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THE Fiesta is a further vindication of many people's belief that the car of the future will be a three/five door hatchback with a transverse engine/front wheel drive configuration. It is also a vindication of Ford's decision to diverge from their hitherto ultra-conventional design philosophy.
For the Fiesta is a very good car that bears out many of the advantages of this configuration. It is roomy inside, compact outside. With a fold-down rear seat and. lift-up tailgate it has versatility. It is fun to drive, and easy and light to handle both when parking and travelling quickly. The gearchange is light and precise and the driving position is particularly good.
But it would be wrong to herald the Fiesta as a pace-setter. It isn't. Some manufacturers have already set standards at least as good as the Fiesta's, and in some areas significantly better. We were disappointed, for instance, by the noisy engine, by the ride over certain surfaces (though the softer sprung L is significantly better in this respect) and by the tinge of cheapness.
But this shouldn't detract greatly from our overall assessment that the Fiesta deserves, and will no doubt receive, a great deal of success.
Other competitors are numerous. They include the Alfasud 5m (£2450), the Honda Civic 3-door (£1939), the Opel Kadett Coupe (£2457), the Simca 1100 Special (£2381) and the VW Polo LS (£2499).
FORD FIESTA S £2,360 - Sporty version of Ford's new front-wheel drive, hatchback small car. Not a mini, but in the slightly larger Renault 5/Chevette class. A fine car with roomy and comfortable interior, and particularly good driving position. Stiffer springs of S version give responsive handling and good roadholding, but ride hard on poor surfaces. Slick gearchange. Fiesta's poorest feature is the amount of engine noise when it's driven hard.
DATSUN CHERRY FII COUPE £2,259 - Striking hatchback coupe from new Fll series which replaced the 120A range. Second biggest-selling import after its stablemate the Sunny. Well equipped, has average economy and handling, modest performance, poor transmission. Noisy when extended, fairly peaceful when cruising. Cramped interior, and reasonable luggage space marred by awkward loading over high lip.
PEUGEOT 104 ZS COUPE £2,259 - Sporting, high-performance version of 104 with shortened, three-door body. Performance good, consumption better, and gear-change excellent. Has good ride and handles and corners well, but not as well as Alfasud. Plenty of room in front, but very cramped in the back and boot small also. Very noisy gearbox but cruises quietly at high speeds.
RENAULT 5TS £2,397 - Impressive sporty/luxury version of Renault's smallest model. Astonishingly generous luggage space with rear seat folded down. Good handling and road-holding despite big angles of roll. Superb ride. Brisk performance and good economy from lively 1289'cc engine. Floor rather than facia-mounted gearchange of lesser versions. A refined, responsive variant of an extremely popular car.
VAUXHALL CHEVETTE GL £2,154 - Luton version of GM "world-wide" small car (the T-car). Based on Opel Kadett floor pan and suspension with Viva engine and gearbox. Has many plus features: brisk performance allied to excellent fuel economy, especially when driven gently, outstanding roadholding and handling, very low noise levels at speed. Interior space not exceptional even with rear seat folded. A good general all-rounder.
VW GOLF 3-DOOR £2,299 - Another clever design from Giugiaro which is selling well throughout Europe. Generous space for luggage with rear seat folded forward; detachable rear shelf; ample accommodation for four adults. Good performance for an 1100 but mediocre for price. Predictable and safe handling. Smooth, quiet engine and low wind noise, but lots of road roar and creaks and groans from body structure.