FORD PUMA (1997 – 2002)

December 4, 2007

This was the car that proved Ford to be back on track as a company that really could design affordable sports cars that were versatile, yet exciting to drive. Based entirely on the excellent Fiesta running gear, the Puma got its own 1.7-litre engine before adding the Fiesta’s 1.4-litre unit as demand increased. Jackie Stewart and the design team really produced a winner here, so residuals have stayed high. Don’t worry: pay the extra and own one. It’s the finest small coupe ever made.

The Puma was launched in 1.7-litre form in June 1997 and demand was instant. So much so that a Fiesta-engined 1.4-litre model was added in February 1998. Both handled superbly with their tuned Fiesta running gear. Only one 1.7-litre version was offered initially and there was never an automatic option. However, there was a stunning limited-edition 1.7-litre model called the Racing, introduced early in 2000 and likely to be sought-after once they trickle through to the used market. Only 350 were built and they all had an extra 25bhp and a lowered, sleeker-looking body with flared wheelarches finished (only) in Ford Racing Blue. Suspension modifications included a wider track while grippy Recaro seats, a CD player and air conditioning were all standard. In late 2000 the 1.4-litre Puma was replaced by a punchier 1.6-litre model using the same 100bhp engine found in the Focus and Fiesta. In late 2001 a special edition Ford Puma Thunder was announced to mark the final passing of this cracker of a coupe. Going out at the top of its game, the Puma looks set for future classic status. Certainly, this car turns heads, with its fared-in headlamps, kicked-up tail and distinctive side slashes. The hunched profile is also surprisingly practical. This is one of the very few small coupes you can buy that can actually seat two adults in the back. It’s more likely however, that owners will want to flip the rear seats forward and make use of the generous 240-litre load capacity. The detail touches are pleasing too. Both the fascia and the doors are trimmed with aluminium, while the gear-knob is a single cast lump of the same stuff and the Racing has it on the pedals, too. The instrument dials strike a different chord too – white-faced a la Fiesta Si. There are also thoughtful touches, like the full-sized bottle holders on either side of the two rear passengers’ legs and the mobile ‘phone receptacle in the centre console. As for equipment, you’ll find all the convenience features a quick coupe really needs fitted as standard; electric windows, remote central locking with security alarm, a driver’s airbag and a classy hi-fi. There’s no provision for a sunroof, but in compensation, the optional air conditioning was, at only £360, one of the most affordable on the market, so many owners specified it. ‘Air’ was standard on the Racing.

The earliest R-reg 1.4s start at around £5,300, with more typical 99V-platers at around 6,400 and 2000Ws for another £600 or so. For the 1.7, the figures are about £5,700 to £7,200 with £600 more for a 2000W. The 1.6-litre engine arrived in 2000 to replace the 1.5, these models start from £8,000. ‘Nearly-new ‘02’ and even ‘52’ examples are around in some quantity, too. The sporty Racing model is hard to come by but, as a guide, it was £22,820 new. Not much goes wrong but watch out for thrashed examples and botched bodywork repairs from high-speed shunts. New headlights are expensive so check carefully for damage. As we’ve said, this is one of the greatest used cars – the finest small coupe ever made bar none.

(approx based on a 1997 1.4 ex Vat) A clutch assembly is around £70 and a complete exhaust system (inc Catalyst) is about £415. Front and rear brake pads will be in the vicinity of £30-50 each. A radiator is about £95 with aircon, an alternator about £140, a starter motor £110, and a replacement headlamp can be up to £260.

While the Puma shares many of the attributes of Fiesta, Escort and Mondeo, there’s little doubt that it takes the road going experience on offer to a different level. The more powerful of the two standard versions sports a 123bhp 1.7-litre Zetec-SE engine, capable of rest to sixty in just 8.8 seconds on the way to nearly 130mph. The smaller-engined 1.4-litre Puma is visually indistinguishable from the more powerful car. It reaches 60mph is a still respectable 10.8 seconds, incidentally, while average fuel consumption of 38mpg makes it a car you buy with both your heart and your head. If you can find a Racing, you’ll enjoy 0-60 sprints in about 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 126mph while averaging around 34mpg. Whichever model you choose, it comes with an impeccable pedigree. The handling was refined by a team that included no less an expert than former World Champion Jackie Stewart; if you can imagine what that might mean out on the road, you won’t even bother to test drive anything else.


FORD MAVERICK (2001-2003)

December 2, 2007

The Maverick was one Ford that British buyers never really took to their hearts. It was certainly late to the 4×4 party. Perhaps they never forgave it for that. More likely, however, a lack of image was to blame. Not even the most optimistic of Ford dealers could pretend that this was any kind of Range Rover. The sensible ones concentrated on its more hidden virtues; a rugged build, surprisingly good off road ability and a proven reliability record. These attributes make it a good prospect as a secondhand buy. And despite the fact that relatively few were sold, prices are attractive on the used market. These words were in fact the introduction to a model guide on the previous generation Maverick introduced in 1993. Eight years down the line they apply equally to the Series II model. British buyers, it seemed, could countenance a Ford supermini or family hatch but anything that resembled a 4×4 was consistently shunned. This represents a pity, as owners discovered the Maverick to be a machine with more than a few redeeming features.

Whereas the first generation Maverick was introduced as a joint venture with Nissan, the Series II version was developed with Mazda, another Japanese company but in this instance one that Ford had developed a controlling interest in. The Mazda Tribute and the Ford Maverick were offered side by side in many countries, but here in the UK Ford pulled rank and had a clear four months run at the market before the Tribute appeared in August 2001. The job was complicated by the fact that between the inception of the Series 2 Maverick project and it arriving on sale, Ford had founded the Premier Auto Group, a key component of which is Land Rover. The Maverick had suddenly become a car that was utterly redundant. What was the point in spending money promoting a car that was competing against – and if Ford were honest with themselves – didn’t stand a chance of muscling out the market leader, the Land Rover Freelander? And so it proved. Promotion for the Maverick was very low key and customer take-up was similarly underwhelming. No diesel version was ever offered and more modern rivals soon extinguished what little spark of interest surrounded the Maverick, leaving it to wither on the vine. The Maverick quietly disappeared from the pricelists towards the end of 2003. Despite its platform being shred by Mazda, the target market for the Maverick soon becomes apparent when you climb inside. The plastic slab of dashboard betrays the Ford’s US-bias more than anything else, the column-mounted automatic gearbox on the 3.0-litre car being probably the least happy aspect of the vehicle, hunting between gears and with detents on the shift that make it difficult to just drop straight into Drive. It’s also something of a shame that it’s only possible to lock the Maverick into first, second and top (fourth) gear, as third would be the ideal gear to take advantage of the Maverick’s surprisingly agility. As we’ve alluded to, the interior, though well equipped, probably won’t impress those with an eye for aesthetics. Everything works, seems well placed and well thought through, and yet feels drab, cheap and uninspiring. Interior space and luggage space is well up to the mark, the Maverick is longer than many rivals, evidence of which is instantly apparent the moment you throw the tailgate open. The rear seat is something of a shapeless bench, but the space available is excellent. Both models get ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution which works staggeringly well, plus air conditioning and an electric sunroof. The V6 also features cruise control, leather seats and an astonishingly ugly six-disc in dash CD player. It’s also the only vehicle in its class to feature side airbags and second-generation dual front air bags as standard. The exterior styling works well in a modest way. Ford were trying for a tough functional appearance and they’ve hit the spot whilst taking a big dip into the bin of generic 4×4 styling cues. The upshot of this is that unless you know what you’re looking for, the Ford Maverick won’t catch your eye, looking as it does like a morphed together rendering of a Freelander and a Honda CR-V. Nevertheless, in offending nobody and excelling in a number of areas, the Maverick, badged the Escape across the pond, notched up 75,000 orders in its first three months on sale. Few of these new owners will be disappointed with their purchase. Whilst the Maverick isn’t perfect, it’s the sheer honesty of the thing that generates a feeling of partiality towards it. How many times have we heard manufacturers of 4x4s claim that their offering drives like a car, only to find that the car they were using as a reference point would probably have failed an MoT on collapsed shocks? The Maverick is a refreshing exception to this rule, and the V6 in particular gives the Ford a level of on-road utility that few rivals could ever dream of.

Prices start at around £12,600 for a 2001 Y plated 2.0-litre XLT model with a 3.0-litre version of the same vintage retailing at just under £13,800. Insurance is decidedly reasonable; the 2.0-litre car rated at Group 9 and the torquey 3.0-litre version at Group 12. The Maverick is a rugged beast; certainly a good deal more so than many of its compact 4×4 rivals. No mechanical gremlins have been reported, as both the engines are well-respected units. Inspect the underside of the used car for off-roading damage to the exhaust, driveshaft and wheelarches if you suspect that the previous owner was one of the 7% who Ford claimed would take their cars off the blacktop and engage all-wheel drive. Although its still a little early to start banging the drum for the Series II Maverick as a genuine used bargain, the steady residuals show that owners rate them highly. It may not be the most chic of 4x4s in this fashion conscious corner of the market, but a used Maverick makes a versatile workhorse.

(approx based on 2001 2.0) In common with most Fords you’ll find parts plentiful, but in this instance they’re not particularly cheap. A clutch assembly is around £195. Front brake pads are around £55, a rear exhaust about £75, and an alternator around £200. A headlamp is about £115. Don’t visit a Mazda dealer for cheap parts as you’ll find they’re a bit pricier.

Due to its one-piece body construction and independent suspension, mention of which would have off-road purists shuddering, the Ford Maverick is the best of the current generation of compact 4x4s when it comes to blacktop behaviour. The Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV and Land Rover Freelander never get close to the taut, lively feel of the Maverick. It’s a testament to how far Ford have progressed in terms of ride and handling in recent years that perhaps the biggest compliment you could level at the Maverick is that it feels like a typical Ford to drive. This means a body that’s resistant to roll, deft yet safe handling all backed up by sharp and lively steering. The 194bhp 3.0-litre engine feels throaty and powerful, certainly a good deal quicker than its 10-second sprint to 60mph would suggest. In normal conditions, 100% of the drive is directed to the front wheels, resulting in an average fuel consumption figure of 22mpg. The 118 bhp four cylinder 2.0 litre unit shared with the Mondeo is better if fuel economy is a concern, averaging around 32mpg in give and take conditions. If any slip from the front wheels is detected, the Control Trac II system comes into play, a rotary blade coupling governs the proportion of drive sent to the rear wheels. If things get really slippery, a button on the dash locks the coupling, directing an even 50:50 proportion of drive to the front and rear wheels. If things get slipperier still, it’s probably time to start looking for a nearly new Discovery.
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FORD FOCUS (1998-2002)

November 25, 2007

Unlike its predecessor, the Escort, the Ford Focus wowed the critics immediately when it was launched in October 1998. The new family Ford attracted praise for its crisp ‘New Edge’ styling, funky interior, great ‘zetec’ engines and, most of all, its class-leading handling and ride. No competitor has yet got close. Soon after launch the Focus shot straight to the top of the UK best-sellers charts and is likely to remain there for quite some time yet. With something like 12,000 being sold new each month, plenty have now found their way onto the used market where a vast choice of models and sensible pricing makes Ford’s finest family range an excellent buy.

Ford launched a wide Focus range in October 1998 though it took about a year before all variants were available. That means that models like the sporty two-litre Zetec and 1.6-litre automatics are still rare on used car forecourts. There was a choice of three and five-door hatchbacks, a stylish saloon (which you’ll find only with plush Ghia trim) and an estate. Engines were 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 and two-litre Zetec petrol units and a 1.8-litre direct injection turbo diesel and all bar the 1.6 came only with five-speed manual transmission. Trim levels were CL, Zetec, LX and Ghia and there were a variety of option packs that are worth seeking out on used examples. These included Style (alloy wheels and metallic paint), Reflex (anti-lock, traction control and side airbags) and Climate (air conditioning, heated windscreen and mirrors). March 2000 saw the introduction of an entry-level three-door 1.4CL hatchback and some price reductions for mainstream 1.4 and 1.6-litre models. Launched in October 1999, the 1.8-litre Millennium five-door hatchback special edition was painted in (very) bright yellow with black leather upholstery and top-of-the-range equipment including air conditioning, CD player, power windows, dual airbags and unique alloy wheels. It’s worth about 3% more than a Ghia. Zetec Collection special editions were launched in May 2000. Based on the supposedly sporty three and five-door Zetec models they came with Ford’s entire RS body kit fitted as standard – including bumpers, spoiler, chrome exhaust trim, a mesh grille and unique 3×2 spoke, 15-inch alloy wheels. The call for a sportier Focus model was finally answered in February 2002 when the ST170 model was launched. This month also spelt good news for diesel customers with the excellent 115bhp TDCi common rail engine being fitted to the affordable Zetec trim level. In summer 2002 the TDCi engine was also offered in a slightly detuned 100bhp form. The range-topping Focus RS was finally launched in September 2002 and the limited run was sold out by late 2003. An estate version of the ST170 was introduced in April 2003. Arguably the most stylish and best handling (and riding) family hatchback you can buy. This is a car into which you can load the family and still enjoy such mundane trips as the supermarket run. It’s little wonder that waiting lists formed at launch time and that most versions are still in strong demand. Whichever body style you opt for, the Focus is a stylish car with excellent engines and road manners and a well laid-out interior that provides plenty of room for a family. There are a lot of used examples about so take your time and choose carefully. Choose a Zetec or LX with a popular option pack or two so you get items like electric windows, air conditioning and Ford’s clever Quickclear self-de-icing windscreen. Desirable equipment like this will make selling on easier in two or three years’ time.

Used Focus prices start at around £4,400 for a 1.4-litre CL five-door hatchback on 98S plates and you may be able to secure even a 01X for under £6,000. Around £4,700 should buy you either a 98S five-door 1.6LX with air-conditioning or a three-door Zetec with the Climate option pack. Plusher Ghia trim adds about £500 and similar money will get you an early saloon although these are quite rare. Estate prices start at about £4,900 with LX trim. The 1.8-litre cars are priced the same as 1.6s new but command about £200 more used. Two-litre models start on 99S plates at about £5,500 with Ghia trim. Diesels are now quite plentiful and you should get a 98S CL five-door for under £5,400 or a more mainstream 99T Zetec with Climate pack for less than £5,800. Ford’s ‘zetec’ engines are, on the whole, reliable, so give the car the usual once-over looking for signs of wear and indications of hard fleet, company or rental car use. Worn carpets, and scuffed trim are the usual clues. Check that all the electrical items work properly, ensure that the air conditioner delivers chilled air soon after the engine is started and remember that a full service history always helps when selling on, too. The Focus is, quite simply, the best family hatchback on the used market if you take into account the huge dealer network, affordable part prices and the vast choice offered at sensible prices. Streets ahead of its dull but worthy Escort predecessor, this is the car to buy if the budget will stretch.

(approx based on a Focus 1.6) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly will be around £100 and an alternator should be close to £140. Brake pads are around £25 a front set with rear shoes around £45, a replacement headlamp is close to £80 and a manual door mirror should be in the region of £50. A full exhaust is about £200 and a catalyst is about £240. Dampers are around £40 each and a radiator about £100. This makes a used Ford Focus cheap to run.

When you’ll really appreciate the Focus is when there’s no one in it but you. Under the skin lie a host of engineering novelties that together, enable it comfortably to take the honours as the best driver’s car in the class. The body for a start, is 100% stiffer than that of the Escort and 15% stiffer than its nearest rival. The gearbox is slick enough to make you want to change up and down just for the sake of it. And the fully independent suspension attains a level of sophistication previously unheard of in this class. We’re not just talking about tyre-squealing qualifying laps around your favourite country B-road test route either. Ford’s engineers have tuned the Focus to compensate for the times you and I get brain fade; you’re lost, it’s dark and chucking its down and the kids are screaming in the back. The corner you just entered too quickly is getting sharper and you do exactly the wrong thing; you stamp on the brakes. This used car will deal with that: no fuss, no problem. Performance is reasonable – though not exceptional, with the 1.6-litre engine most will choose making sixty in 11.2s on the way to 114mph. Its fuel economy (41.5mpg on the combined cycle) comfortably beats all comers, however, and there are major components everywhere designed to need minimal or no maintenance.


FORD FOCUS (2002-TO 2004)

November 24, 2007

Although it has established itself as a recurring fixture at the top of the UK sales charts, the Ford Focus has never rested on its laurels. The 2002 restyle was subtle but looked set to last the car through to its eventual replacement at the start of 2005. Even though there are fresher shapes around, the driving dynamics of the Focus have yet to be matched. With many new models increasingly opting for fuel efficient systems such as electric power steering, the purity and feel of the effervescent Focus may well represent a high water mark in driver enjoyment in this class for some time yet. Naturally there’s a huge choice of models to choose from and to tell the truth, there’s barely a duffer of a used car amongst them.

Although the Ford Focus had been with us since October 1998, it took a while before customers got accustomed to that shape, as radical as the Escort was conservative. Once established at the top of the sales charts, however, the Focus took quite some shifting. The addition of common rail diesel variants and a sporting ST170 version added to the car’s appeal and a facelift for the model arrived in 2002 which looked to breathe a little fresh life into the car. The 2002 Focus model tidied up a few minor details, adding subtle front bumper rubbing strips much in the style of later Mercedes A-class models. The narrow black strips below the headlights afford some protection in a multi storey car park, but they were chiefly there to add a touch of gravitas to the front end. The nose of the Focus also benefited from a slightly more prominent mesh grille as well as the blue-tinged xenon headlamps. The front indicators, previously mounted below the headlamp unit, were incorporated inside the lamp housing in a similar vein to Volkswagen’s Golf. The most obvious difference to the front end is the different shape of the under-bumper air intake and the fog lights. Instead of a benign arc to the intake, the late shape Focus featured a unit bounded on either side by some quite aggressive diagonal supports giving the Focus a far more sporting appearance. The range-topping Focus RS was finally launched in September 2002 and the limited run was sold out by late 2003. An estate version of the ST170 was introduced in April 2003. An LPG powered Bi-Fuel model was launched in June 2003 and the mini-MPV Focus C-MAX range was unveiled in September of the same year. A number of special edition models were launched including the Chic, Elle, Flight, Ink, MP3 and Silver variants. Arguably the most stylish and best handling (and riding) family hatchback you can buy. This is a car into which you can load the family and still enjoy such mundane trips as the supermarket run. It’s little wonder that waiting lists formed at launch time and that most versions are still in strong demand. Whichever body style you opt for, the Focus is a stylish car with excellent engines and road manners and a well laid-out interior that provides plenty of room for a family. Trim levels were raised across the range with items like a revised centre console, silicon-damped glovebox lids and fresh colours boosting the car’s appeal. An automatic gearbox is now available with the punchy 2.0-litre engine. Ford Telematics, a system that offers assistance, telephone functions and traffic information is optional across the range as is ESP electronic stability control. Satellite navigation can even be plumbed into the most basic LX model if you’re map dyslexic.

With so much variety available, this section could get very long indeed. Prices start at£6,500 for a 51-plated 1.4-litre CL three door, with an equivalent vintage five-door 1.6-litre Zetec with Climate Pack fetching £7,600. The 1.8-litre versions are well worth tracking down and an LX saloon starts at £7,250. Those looking for a more sporting drive will doubtless enjoy the 2.0-litre ST170 and these open at £11,300. The TDdi diesel versions aren’t the pick of the range, opening at £7,800 for an LX saloon, but the TDCi common rail models are far superior. A 115bhp TDCi Zetec three-door start at £9,200 and the 100bhp versions are distinctly affordable. Prices for the rare Focus RS fluctuate enormously, but bottom book is around £17,000. Ford’s ‘Zetec’ engines are, on the whole, reliable, so give the car the usual once-over looking for signs of wear and indications of hard fleet, company or rental car use. Worn carpets, and scuffed trim are the usual clues. Check that all the electrical items work properly, ensure that the air conditioner delivers chilled air soon after the engine is started and remember that a full service history always helps when selling on, too. If you’re looking at ST or RS model, make sure the tyres still have some tread on them, and that the car hasn’t been thrashed or crashed. Focuses are tough but some will inevitably have been abused. You may not stand out in a crowd with a used Focus but chances are you won’t care. Few cars as good as this sell quite so well, and it’s a testament to British buyers that they recognise a great car when they see one. History will remember this Focus as one of the best small cars ever built. If you don’t know what all the fuss is about, get yourself a test drive. Then you’ll see.

(approx based on a Focus 1.6) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly will be around £100 and an alternator should be close to £140. Brake pads are around £25 a front set with rear shoes around £45, a replacement headlamp is close to £80 and a manual door mirror should be in the region of £50. A full exhaust is about £200 and a catalyst is about £240. Dampers are around £40 each and a radiator about £100.

When you’ll really appreciate the Focus is when there’s no one in it but you. Under the skin lie a host of engineering novelties that together, enable it comfortably to take the honours as the best driver’s car in the class. The body for a start, is 100% stiffer than that of the Escort and 15% stiffer than its nearest rival. The gearbox is slick enough to make you want to change up and down just for the sake of it. And the fully independent suspension attains a level of sophistication previously unheard of in this class. We’re not just talking about tyre-squealing qualifying laps around your favourite country B-road test route either. Ford’s engineers have tuned the Focus to compensate for the times you and I get brain fade; you’re lost, it’s dark and chucking its down and the kids are screaming in the back. The corner you just entered too quickly is getting sharper and you do exactly the wrong thing; you stamp on the brakes. This car will deal with that: no fuss, no problem. Performance is reasonable – though not exceptional, with the 1.6-litre engine most will choose making sixty in 11.2s on the way to 114mph. Its fuel economy (41.5mpg on the combined cycle) comfortably beats all comers, however, and there are major components everywhere designed to need minimal or no maintenance. Sportier drivers will choose the 2.0-litre Zetec models and those with even more intent will opt for the ST170 and RS variants. The ST170 has been a modest success, offering only a mild performance advantage over the much cheaper 2.0-litre Zetec hatch. The Focus RSD is another thing altogether. The Focus RS harnesses its 217bhp through a Quaife torque-biasing differential and the traction of huge 18 inch tyres mounted on those OZ Racing alloy wheels. Redesigned front suspension helps, with a wider track, Sachs Racing dampers and a beefy front anti-roll bar. At the back, the Focus RS retains the Control Blade multi-link set up, but stiffness has been increased for greater durability. Make no mistake, this is one car designed to be driven hard. With an all-up weight of 1175kg, the Focus boasts a power to weight ratio of almost 200bhp per tonne, thus trumping the latest Subaru Impreza WRX. The oily bits underpinning the Focus RS are relatively fundamental: a water-air intercooler, forged pistons and conrods and remapped engine management unit are the technical highlights whilst the 2.0-litre four cylinder Zetec unit with a single turbocharger promises old-school big-boost action. Intentionally, you get more of an intoxicating turbo rush than the current opposition can offer and while many will feel this is a retrograde step, Ford want to bring back the excitement, the rawness and the pure joie de vivre that has always marked out a classic RS model.


FORD FIESTA (1999 – 2002)

November 23, 2007

The fifth generation Fiesta established itself as the best handling supermini around, testament to Richard Parry-Jones’ insistence on driving fun being the key to sales success. Although subsequent events have shown clever packaging to be of greater concern to buyers, the Fiesta has become synonymous with a big grin. The fifth generation cars led to the very different sixth generation model, a car that managed to successfully combine space and agility. As used cars go, a Fiesta makes sense on a number of levels.

Once a byword for lowest common denominator motoring, the Fiesta gradually developed into something extremely competent. The fourth generation Fiesta range launched in October 1995, though shaped similarly to its predecessor was quite different under the skin from previous models. The range was revised in October 1999 with more angular nose styling, new tailgate badges and various minor interior modifications. In winter 2000, the 100bhp 1.6-litre engine, which had been used in the sporting Zetec-S model, replaced the Ghia model’s ageing 1.4-litre unit. The TDdi diesel engine made an appearance, as did a sporty Zetec-S variant. Early 2002 saw the final fling for this Fiesta as it was replaced by an all-new sixth generation version. All but the cheapest models have power steering, a sunroof and a driver’s airbag. Zetec customers also get alloy wheels, central locking and a height-adjustable driver’s seat, while LX buyers can expect air conditioning and electric windows. That only leaves electric mirrors, rear head restraints and a rather dubious mock wood-effect facia for Ghia folk, many of whom will order the smooth CVT automatic transmission system. Apart from its overall lack of space, the interior is still one of the old Fiesta’s best features: it’s still clear and classy, with an up-market feel suggestive of a much larger car. Look closely and you’ll notice some of the more recent detail improvements. Useful storage space has been added in front of the gearstick, with an extra stowage area added where the ashtray used to be (assuming you decide against the no-cost ‘smoker’s pack’). The seats themselves are better than they used to be, with bright trim and front and rear storage pouches on plusher models. Specify a front passenger airbag and they also incorporate side airbags. There are also clear dashboard graphics, an electronic odometer and LED warning lights. In addition, several nice touches are carried over from the original post ‘95 range, including the optional air conditioned glovebox that keeps your soft drinks and chocolate cool. On the question of cabin space, it’s no problem as long as you’re sitting at the sharp end for, provided you’re not over six foot, front seat head and legroom is quite adequate, aided on plusher models by new seat height adjustment. It would be even better if you could adjust the steering wheel too: sadly you can’t. At the rear however, legroom is at much more of a premium, while boot space is slightly compromised by suspension intrusion. In compensation, headroom is good, the tailgate opens high and wide and every model has a 60/40 split-folding rear seat.

Word got around that the fifth-generation Fiesta was something worth having and sales were very good for what was effectively the last of its line before being replaced by an all-new car. Prices start around £3,300 for 1999 V LX models or £3,600 for a 1999 V plated 1.2 16v Zetec three door. The five-door body costs another £100. The 1.3-litre versions open at around £2,900 for a 1999V plated Encore or £3,100 for a Finesse. The 1.4-litre 16v is a much preferable powerplant and prices reflect this, a 1999 V plated 1.4 Zetec commanding around £3,600. Opt for the 1.6-litre engine and you can expect to pay around £4,700 for a 2000 V plated Zetec-S. Diesel models are a little way off the cutting edge, the TDCi engines being reserved for the sixth generation car, but they are cheap to run and consequently in reasonable demand. A fair opening value for a 1999 V plate 1.8 Encore diesel would be around £3,100 with a Finesse costing another £200, both in five-door form. Insurance for the fifth generation Fiesta reflects its low cost of repair, ranging from Group 4 for the 1.3-litre cars up to a moderate Group 8 for the effervescent 1.6 Zetec-S. 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. Check for tyre wear as many fifth generation cars will have been driven enthusiastically. 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. Britain has always had something of a love affair with the Fiesta, but it was only when the fifth generation car was announced that the baby Ford was really deserving of all this fawning affection. Whilst it’s hardly the most spacious supermini on the used market, it is one of the most entertaining. Don’t buy one if you’ve got rapidly sprouting sprogs but if you can afford to be a little bit selfish, indulge yourself while you still can. The vast dealer network, affordable part prices and the wide choice available also do no harm to the Fiesta’s standing amongst used buyers. With the sixth generation car punching values down, now is a good time to snap up a well looked after fifth generation Fiesta.

(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.

This is where the fifth generation Fiesta scores. Able to outhandle some quite serious tackle, the Fiesta quickly gained a reputation as a proper driver’s car, helped in no small part by the acclaim heaped upon its sister vehicle, the Puma. The excellent 1.7-litre engine from the Puma would have been an obvious choice to propel the Fiesta, but Ford feared it might steal some of that coupe’s customers. Hence the use of an upgraded 104bhp 1.6-litre engine borrowed from the larger Focus family hatch. That means rest to sixty in 10.2s on the way to 113mph – though it should feel a lot faster thanks to the Puma’s short-throw gearchange and an engine note apparently tuned to provide a suitably sporty soundtrack.


FORD FIESTA

November 17, 2007

When it was launched, version six on the Ford Fiesta theme probably represented the biggest single advance in the history of a model line that extended back more than a quarter of a century. Although there was nothing wrong with the driving characteristics of its predecessor, Ford felt that the market had overtaken it in terms of interior space and set about redesigning the Fiesta to offer class leading versatility. Used cars are now beginning to appear and they represent decent value for money.

Although the fifth generation Fiesta was held up as a byword for handling excellence, it was in fact little more than a heavily facelifted version of the fourth generation car which debuted way back in 1995. Seven years is a long time in the dynamic supermini sector and rivals like the SEAT Ibiza, the VW Polo and the Skoda Fabia had very much overtaken the Fiesta in terms of utility and modernity. Something certainly needed to be done and Ford took a radical approach, designing a Fiesta that notched back the sporting focus a little but which offered a good deal more rear seat space and luggage utility. Five door cars appeared first, hitting the market in April 2002 with three-door models appearing in August of the same year. A Fusion spin off model with chunkier styling and an elevated chassis followed shortly thereafter but this is to all intents and purposes a separate line. Ford suffered a capacity problem with their 1.3-litre engine in early 2003 and started fitting UK Fiestas with 1.25-litre powerplants as seen in the Fiesta Mk 4. It was only when the specifications were put back to back that many noticed the ‘old’ unit was a good deal more impressive than the 1.3-litre engine and more fun to boot. Towards the end of 2004, the 150bhp ST derivative arrived and a 1.6-litre TDCi engine was added to the diesel range. The design is everything a modern Supermini should be – as you’d expect, given that Ford had plenty of time to examine the competition during this car’s lengthy development. The first thing we should talk about is space. Rival offerings with Tardis-like interior dimensions had rendered the previous generation Fiesta a touch quaint, and nowhere was this more evident than in rear seat room. Economy class on an Aeroflot internal flight sprung to mind when snugly ensconced in the back of the little Ford. That’s no longer the case of course. With this latest Fiesta, Ford have consciously made it a significantly larger car. In fact it’s 87mm longer, 50mm wider and 100mm taller in five-door guise. Even the three-door version makes the old model seem like one of those tiny citycars. You might assume all this to mean that it’s now no longer as easy to park or as simple to thread through city streets. You might think that, but you’d be wrong, thanks largely to the glassy bodyshell which does an excellent job in disguising the extra bulk. Whether the current car is better looking than its predecessor is a matter for debate. Whereas the front end cribs its styling cues from the larger Focus Family Hatchback, the rear end divides opinion, looking like a bevelled and chamfered Vauxhall Corsa. It’s no great beauty, that’s for sure, but it’s undeniably effective in achieving that goal of providing superior internal accommodation. Drop into the driver’s seat and you’ll be greeted with a dashboard that adopts many of the quality conventions of the Mondeo range, and that’s good news. For those who enjoy tracing the lineage of the design, the Mondeo’s interior designer was poached from Volkswagen – and it shows. Mind you, it’s easy to see where cost has been excised from the Fiesta, competing as it does in a class where margins are utterly cut throat. Some of the fascia plastics feel somewhat hard and nasty and anti lock brakes are an extra cost option across most of the range. Cleverly however, Ford have appreciated that the bits of the cars we physically touch most often lend the strongest impression of quality, and to this end have wisely fitted leather-trimmed steering wheels and tactile gear shifters. Another example of intelligent design comes in the shape of rear head restraints that are deliberately uncomfortable when not slid up into their deployed position. This encourages rear seat occupants to utilise them properly but gets around the issue of encumbered rear vision when rear head restraints are traditionally fitted. Equipment levels are reasonable, spread across Finesse, LX, Zetec and Ghia trim levels. All Fiestas get intelligent windscreen wipers, a CD stereo, central locking and Ford’s ‘Intelligent Protection System’. Market and finance also looks good with low day-to-day running costs and a healthy projected residual value. A Durashift EST sequential manual transmission is also available as an option on the 1.4 16v.

The Fiesta had a slightly slow start in terms of sales, many customers not quite ready for the revolution that Ford wrought upon it. The entry-level 1.3-litre five-door cars start at £6,000 in Finesse trim or 6,400 for an LX version, both on an 02 number plate. The punchier 1.4-litre cars are well worth tracking down, air-conditioned Zetec versions currently retailing at £7,200 – again on the 02 plate – with similar vintage LX models fetching similar money and plush Ghias still commanding £7,500. 1.6-litre Ghia models fetch £7,500 but these were outsold by the 1.4-litre TDCi diesel cars. The Finesse is priced at £6,600, with air conditioned Zetec and LX models pitched at around £7,500. Three door models are still finding their feet on the used market, although many buyers looking for a sporty option were initially disappointed, preferring to either buy something different or hold out until the much-vaunted Fiesta ST150 made an appearance. Insurance for the fifth generation Fiesta reflects its high safety and security provision and generally low cost of repair, ranging from Group 2 to Group 7. Being so new, there’s little to report. Make sure your prospective purchase has been properly serviced and that the tyres are in decent shape. Otherwise check for the usual kiddie damage and parking scrapes. 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 beaten up trim. The sixth generation Fiesta saw this product line maturing into viable all-round family transport. The national love affair with the Fiesta at first wavered when the radical design was unveiled, but sales figures now show an encouraging level of uptake. The best used buys are probably the early 1.4-litre TDCi diesels, but whichever model you opt for it’s hard to make a wrong move.

(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 £30 a set and the rears £20, a replacement headlamp is close to £50 and a manual door mirror should be in the region of £50. A full exhaust is about £120 and a catalyst is about £220. A starter motor around is around £110, front wing is around £90, a windscreen about £70.

Three petrol engines are offered, a 75bhp 1.25-litre powerplant, a 16-valve 79bhp 1.4 that looks set to be the most popular and a range-topping 1.6-litre 16-valve that’s good for 99bhp. You’ll also find 1.3-litre models on quite a few used forecourts. For those looking to squeeze a few more miles from their gallon, a latest-generation 1.4-litre TDCi common-rail diesel unit is offered. With 67bhp on tap, it’s no tarmac scorcher, but its 118lb/ft of torque guarantees a relaxed drive. Although Ford have concentrated on improving cabin space, they haven’t rested on their laurels when it comes to driving dynamics. Granted, the recipe doesn’t at first appear promising, this high-sided car wearing a relatively state-of-the-ark twist-beam rear axle powered by a series of engines with modest power figures. Where is the independent control blade suspension that the Focus wears? Where are the trick driver aids? Scythed by the bean counters is the answer, although few will miss them after a drive in the Fiesta. Economy isn’t a major plus with any of the petrol engines as all have to be worked hard to maintain a decent lick, but the diesel unit is competent in this respect, returning 53.3mpg. Yes, the Ford Fiesta is a far more competent handler than its impressive predecessor and that should be praise enough for most. As a result, its handling is elevated to a position above and beyond any existing supermini, whilst its ride and refinement are comparable with the class best – cars like the Volkswagen Polo and Skoda Fabia. The steering was obviously engineered by somebody who understands the needs of keen drivers, being nicely weighted and rich in feedback without becoming a wearing distraction. The Fiesta shrugs off mid-corner bumps well and has a genuine big car feel. If there’s one complaint however, it’s that the Fiesta may almost be too clever for its own good, for it’s true that some of the verve and pizzazz of the old car’s handling has been smoothed out. In making the car more competent, a little of the fun factor has been excised.


FORD EXPLORER

November 15, 2007

Despite strong challenges from Land Rover, Jeep and Toyota, the world’s best selling four-wheel drive remains a good old American Ford. The Ford Explorer has also gathered quite a following in its time on sale in Britain, making life tough for the British, American and Japanese establishment. While the Explorer may not be a particularly familiar sight throughout the UK, our American cousins snap up over 400,000 examples every year. This imposing off-roader is the archetypal American import and commands a small but significant following in Britain. It is designed for the demanding US market, so it should be no surprise that the Explorer comes with just about every piece of kit you could imagine in a bid to outdo rivals such as Jeep’s Grand Cherokee and Land Rover’s Discovery. Despite the fact that relatively few have been sold, prices are attractive on the used market, making the Explorer a good prospect as a secondhand buy.

The Explorer was introduced in January 1997. Only one model came over from the States – the 4.0 V6 – and it’s stayed alone ever since though there have been two special editions – the Montana and North Face. Equipped with a slick five-speed automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel drive, this ‘Yank tank’ has more than adequate road performance. It holds its own in the rough too, thanks to ‘Control Trac’ traction control, self-levelling rear suspension, ABS and power-assisted steering. In 1998, the Explorer was freshened up with a series of cosmetic improvements. Value for money and security were improved and at the same time, this thoroughly capable vehicle was given a mild makeover. To check that you’re being offered a revised version look for a sleeker tailgate with the registration plate positioned centrally and separate releases for the tailgate glass and the gate itself in place of the earlier dual-purpose T-handle. The rear window is also deeper, making parking a little easier, and there are different tail-lights, front grille and bumpers. On the security front, an immobiliser was added to the standard equipment, and the traction control system and the stereo were improved while a CD player became optional. A special edition entry-level Montana version was offered in August 1999 – easy to spot because it lacks the standard Explorer’s leather trim and air conditioning. Another, the North Face, arrived a couple of months later with bumpers and other exterior trim colour-matched to the metallic dark green or grey paint. Extras on top of the standard specification included a CD autochanger with rear controls and headphone sockets. The Explorer was quietly phased out in January 2001. As already mentioned, the Americans expect plenty of equipment for their hard-earned dollars. This means anyone who buys a previously-owned Explorer should also be pleasantly surprised by the high level of creature comforts. Anti-lock brakes, air conditioning (except on the Montana), electric almost everything – you name it, it’s thrown in for free, from the electrically adjustable front sports seats to the large electric sunroof. Other little luxuries include electric mirrors, cruise control, an integral roof rack, a compass and an adjustable steering column to allow motorists of all shapes and sizes to find a comfortable driving position. On the safety side, you can also expect driver and front passenger airbags.

Prices start at around £7,300 for the earliest P-reg, January 1997 Explorers with around 61,000 miles on the clock. However, you’re more likely to find a facelifted example from 98R on. These start at around £8,300 and go up to about £9,600 on a 99T, a massive saving on the £27,000 cost new. The Montana special edition was £1,500 cheaper than the standard Explorer when new and the North Face £1,500 more expensive so make some adjustment for this when valuing used examples. As with any used 4×4, check for signs of heavy off-road use and abuse. Few Explorers will have done any more than mount a grass verge, but you can never be too careful. So, check for damage underneath, especially as this 4×4 sits two inches closer to the ground than rivals like the Discovery. Overall, it’s too soon for any faults to have emerged on British machines – a good sign in itself that several years down the line nothing serious has cropped up. Another point in its favour is the fact that the Explorer is consistently a best seller in the States. With their demanding customers and driving style, that says more than anything else about the sturdy nature of this American dream machine. The Explorer makes far more sense secondhand than it ever did new – the steep depreciation curve makes it a surprisingly cheap used car. It’s never quite so cheap to run, however….

(approx incl VAT) As you might expect from a Ford, parts are plentiful – but in the case of this model, they’re not particularly cheap. Front brake pads are around £65, a rear exhaust assembly about £180, a catalyst about £455 (and there are two) and an alternator around £260. A headlamp is about £140.

Although the Explorer has been designed around the premise that most users will spend nearly all their time on the tarmac, it is actually pretty good off-road. It uses Ford’s own permanent 4×4 system called `Control Trac’ which offers a choice of three driving modes. Most users will never shift from `4WD Auto`. Here, all the power goes to the rear as long as there is enough grip. As soon as the surface becomes slippery, however, a sensor automatically transfers a gradual supply of torque to the two front wheels. For simple off-road work or extreme winter conditions, you can switch to ‘4WD High`. Here, most of the engine’s energy is again directed to the back, but there’s a continuous, higher level of power to the front. Finally, there’s `4WD Low` for really tough off-road use or if you’re towing something heavy like a horsebox. The drive is as before, but with a low range 2.48:1 gear reduction for maximum pulling power and engine braking. It may sound complicated, but the whole thing is easy to operate – simply turn a switch on the dashboard. There’s no need to use a lever to select four-wheel drive and there’s is no need to get involved in anything as technical as disengaging auto-locking hubs. Americans expect all those kind of things to be done for them.