Re-1998 Part 2 – Ford Fiesta Versus Some Other Cars

We carry on our saunter down memory avenue with this look back to the champions of the summer of 1998. Where were you then?

1998 Renault Megane Scenic**: source

I don’t want to talk about it. It was the second worst time of my life. Times weren’t good at Mercedes either. The A-Class had been moosed and that took some of the attention from its revolutionary cheapening of the Mercedes name and its quite hideous styling.

WhatWhyCar? ran a comparison of the A-class and picked three other, very different cars because they were so baffled by the A-class’s concept. It seems so obvious to us now: a Golf-priced hatchback. However, the consumer magazine decided that the A-Class buyer might also be considering a Ford Fiesta, a Renault Megane Scenic or a VW Golf.

1998 Ford Fiesta: source

That image of the Fiesta is so very sad: the corrugated zinc walls and non-descript industrial-estate/farm background. This one is more like the way Ford want you to see the car:

1998 Ford Fiesta: source

And a Golf looked like this in 1998:

Image: katalog-samochodow.pl

The A-Class cost from £14,500. That was £1500 more than a Fiesta Ghia X 1.4. The Renault Megane Scenic 2.0 RXE sold for £16,770 and a for a VW Golf 16 SE you needed to splash out £15520. Mercedes really did put cats among pigeons by landing their base A under the price of a similar Golf.

1997 Mercedes A-class bootlid badge, or part thereof.

I’ll put you out of your misery: the Golf won the comparison. Ford’s Fiesta won the nimbleness award and was the most “satisfying to drive”. It also cost the least. Though a year later you could choose a used A-Class for the price of the Fiesta. The Scenic naturally won out on the practicality stakes but for quality VW and Mercedes won. Do you believe the A-Class really had better quality than the Scenic because I don’t. I’ve yet to see a rusty Scenic but a rusty A is entirely routine.

WhichWhyCar? thought the Benz “cleverer” than the Golf but it fell down on ease of use and long range use plus it cost more. Overall, the magazine thought the Golf won, but only just. The VW got to sixty a second faster than the A-Class and had a higher top-speed.

Twenty years on, either a Scenic or Golf pass the kerbside test. You see them in good condition whereas the Benz is often found in a rusted, decayed state quite out of keeping with the brand’s image. Both cars were made in Germany too so you can’t point out some cultural problem if you are looking for an explanation.

Benz clearly spent money on the car but in the wrong place, engineering that didn’t make a difference. Sure, the car was shorter than a box of matches and was roomier than an E-Class but the cost of achieving that square circle came with the need to pare costs everywhere else.

Still, mission accomplished. By the time everyone found out the Benz liked to rust, the sales had been made to the detriment of most of the other similarly priced cars available. Cynical?

** This is the third time this has happened with this series. The title image of the Scenic did not come from the vast database of images now growing in the basement of DTW’s office suites but instead was harvested for this article from this fine site. And yet if you’d asked me this afternoon had we ever written or covered this car I’d have bet on “yes” being the right answer.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

6 thoughts on “Re-1998 Part 2 – Ford Fiesta Versus Some Other Cars”

  1. Twenty years on, the Mk4 Golf still looks exceptionally handsome, the “rightness” of its design standing the test of time well. It set a new benchmark for quality in mainstream cars even if, dynamically, it was nothing special (not that most owners cared a jot). For me, it captured the very essence of Volkswagen; quiet rationality. Post Dieselgate, the company has undermined these qualities with its recent ersatz “trying too hard” designs.

    The Fiesta is a morose looking thing, Ford’s oval grille theme working no better here than it did on the Escort or (Yikes!) Scorpio. What were they thinking? The Scenic was a good concept well realised, but looks very last century now.

    The A-class was a clever concept, poorly executed. Although we didn’t know it at the time, Mercedes-Benz was reaching a nadir in the quality of its products as accountants overruled engineers and profit was everything. ( I had the misfortune to own a 1998 SLK, easily the most unreliable car I have ever owned. At least I got rid of it before it started to rust!)

  2. I liked that Fiesta at the time, it looked different and interesting, just about getting away with not looking like a new bulbous front and rear grafted onto the old humdrum Mk3 Fiesta midships. More importantly, it heralded the beginning of Ford’s rennaisance.

  3. The W168 A-Class is a woeful car. Aside from the clever packaging and fairly neat styling for what is basically a box I cannot find anything nice to say about it. Ex wife had one a couple of years old when we met, it’s road manners were best described as erratic, the ride was very poor, it was very slow (A140), and the quality was truly dreadful. Bits of trim coming off all the time, and by the end it was encrusted in rust. If I had to pick a car to give to my worst enemy to drive it would be a W168 A140.

  4. The post mosse test W168s had a reworked suspension setup that indeed gave them a terrible ride. The original suspension was relatively soft with proper suspension travel, resulting in a low resonance frequency. Because of its absurdly high centre of gravity this resonance frequency was easily reached in the Swedish moose test, inducing uncontrallable movements that eventually made the car tip over. This was cured by shortened suspension travel and much stiffer springs prividing a much higher resonance frequency at the cost of comfort.

    At the time of the moose test debacle I did some business at Mercedes’ large truck plant near the French border. After the famous Swedish somersault people there proposed to move A class production from Rastatt to their facility because they were specialists in producing tippers…

  5. I win the DTW anorak of the week by admitting that I REMEMBER the original test as it appeared in the UK’s What Car?
    It served to highlight how difficult the press and the market found it to classify the original A Class.

    I was in the market at the time for a practical ‘family car’ as we were expecting our first child (which is why I bought that edition of WC? and also remember the oddness of the test). I loved the idea of the cleverness of the packaging of the A-Class: Scenic space in a sub-Fiesta length car. When I looked into it properly, the Scenic was considerably bigger inside than the Mercedes, was cheaper in 1.6l 16v form (especially when bought as an import from a discounter), and it rode better. Hence, I was able to dismiss the A-Class as one of those ‘I like the idea of it, but’ kind of propositions … which is where I first started with the C6, but I’ve now been hitched to that one for over 8 years!

    The Fiesta was a peach to drive, especially with the Yamaha-designed, 1.25l ‘Zetec’ petrol engine, but looked a little odd.

    The Golf looks great and set a whole new perceived-quality standard for the class, but was eclipsed by the original Focus in the driving stakes – both stand as land-mark cars, and that was a ‘golden era’ for the family/ compact hatch.

  6. The summer of 1998 I was fast approaching 28 years of age and ready for my very first new car. Or so I thought. To me the new A-Class looked interestingly different and a test drive was booked. Straight after work I was as eager as could be only for all my illusions to be shattered after the saleman’s patter about the infinitely adjustable interior as the test drive itself was memorable only due to it driving so poorly. Awkward, overweight and off balance are the feelings I remember but opted not to comment due to being English. On returning to the dealership, I was asked, “So Mr Miles, ready to place an order?” I thought I’d enquire as to a part exchange value ( a Mk 3 Astra) just to get an idea of a figure to change to which he replied, “No, Sir, people KNOW when they are ordering a Mercedes-Benz.” I found some courage and told him to stuff it and cleared off and kept the Astra a good while longer. And yes, the few that remain seem riddled with tin-worm whereas the Golf remains handsome and in the main, rust free. I’ve never owned a Golf, merely looking at one imbues a nod to longevity.

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