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Ford Fiesta 5-door Titanium 1.4 Automatic

Click to view picture gallery“Fords supermini, the Fiesta, is still
  the best-selling new car in the UK,
  no doubt helped by prices starting
  at 11,645 for the popular range of
  three- and five-door hatchbacks

POWERED BY 1.25, 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol and 1.4 and 1.6-litre diesel engines and with a choice of Studio, Edge, ECOnetic, Zetec, Zetec S, S1600, Titanium and Titanium Individual specifications (depending on which engine and body style is chosen), there is also the option of a 'proper' automatic transmission for 1.4-litre, three- and five-door Edge, Zetec and Titanium models. Around ten per cent of customers in the supermini sector purchase a car with an automatic transmission so for Ford this is an important option.

I say 'proper' automatic because this 1,000 extra-cost option is a torque converter unit and it isn't one of those cheaper, jerky and frustrating electronic automated clutchless manual systems. But neither is it one of the new-generation, slightly more expensive, twin clutch 7-speed DSG systems to be found in the Volkswagen family ranges.

The DSG system offers seamless and fast changes between gears, and in many cases reduces the CO2 levels over manual transmission cars. The new Polo, for instance, has this DSG auto option and it costs 1,240. The Polo, with its 1.4-litre petrol engine with a five-speed manual gearbox, puts out 139g/km of CO2 but fitted with the DSG auto 'box this drops to 135g/km — and the fuel economy is marginally better as well. Consequently the Polo 1.4, with either manual or auto transmissions, falls into the VED road tax 'E' band which now costs 110.

This is not good news for the Fiesta 1.4 four-speed automatic because its CO2 level is 154g/km against 133g/km for the five-speed manual version, so the Fiesta auto will cost 155 for road tax while the manual model is the same 110 as the Polo.

To complete the picture, the Fiesta 1.4 five-door in top-of-the-range Titanium specification with the auto gearbox officially costs 16,445 although there is a chance of getting a better price from a dealer. The new VW Polo in range-topping SEL specification with a 1.4-litre petrol engine and with the DSG auto costs 15,560 — that is 885 less than the Fiesta. Both have the same Group 9 insurance rating.

The new Fiesta looks smart, it seems well made, the Titanium specification lacks for very little, it is easy and fun to drive and very agile. The Polo feels more solid with better quality interior trim; it looks like a smaller Golf and is more conservatively styled and it should be cheaper to buy and run. Because of Ford's high pricing policy then dealers discounting them again, VW's position of relatively firm pricing means the residual value indicators show the Polo will be worth more as a trade-in after three years.

The Fiesta 1.4 auto’s
engine and torque
converter gearbox
worked well together
and the real-life fuel
consumption of 35.1mpg
was acceptable
That is a decision I now have to make (in conjunction with my wife, of course) because while perfectly able to drive a car with a manual gearbox, 'the boss' insists on having a new supermini-sized hatchback without a clutch pedal. Having tried both the Fiesta and Polo, the decision has yet to be made but I suspect the Polo is the front-runner as it received no negative comments.

The Fiesta 1.4 auto Titanium five-door did, however, cause comment — the styling was liked, the engine and torque converter gearbox worked well together and the real-life fuel consumption of 35.1mpg was acceptable.

But it ultimately came down to the driving position. Although both the Fiesta and Polo, for safety reasons, have wide front and rear quarter pillars, the Fiesta was judged to offer poorer visibility for the driver — my wife. I didn't find it an issue but then it's not my future car. Ride comfort was about the same but I feel the Fiesta is the more agile and fun to drive, something my wife doesn't worry about as she is more interested in getting from A to B and then parking the car easily.

For me the Fiesta's 1.4-litre petrol engine was lively enough for a car of this size and pretty fuel efficient, and it handles the load of the automatic transmission pretty well. The acceleration is slightly dulled with 0-62mph taking 13.9 seconds and a top speed of 109mph. But I could live with that. Ford says the electronic throttle responses have been tuned and sharpened up to accommodate the auto gearbox application.

With our stop-start British motoring conditions the desire to have a car with an automatic gearbox is getting stronger. It takes the stress and wear and tear out of modern driving. Given the shortage of space on our roads and the difficulties with parking, the automatic compact Fiesta seems like an ideal, but costly, marriage.

Officially the Fiesta auto will average 43.4mpg and my test car, a five-door Titanium model, came up with a 35.1mpg figure for a combination of motorway, rural and town driving so I think that is a realistic figure. For the record, the CO2 emissions are 154g/km so there will be an annual road tax cost of 155.

In the automatic Fiesta's favour is the added driving refinement to what is the best selling 'supermini' by far. However, the automatic Polo costs less to buy, is more fuel and CO2 efficient and probably is the more desirable to own. By comparison the Fiesta looks expensive with the auto gearbox option and it's beaten by the Polo auto for road tax and fuel costs, not to mention the VW's lower official purchase price. So unless Ford sorts out the pricing policy for its small cars and stops its dealers horse-trading the transaction prices, then as good as the Fiesta is I suspect the Volkswagen product could be the sensible choice for many people — David Miles

Ford Fiesta 5-door Titanium 1.4 Automatic
| 16,445
Maximum speed: 109mph | 0-62mph: 13.9 seconds | Overall test MPG: 35.1mpg
Power: 95bhp | Torque: 94lb ft | CO2 154g/km