Possibly the most abused abbreviation in the motor industry is “GT”.
It was applied to so many run-of the-mill, barely warmed-over cars over the years it even got its own cynical local version: “GeTuned”.
The letters GT come from the beginning of our love affair with cars when only rich people could afford a powered motor vehicle.
GT stood for “Grand Touring” and was normally applied to the supercars of the day, cars able to cover vast distances at considerable speed, while keeping occupants cocooned in comfort.
In those days, Grand Tourers didn’t have much other traffic on the European roads which were their natural habitat.
GT is an appellation which Ford has thrown around a lot in the last 50 years, mainly as a marketing trick.
Some of the cars wearing the badge – like the current Mustang and the GT – fully deserve it. Others, not so much.
Like my first car – a 1965 Cortina GT. Even with its “hotted up” engine, it still pushed out only 58kW, got to 100km/h in just over 13 sec and a shade under 150km/h flat out.
As contemporary ads said at the time, it had remarkable fuel economy: capable of 11.3 litres per 100km. What a difference a generation (or two) makes.
Having just spent a week with Ford’s new R292 000 Fiesta 1.5 diesel, I can say that it – as the “frugal” model in the range – comprehensively outguns the old Cortina GT.
It gets to 100km/h in 12.5 sec, tops out at 175km/h and uses almost one third of the fuel the older car did.
That last stat comes not from a gushing press release, but from my actual observed consumption on a trip of just under 2 000km to KwaZulu-Natal then up to the Mpumalanga Highveld and back to Joburg.
The average consumption was 4.0l/100km.
It’s the best long-trip consumption I have yet got out of any car.
I did the numbers against what my own Subaru Forester (with new-generation, fuel-efficient engine) would have cost me had I used it for the trip.
Overall, with its good-for-an-SUV consumption of 7.6l/100km, the Forester would have cost me R1 300 more in fuel than the Fiesta did. That’s a lot of money.
So, how did the Ford “econobox” fare in the role of a touring car, then? Firstly, let’s acknowledge that these days, with our roads and our drivers, not to mention the explosion in vehicle ownership, being able to travel at transcontinental speeds, as they used to, is no longer practical.
So you won’t need the power, then. In 21st century SA, it’s about economy, comfort and safety, although not necessarily in that order.
Using those parameters, the Fiesta diesel is an excellent touring car.
Sure, there were only two of us in it – but then most GT cars only carry two people anyway.
There was plenty of space for luggage: the boot is not enormous but using the back seats as storage space enabled us not to skimp on any packing or buying along the way.
A big challenge for a touring car has to be comfort. Our longest stretch was just on 800km in a day and on others dawdling around at lower speeds, we still spent many hours in the car.
The seats were perfect. No backache, no tired arms thanks to a good, adjustable driving position.
On the odd occasion when it was warm enough to use the aircon (in KZN they don’t have a winter to speak of) it worked well.
On the open road, the 63kW turbodiesel engine allowed the car to keep up with and pass traffic although some hills required hanging down from sixth to fourth gear to access the torque the little engine does possess.
One surprising benefit of the Fiesta redesign (it was launched here in May) is the fact that the chassis is now 15% stiffer, which leads to a 10% increase in cornering grip, according to Ford.
If you think this is more relevant to the racetrack than to a touring car profile then you haven’t encountered the potholes of Mpumalanga recently.
Even travelling at cautious speeds, the deadly gouges come upon you quickly and necessitate quick but safe direction changes.
The Fiesta’s quick steering meant I saved the tyres and wheels from a battering. So, even if you’re buying a runaround, don’t dismiss the importance of good handling.
You never know when you might need it.
The new Fiesta diesel managed to survive being labelled – as it might well have been before I drove it – as not powerful enough, not big enough or not good for a long journey.
It shrugged off all those labels and made its case strongly for the most accurate one: GT.
This is truly a Grand Touring car.