The Ford Fiesta 1.6 Titanium

For a true car enthusiast, the words “value for money” don’t carry much emotional weight when it comes to buying a car. The way a car looks, drives and makes you feel are the key requirements for enthusiasts. However, with the rising cost of living and the negative economic environment, compromise has become a key word – with buyers demanding cars that not only look good, but offer more at a competitive price. Value for money then…

If you were in the market for a funky small car a decade ago, you would’ve been able to get Ford’s Fiesta 1.4 Fun with aircon and radio for a measly R65 890; a favourite of students and first time buyers. Today, students probably drive Chevrolet Sparks and second-hand Polos as the top spec Fiesta will set daddy back R179 130; money that would’ve bought you a Mercedes Benz C200 Classic, BMW 320i or Audi A4 1.8T a decade ago.

Yesterday’s entry-level cars have grown up considerably, with Ford’s latest Fiesta being a prime example. Gone are the rounded looks, replaced with strikingly sporty lines that look equally good in three and five-door guise. There’s a flashy machismo about it, as if it’s ready to pounce and has ambitions of breaking land speed records. Its appeal is undeniable and, as Ford’s first global car since the Model T, the Blue Oval has done very well in the market place. Interestingly, Ford’s marketing material tells you that the typical Fiesta buyer is a woman…

While the Mazda2 remains a popular car in its segment, Fiesta’s biggest competition comes from Honda’s equally fresh new Jazz, launched a few weeks after the Fiesta at the Johannesburg International Motor Show. While the previous generation Jazz wasn’t a supermodel, it astounded with its practicality and versatility without driving like an underpowered MPV. Its sales were steady and its owners chuffed, but it never stirred your sensibilities into the irrational. But then again, Jazz was never created to appeal to the boy racer inside.

Look at it quickly now and it’s still instantly recognizable as a Jazz, but the new look grows on you. It’s larger than its predecessor, of course, but more proportionally so. Shorter front and rear overhangs result in even more interior space, but also give it a sportier stance that moves it into a more masculine realm.

For this feature, we pitted the delicious-looking Fiesta 1.6 3-door in Titanium-spec against the top-spec Jazz EX-S in an attempt to identify the better purchase.

Driving the Fiesta immediately reminded us why it impressed so much at its local launch. For everyday use the 3-door set-up could be irritating, but if you rarely have more than one passenger, there’s no need to worry. Gorgeous exterior aside, it offers cutting-edge interior design and a comprehensive package of standard equipment at a highly competitive price. (Bluetooth phone connectivity isn’t even a standard feature in an Audi, for example.)

The Honda Jazz 1.5 EX-S

What the new Jazz loses in small-car charm, it makes up with significantly better looks, especially in EX-S trim; ditching the stretched look of the old in favour of subtly aggressive style. The opaque clusters housing the LED lights and indicators at the back don’t work with all the available colours, especially the lighter ones, but certainly looked the part on our Storm Silver test unit. Combined with dark tinted windows, sporty 16” alloy wheels and tasteful side skirts, the EX-S looks the business, albeit not quite as striking as the Fiesta.

Honda’s legendary build quality is evident from the minute you get behind the wheel; everything appears to be of high quality materials. I wasn’t fond of the upholstery on the seats and doors though, as it shows dirt and dust very quickly. Ergonomics are top notch, and the panoramic glass sunroof that’s standard on the EX-S is a brilliant touch, making the interior seem even larger than it already is.

In EX-S specification, Jazz is powered by a 1.5-litre engine that delivers 88kW of power and 145 Nm of torque available at a high 4 800 r/min. While this compares very well to several of its competitors with larger engines, it feels very sluggish, especially when working hard. I had to gear down considerably to maintain the grunt required to get it up relatively steep hills.

On the open road however, Jazz is magnificent. It reaches decent cruising speeds with ease and gives sufficient feedback to ease maneuverability around bends and twists. Steering is more precise and dynamics show a definite improvement. With Gauteng’s winter sunshine in the cabin and good music in your ears, Jazz makes a great companion on a weekend road trip.

The Fiesta on the other hand is powered by a 1.6-litre engine that also produces 88 kW of power, but with slightly more torque (149 Nm) at a slightly lower 4250 r/min. As is the case with the Jazz, it’s a nippy little runaround although it could’ve done with just a tad more oomph. It’s quicker to 100km/h than the Jazz, but also feels a bit underpowered at times, possibly because peak torque is only available high up in the rev range.

Our test models were priced at R186 500 and R191 900 for the Ford and Honda respectively. Both models are refreshing in the sense that they offer that elusive concept of “value for money” without sacrificing much. The Jazz is however perceived as a slightly more premium offering, which is probably why it sells considerably less than the Fiesta. (Neither of these are however the best model in their respective ranges, so be sure to try some of the lower spec models as well.)

Neither cars excite in the traditional, irrational way, instead giving you a certain satisfaction because they do absolutely everything well. What the Jazz loses in sex appeal, it makes up in practicality. What the Fiesta loses in practicality, it makes up with sex appeal…loads of it. Both are winners, but for decidedly different reasons. This time around, however, I vote for sex appeal.

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