If you like high-performance small cars, cast an envious eye at our Australian cousins, and Ford’s latest hot hatch.
The Fiesta XR4 goes on sale there this month, at an attractive $Au24,990.
Ford Australia President Tom Gorman says the XR4 will “become the benchmark in the light car hot-hatch segment, as it boasts a specially modified 2.0-litre engine, numerous safety and sports enhancements and an eye-catching appearance.”
You’d expect that, Gorman being the Ford Oz honcho, but the on-paper specification suggests he could be right. The sad note is that Ford New Zealand has no plans to sell the car here, even though it’s backing a Ford Fiesta challenge – using similar-spec cars – in the 2007 NZ Rally Championship.
Ford NZ public affairs manager Clare Ponton admits the XR4 looks “very exciting” but says that at the moment the company is “just looking at it.”
Ford NZ will monitor how well the car does in Australia.
A pity because the spec looks interesting – a 2.0-litre Duratec 16-valve engine developing 110kW at 6000rpm, and peak torque of 190Nm. The Fiesta’s Durashift five-speed manual transmission has been modified for the manual-only XR4, a short-throw gearshift giving quick shifting. Ford’s works rally outfit, TeamRS, developed the XR4.
The Fiesta’s front springs have been considerably stiffened, and the dampers recalibrated. A revised front suspension knuckle provides more negative camber to generate greater front end grip.
The rear springs have been stiffened, and the dampers modified. The steering rack ratio has been shortened by 10 percent and the toe-in reduced, to make the steering more agile while maintaining high speed stability and controllability.
Brakes have been upgraded: 278mm by 22mm front ventilated discs have larger callipers and pads. The XR4 is the first Fiesta to have rear disc brakes. It has lowered suspension, and arch-filling alloy wheels fitted with specially-developed P Zero Nero low-profile 205/40 ZR17 tyres. The XR4 has a thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel, metal pedals and a leather-wrapped gearknob.
Safety gear includes driver and front passenger airbags, side curtain airbags and side thorax airbags.
Dynamic stability control (DSC), traction control and ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) are standard, the DSC specially calibrated by TeamRS chassis engineers, allowing the driver to exploit fully the fun-to-drive nature without feeling restricted by the system.
The body kit includes side skirts, and the deeper rear bumper has a large air diffuser opening. The gap between the rear roof spoiler and the roof has been tuned to reduce drag and improve downforce.
Fiesta XR4s are available in six exterior colours, all available with an optional double overhead racing stripe. The colour palette is colorado red, frozen white, moondust silver, sea grey, panther black and performance blue. There are three different optional overhead stripe colours available – silver, blue or white, depending on the exterior colour chosen.
It’s a shame Ford NZ has no immediate plans to bring the XR4 here. The Fiesta is one of the best-kept secrets of the New Zealand car market – a car that in standard form is lively and sharp-handling, and the perfect next-car for buyers of the old European-sourced Holden Barina. The XR4 would give the vehicle the image boost it needs.