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Ford's baby cashes in on X factor.

I IT is usually building societies who offer you a little X-tra help, but these days, Ford have also been cashing in on the act.

First they added some of their secret formula X to the Mondeo, and now they have applied some of their X-file magic to its baby brother.

In fact, as half of the Fiesta's cabin is based on the Mondeo's best bits, it should come as no surprise that the Dagenham love-child now comes in its own Ghia X trim.

With both air conditioning and cow-hide cheaper than even this time last year, the Ford Fiesta X is a budget-priced pint-sized cabinet meeting room on wheels. Who would have thought ten years ago that the Ford Fiesta would come with leather and a chiller ?

The last time Ford did this to a small car was when they put black leather in the Orion 1600E. This made the interior of the Essex boy rather austere, and these days, the bright rim (known as Light Cyprus) in the Fiesta's already airy cabin gives ita re freshing lift. It now resembles a scene from an advert for fabric conditioner!

A big central console houses the new larger anti-theft radio. There is some of Ford's famous fake wood and pleasant Jag-look beige trim in the Ghia X cockpit, although no one will complain about the tough leather-look material which now adorns the dishy dash.

Yes, those slabs of wood are genuine plastic, but they certainly add to the tasteful colour scheme of the Fiesta's home-page, which has plenty of hyper-links to the Mondeo cabin. A semi-circle of vents and some carefully sculpted oval controls give the c abin a bold, graceful look. A shade of soft green illuminates those dials except the Si where the aluminium-look clocks glow in a brighter tone at night. I prefer the standard issue as found on the LX and Ghia, but the Si lighting will appeal to those wh o want the `sporty' look.

With the Fiesta well and truly re-born and fitted out with the best bits from the Mondeo and re-vamped Escort, it now seems that the whole Ford range is one big happy family. Things never stand still, however, and the new Cougar will shortly join the Pum a to round up the Ford range of big cats. Due at the end of the year is the Ford Focus, with reports claiming that this is not necessarily a direct replacement for the Escort, which will continue for a while.

Back to the Fiesta, which is no longer Ford's smallest car. No, the kute-eyed Ka has that honour, which got off to a slow start, thanks to the obvious attractions of the Fiesta, which is only marginally more expensive. The cheapest Fiesta comes in at les s than the Ka3, but to some, the kult Kar is a fashion statement. To others, of course, it looks like a cross between a tomato and a bubble Ka!

Full and comfortable new front seats in the Fiesta come with all the expected seat-belt safety features, airbags, door beams, reinforced this, that and the other.

There is plenty of headroom in the Fiesta, even with the leather, but tall drivers might not be able to see the tops of the clocks through the steering wheel rim. Stowage area in the rear is fine, but you need a key to open the hatch, which can be inconv enient, but is yet another security measure.

Ford introduced a new engine for the Fiesta a 1.25, which knocks spots off the previous 1.3, and can incidentally be run with the CTX automatic transmission. That 1.3 is now used in the Ford Ka, where it seems more at home with the smaller chassis.

The 1.25 also outshines the current 1.4 number in terms of smoothness and noise levels, but you will find that the 1.4 is red-hot when it comes to corners and roundabouts, particularly with the easy-going raunchy gearbox. At moments like those, you will be thankful for the anti-lock brakes, which are now at the lowest price in their history.

The new engine and a solid firm suspension make for some entertaining moments at roundabouts and bends where a quick clickety-click from the gearbox rows the car along. Ford's baby has a very firm grip - and no signs of any rattles!


Fiesta 1.4 Ghia X

Price: pounds 13,000 on the road

Engine: 1.4 litre petrol

Gears: 5-speed manual

Max Power: 90 BHP

Max Speed: 112 mph

Acceleration: 0-62 in 10.8 seconds

Economy: Expect about 38mpg

Features: Air conditioning (pounds 295), central locking, driver airbag, ABS (pounds 390), electric mirrors, electric front windows, sunroo four-speaker stereo, power steering

For: Sparkling interior, efficient nature, good value

Against: No handle on rear hatch, no sunroof blind
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 31, 1998
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