Feisty Fiesta gives as good as it gets

By Damien O'Carroll

Damien O'Carroll finds Thai traffic a breeze in Fiesta

The dog didn't even flinch as the truck roared within centimetres of its head. It barely even blinked; it just squinted slightly, stopped panting briefly and tilted its head to avoid the worst of the dust and billowing diesel fumes.

Either this was the ballsiest dog on the planet, or this sort of thing happened so often that it was simply something it expected and was well used to.

In all honesty, the place the dog had chosen to relax was one where this sort of thing would happen with startling regularity. After all, it was lying literally across the white line at the side of the road, enjoying the warmth of the tarmac, but you would have thought the constant threat of a sudden, messy death under the wheels of a wheezing, overloaded Russian truck would have mitigated that enjoyment somewhat.

Still, it didn't seem to bother the dog, or any of the many, many perfectly happy dogs that live casual, relaxed lives along the roads in the mountains of Northern Thailand on the outskirts of the city of Chiang Mai. These dogs faced wheeled death on a regular basis and greeted it with a large, doggy grin and an indifferent yawn.

The same could be said of the local human inhabitants. While they didn't lounge casually along the edge of the road, their attitude towards a possible horrible, mangled death is equally casual. Drastically overloaded utes, entire families piled up on a scooter, you name it; someone would try to overload it as much as possible and still attempt to achieve forward motion with it.

We were in Thailand for the Asia-Pacific launch of the new Ford Fiesta and were halfway through a day spent driving the 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost Fiesta Sport hooked up to a six-speed DCT transmission. We had started in the city of Chiang Mai and headed up into the hills to the north of the city. As we had progressed up in altitude, so the frequency of dogs had also increased. The level of casual indifference to common sense and general personal safety seemed to stay about the same among the human inhabitants though, regardless of whether they were city or rural folk.

The littlest EcoBoost has been available in the Fiesta for a while now, but not in this part of the world, and not hooked up to Ford's PowerShift six-speed automated dual clutch transmission. Now both are true of the EcoBoost Fiesta and we have to say that it is a rather good thing indeed.

With 92kW of power and 170Nm of torque, the little 999cc three-cylinder is no weakling and is still blessed with the same wonderful agility and deft handling that has always been a hallmark of the latest generation of Fiesta.

Around the crowded, chaotic streets of Chiang Mai the Fiesta is sharp and responsive, with the engine providing simply startling reserves of torque, handy for slicing through the bustling, shambolic traffic. As usual, the PowerShift DCT takes the majority of the blame for any reluctance on the Fiesta's part to fill the opportunistic gap that has just opened up in the swarm of scooters surrounding you. It has never been as sharp and as slick as Volkswagen's DSG, but it has a charm and personality that the VW unit lacks, despite its slightly lethargic attitude towards downshifts.

The Ford Fiesta 1-ltire EcoBoost was launched in Thailand recently.
The Ford Fiesta 1-ltire EcoBoost was launched in Thailand recently.

This does suit the Fiesta's "Thrash me and I will reward you" attitude though, but does serve to blunt the eager EcoBoost's enthusiasm down low a bit. Still, get it up on the winding mountain roads above Chiang Mai and it is more wonderfully entertaining than a small mainstream car has a right to be.

Channelling the Fiesta ST's small-dog-that-doesn't-know-it-is-small aggression, the EcoBoost is an utter delight to chuck into a corner with wild optimism.

Not that we get too much of a chance to find that out, as we were led - by a local police car - out of Chiang Mai in a strict convoy and that hasn't dispersed through the fun bits, unfortunately. The police escort was unexpected, but certainly helped negotiating the amiable chaos that is traffic in Thailand.

Not that the other traffic pays much attention to the flashing lights and wailing siren of our escort - some will eventually move over; most simply do nothing.

Still, the Thai policeman behind the wheel simply drove like the rest of the commuters; push your way in and create your own path.

It works, everybody does it and everybody expects it to be done to them. There is no road rage and very little indignant tooting.

After winding through the mountain roads for most of the day, the late afternoon blast along the wide motorways is enlightening on several levels.

First, the three-cylinder Fiesta Sport is just willing and eager to please on straight motorways as it is in the cities and winding hill roads.

The characterful three-cylinder growl is subdued, but still brings a smile to your face as you easily dispatch slower traffic. Which was pretty much everything, I should add.

That is because our police escort decided to drastically pick up the pace here. Not that the locals seemed to care any more here than they did in the city. Even less so, if that was at all possible.

Easing our way back into Chiang Mai in the rush-hour traffic it was easy to appreciate the Fiesta Sport's abilities in any circumstances.

After a good day chucking it through winding hill roads, it still felt equally at home dicing with sagging Soviet-era Russian trucks, towering, massively overloaded Hiluxes and aggressively ridden scooters.

One can only imagine that New Zealand roads will be an utter piece of cake for the little guy. And for $27,340 for the manual and $28,840 for the PowerShift, it will make a lot of financial sense too.

- NZ Herald

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