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Improved Zetec sets course for new Fiesta XR4

STeed: Next year's performance leading Fiesta ST will face off with VW's new Polo GTI.

Sizzling Fiesta turbo looms as Ford puts performance back into its blue-blooded baby

9 Dec 2010

FRESH from its sharpened WT Fiesta Zetec, Ford is now setting its sights on delivering a hot turbo petrol iteration of its popular sporty light car.

Due to be unveiled next year in Europe, and with Australia in line for it not long after, the go-faster Blue Oval baby is expected to tout Ford’s turbocharged 1.6-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder petrol engine, with pundits predicting about 135kW of power.

In line with the previous naturally aspirated 110kW 2.0-litre WQ version, the 2012 XR4 Turbo – as the model may be branded – will of course feature the usual sports flotsam and jetsam, such as a bodykit, lower ride height, firmer suspension, sports seats and larger alloy wheels.

However, this time around, while a six-speed manual gearbox is almost a dead cert, Ford’s Mexican-made Powershift dual-clutch transmission should also be part of the option pack.

This would match the Fiesta ST/XR4 Turbo’s closest competitor in Australia – the latest Volkswagen Polo GTI – which in fact is available only with dual-clutch (DSG) technology.

The inherent efficiencies of this style of transmission makes it more attractive in terms of CO2 reduction – and European buyers are taxed according to their vehicles’ carbon outputs.

“We’ve had tremendous success with the old XR4, and it doesn’t take a smart person to figure out where we might go next,” said Ford Australia general marketing manager David Katic at the Australian launch of the Thailand-built WT Fiesta range, which debuted at October’s Australian International Motor Show in Sydney.

Like Volkswagen’s $19,850 Polo 77TSI Comfortline, Ford has found that the higher-end versions of the latest Fiesta – the $18,990 LX and $20,990 Zetec – are the more popular variants.

In fact, the sporty Zetec so far accounts for up to half of all sales volume, prompting the team at Broadmeadows to push forward with the XR4 successor.

This compares to just two per cent of sales for the previous-generation WP/WQ Fiesta from 2004 to 2008 – although today’s Zetec does not have an XR4 hero car hogging up the limelight.

“The Fiesta is having success in the $17,000 to $23,000 area, especially with the Zetec,” Mr Katic said.

“The previous Zetec was running at two per cent and now it’s at 50 per cent – and that figure is stock constrained. We’re shocked, frankly. I’ve worked in the industry 20 years and I’ve never seen a high series car do that.” Furthermore, as supply lines free up now that the newly opened Thailand plant is ramping up production, Mr Katic expects Zetec volume to keep growing.

“Our dealer order write tells us that the Zetec’s popularity will continue,” he said.

To aid its appeal (and to steal more than a few $22,350 Polo 66kW/230Nm 66TDI diesel buyers) a new 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine has been added ($23,490 – or $21,490 in the LX), while a firmer suspension tune is now fitted to all Zetec models.

This is in line with the European Zetec S damper rates that were overlooked for the WS Fiesta Zetec out of Saarlouis, Germany, back when the current model was launched in January 2009.

The existing Fiesta generation has seen a paradigm shift in the way Ford markets its vehicles in Australia, according to Mr Katic, as the company moves away from the ‘stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap’ strategy of previous light car contenders like the 1990s Festiva from Korea, and into near-premium Volkswagen territory.

“And it’s been a real change for our franchise – and it signals to us a change in our future in our model line-up. Traditionally we’ve sold lower spec cars but now it is the rich mix LX and Zetec models that are selling well,” he said.

“We want to sell high volumes and be profitable as well. We love the ($16,990) CL.” Ford is also confident of continuing success with the $24,990 WS Econetic, the sub-100g/km CO2 eco-model (3.7L/100km versus the new TDCi’s 4.4L/100km) that has managed to snare some of the Toyota Prius’ customer base, according to Mr Katic.

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