EXPERT REVIEW

washingtonpost.com's view

THIS IS IN praise of small things done well — a tribute to thenotion that simple honesty is far superior to reliance on gimcrackery.This is about the 1991 Ford Festiva GL, one of the best mini-carsavailable for the money. And it’s also about Kathie Lemke, an officialin Ford’s Washington office who had imagination enough to install anaccordion-type sunroof in this week’s test mobile.

That $450 slide-and-fold roof, optional equipment excellentlyassembled by ASC Inc., won raves from most people who saw and playedwith it.

In sum, the little Festiva GL was a hoot, though not everyone feltkindly toward the car. Some people likened it to a box with curves.Others called it a high-top tennis shoe or a motorized mutt.

But what’s important here is that the Festiva GL made them feelsomething. No one just looked at it and walked away.

Background: The Festiva, made for Ford by Kia Motors Corp. in SouthKorea, was introduced in the United States in the spring of 1987. Only200,000 Festivas have been sold since then, making the car a lacklusterperformer in a market where some auto makers — Hyundai, for example –have sold that many cars in a year.

But, for my money, the base Festiva L and the tested GL are bettersmall cars than those offered by Hyundai. The difference is that Fordand Kia understand a little bit of something about soul.

Complaints: Those phony “automatic” seatbelts again — the kind wherethe only automatic portion is the shoulder harness, which does littlefor you in a crash if you forget to buckle the manual lap belt.

Praise: Overall build quality on the Festiva GL is excellent. The caris tight. Its exterior paint job is superior. Its interior is cloth andvinyl, but the cloth is top grade and well-stitched, and the vinyl andother plastic components are high-quality pieces.

The Festiva GL’s dashboard is easily readable. All controls arewithin the driver’s reach. Cargo space in the car is a scant 11.7 cubicfeet with the rear seat up, but grows to a very respectable 26.5 cubicfeet with the rear seat down.

Head-turning quotient: Cheers and boos, but it gets noticed.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Ride is excellent for a small car –very little of the bumpiness often associated with comparable models.The Festiva GL feels solid and well-balanced, even on rain-slick roads.

Acceleration is decent. The Festiva GL is equipped with a 1.3-liter,four-cylinder, electronically fuel-injected, 63-horsepower engine. It’llget you up to legal highway speeds with no sweat, but will complainmightily if you try to exceed those levels. Handling becomes a problemat parking speeds, primarily because the Festiva lacks power steering.

Sound system: Four-speaker AM/FM radio. Ford factory. Good.

Mileage: About 33 miles per gallon (10-gallon tank, estimated320-mile range on usable volume of 87-octane unleaded). The test car wasequipped with an optional three-speed automatic transmission.

Price: Base price on the Festiva GL is $7,460. Dealer’s invoice priceon base model is $7,053. Price as tested is $9,698, including $1,953 inoptions and a $285-destination charge.

Purse-strings note: It’s a buy, though I’d save $515 and go with themanual gearbox, which would also save gas money down the road. Comparewith the Hyundai Scoupe and Excel, Geo Metro and Storm, MitsubishiMirage, Volkswagen Fox and Toyota Tercel.

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