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Ford Festiva 1994 Review

Four hours out of Adelaide and with another hour to go after dark, the penny dropped.  What was Ford's new urban baby, the Festiva, doing in the middle of nowhere with the speedo bent clockwise of noon, eyes peeled for roos and bugs spattering its cute nose?

After all, the marketing boffins say this latest runabout is mostly likely to be found nipping around town guided by young, single females.  Yet out there, where the sun sinks pink over salt pans and roads stretch to the horizon far from city lights, an ageing bloke can develop a healthy respect for the long-legged Festiva.

Car buffs will know this second-generation Festiva is Ford's version of Mazda's existing bubbly 121, not the old model 121 on which the first Festiva was based.  Ford designers have added a longer Laser-like body to the Mazda mechanicals and given it to Kia in Korea to build.

The reason why the Festiva is not a back-breaking, bum-crunching buzz box out in the bush is that it is no longer a baby car.  It is almost a big as the Laser of five years ago, with a longish wheelbase, reasonable seats and relatively tall gearing.  If you doubt the growth, look no further than the price.

The three-door Trio is $14,695 (auto $15,813) and the five-door GLi is $16,800 (auto $17,918), plus $1885 for air conditioning, a jump of almost $2000, despite the stability of the Korean currency compared with the Japanese yen. The cold, hard fact for first car buyers is there is no longer a new car available in the $12,000 bracket, now that Lada and Niki have gone and the others have moved up in price thanks to the bloated yen.

Festiva's rivals are Charade, Barina (soon to change parents from Japan to Europe), 121 and Swift.  The first Festiva claimed 21 per cent of the small hatch market last year and Ford is gunning for more this year. Rumor says dealers will be willing to talk discounts.

A new multi-point fuel-injection system for the 1.3 litre engine produces 47kW at 5000 rpm and 102Nm or torque at 3000rpm. Specific output is a little lower than the equivalent 121, but so, too, are the engine speeds. Maximum torque comes in at 700rpm lower and maximum power 1000rpm lower, which makes the Festiva less reliant on gear-swapping and more suited to automatic.

Gearing in first and second is similar to the Mazda, so it is just as quick off the mark, but lower engine speed allows it to pull taller top gears and cruise quietly.  On the run from Murray Bridge to Swan Hill, the GLi on test performed with the ease of a larger car. Power steering is twitchy at speed, hills knock fifth down to fourth quickly and the wheels don't like falling into big holes, but overall comfort levels are good.

And the bonus at the end of the day is low fuel costs. The average over 1000km was 9l/100km, but a lighter right foot could extend this to 7-8l/100km, giving a touring range of 450-500km from the 38l tank.

Standard equipment on the Trio includes four-speaker stereo, fold-flat load area, sporty seat trim, cup-holder and a left footrest. The Gli adds power steering, tilt steering column, velour seats and door inserts and a map pocket in the driver's seat. 

The GLi is 345mm longer and 65mm wider than the previous Festiva and has 27mm more front legroom and 75 per cent more load space with the 50:50 split rear seat folded.  It is also 112kg heavier at 922kg.  Colors include violet, pink and masculine green.

Pricing Guides

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Range and Specs

(base) 1.3L, ULP, 3 SP AUTO $2,420 – 3,850 1994 Ford Festiva 1994 (base) Pricing and Specs
GLi 1.3L, ULP, 3 SP AUTO $2,420 – 3,850 1994 Ford Festiva 1994 GLi Pricing and Specs
Trio 1.3L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,310 – 3,630 1994 Ford Festiva 1994 Trio Pricing and Specs