FORD FIESTA (1995-to 1999)

The Fiesta had long been a family favourite when the fourth generation Fiesta was launched in October 1995. Popularity doesn’t always equal class competitiveness however, and with a raft of rivals all offering more contemporary styling the Fiesta had to fight back. As well as the traditional Ford virtues of aggressive pricing, a wide dealer network and predictable residual values, the Mk IV Fiesta went to the top of the supermini tree by dint of its superb handling. A product of the Richard Parry-Jones revolution within Ford, this Fiesta was able to divert attention from its venerable underpinnings by offering a formidable fun factor. As a used buy it still makes great sense, just so long as you don’t expect the same sort of space inside as you’d get with one of today’s superminis.

Launched way back in the dark days of the Seventies, the Fiesta’s history is long and convoluted. It wasn’t until the mid nineties that stricter company car regulations and tougher direct competition forced Ford to start producing mainstream cars that real people might buy with real money rather than have foisted upon them. This fourth generation Fiesta range launched in October 1995, though shaped similarly, (apart from the big oval ‘mouth’ front grille and larger rear window) was quite different under the skin from previous models. At a stroke, Ford had transformed their supermini into the best-handling car in the class and, in the 1.25 and 1.4-litre Zetec engines, they also had the finest powertrains. A multitude of trim and engine combinations were available. The engines were either 1.25 16v, 1.3, 1.4 16v petrol or 1.8-litre diesel. Trim levels started with Encore and moved up through LX and Si to Ghia and Ghia X. In Spring 1998, a slightly revised range was announced, with the entry-level car now called the Fusion (renamed the Finesse a few months later). Zetec was now the mid-range trim level (and the entry-level point for 16v buyers) and Ghia models the flagship. The range was revised again in October 1999 with new more angular nose styling, new tailgate badges and various minor interior modifications. In trying to be something it isn’t (a big car), the new fourth generation Fiesta has become not only a best seller but arguably the best used supermini you can buy. Not a bad achievement, considering that in terms of size, today’s variation seems little different to its predecessors. The post-October 1995 fourth generation cars are way ahead of their older brothers in terms of build quality, equipment levels and refinement and their resale value reflects that. There’s a lot of stock about so take your time and choose carefully. Many late models are quite well equipped with items like electric windows, air conditioning and Ford’s clever Quickclear self-de-icing windscreen.

You’ll find third-generation cars in plentiful supply on plates up to 95N so be sure you’re being offered a fourth generation post-October 1995 car by looking for an oval grille, deep tailgate window and curvy dashboard with the glovebox recessed away from the front seat passenger. Prices start around £1,300 and for that you’ll be looking at a three-door 1.3 Encore, which is the base level. An LX on the same 95N plate will be around £100 more. For 98R models, budget about £2,400 for the starter model and another £200 for a five-door. Versions on 99V-plates start at about £3,200. A 1.25-litre three-door car will cost about £1,700 for an early LX and rise to as much as £3,000 for a 98R five-door Ghia. In between, you’ll find examples like a late 1996P three-door 1.25 Si for about £2,200. A 1997 1.4-litre (P-reg) Ghia 5-door will be around £2,500 and the same age Si should be about £150 less. The diesels start around £1,700 for N-plate three-door Encores. A 1996 ‘P’ LX will be close to £2,100 and a 99S under £3,000. Add about £150 for the five-door models. Engines are, on the whole, reliable, but watch for the usual signs of wear and signs of hard fleet or company use such as worn carpets or scuffed trim. Rust shouldn’t be a problem on these cars as Dagenham build quality is reasonably good but check the bottom and opening edges of the doors, and the tailgate, for user-inflicted damage that can lead to corrosion. Remember that a full service history always helps when selling on, too. Arguably, the Fiesta’s the best little small car on the market if you take into account the huge dealer network, affordable part prices and the vast choice offered at sensible prices. The fourth generation car made its predecessors look pedestrian as a driver’s machine. If you can afford it, this is the Fiesta to buy.

(approx based on a Fiesta 1.4 Zetec) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly and an alternator will both be around £75. Front brake pads are around £25 a set and the rears £20, a replacement headlamp is close to £50 and a manual door mirror should be in the region of £40. A full exhaust is about £80 and a catalyst is about £200. A starter motor around is around £110, front wing is around £60, a windscreen about £70, a tail lamp about £30 and a catalyst about £200. Front dampers are around £55 each and rears around £50 each.

Certainly, the performance and fuel economy figures are good – but that isn’t what counts. No, what matters is that this Fiesta is fun, with a capital ‘F’. Put your foot down and it’s hard to credit that there’s not a larger engine under the bonnet, so instant is the response. The same is true cruising at or above the legal limit – not an enjoyable experience in the old model, which, like most small-engined cars, sounded so strained that you quickly returned it to the school run. The ‘95-on 1.25 and 1.4-litre Fiestas are a different story altogether – and their impressive refinement is no accident. Early customer clinics furnished Ford with the surprising finding that the sound of the new car would be as important as the way it looked. Hence the assembly of the company’s own Juke Box Jury panel to listen to the note of the new Zetec engines and fine tune it to the most pleasing sound. If that sounds a bit over the top in theory on the road, it’s hard to argue that the time hasn’t been well spent. If I had to have a small used car that would go long distances, a Fiesta, without question, is the one I’d choose.

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