCyl Power kW Torque Nm Transmission Fuel use