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The release of Ford's all new Lasers in late 1994 heralded the end of the locally built Lasers. Ford's current line-up of Lasers originates from the Mazda production line in Japan. While it was disappointing to see the closure of Ford's Homebush plant in Sydney after a 13 year production run of Lasers, the latest offerings from Ford boast far superior levels of equipment, safety and refinement than their predecessors.
The new generation small car from Ford comes in three new smart, distinctive body styles: a three door hatch called Lynx, a five door hatch called Laser Liata and a four door sedan simply called Laser Sedan.
The Liata hatch and Laser sedan are offered in two levels of trim, the more basic LXi and the luxury Ghia. The LXi is available with an 80 kW 1.6 litre engine as standard equipment or a 92 kW 1.8 litre as an option. The Ghia and the Lynx are equipped with the 92 kW 1.8 litre engine only.
Both engines are wide angle 16 valve double overhead cam (DOHC) designs with sequential multi-point fuel injection, mated to a choice of either a five speed manual transmission or an electronic controlled four speed automatic transmission.
Laser Liata prices start at $25,532 for a 1.6 litre LXi manual hatch and $24,574 for a 1.6 litre manual Laser sedan with standard features including tilt and height adjustment for the driver's seat, height adjustable front seat belt anchorages, an upgraded four speaker stereo system, power steering, rear spoiler, 60/40 split fold rear seat, full instrumentation, 14 inch wheels and a tilt adjustable steering column.
The most expensive Laser Liata is the automatic Ghia which is priced at $31,658 and as expected is a more luxurious vehicle offering a number of extras over the LXi such as 14 inch alloy wheels, power mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, power windows, keyless entry and velour trim. The Laser Ghia sedan features the same equipment level as the Laser Liata Ghia and is priced at $30,301.
The Lynx is produced in one specification only which includes a high level of standard equipment similar to the LXi Ghia in addition to certain other features. Priced at $32,119 the Lynx offers both driver and front passenger air bag protection as standard equipment, anti-lock brakes and 15 inch alloy wheels matched with low profile tyres. Interestingly, there is no automatic transmission option available for the Lynx. The 1.8 litre five speed manual transmission is the only available combination for the Lynx. On all vehicles air conditioning is an option which will set you back $1948, but metallic paint does not carry an additional charge.
For the safety conscious, driver and front passenger air bags are optional for both model Liatas, however, anti-lock brakes is listed as an option for the Liata Ghia only. of course neither of these options is cheap as the dual air bar and anti-lock brakes combination costs more than $3000.
All Ford vehicles are covered against defects in factory materials or workmanship for the first 24 months or 50,000 km, whichever comes first.
The new generation Ford Lasers are radically styled in comparison to the previous KH model. The very bold and striking lines of the Lynx, and to a slightly lesser extent the Liata, certainly stand out from the crowd and should appeal to those who like to be noticed.
The two test cars were well finished overall as we have come to expect from most Japanese manufactured vehicles and have a solid feel to both the body and trim items. However, the interior does give the impression of being a little drab in comparison to the ostentatious exterior styling, being let down by the all grey colour scheme and extensive areas of plastic.
It is interesting to note that in comparison to the superseded model Lasers the sedans are longer while the hatches are shorter. This would lead us to the immediate conclusion that the sedan should have more interior space than before and the hatch may have lost some of its interior space. This fact is backed up by Ford's claim that the sedan has 60mm more rear leg room than any other vehicle in its class. The rear headroom in both hatches, on the other hand, is restrictive for adults.
The seating provided in the Lasers enabled a comfortable driving position to be found, no doubt due to the already mentioned tilt and height adjustment provided on the driver's seat. In addition, the seating provides good support and front leg and head room are adequate for a vehicle in this class. Rear headroom in the Liata is barely adequate for anyone of adult proportions.
The Liata has an average size boot that is capable of swallowing enough luggage or shopping to fulfil most people's needs.
The control layout of the Liata and Lynx is very good. The instrument cluster is clearly legible, all controls are within easy reach and the steering column provides tilt adjustment. Illuminated keyless entry is also a bonus that is provided on the Ghia and Lynx models. The Liata also has upper seat belt anchorage adjustment for both front seating positions while in the Lynx the anchorages are fixed.
Driver's vision is quite good in all directions except towards the rear because of the quite high backs and placement of the rear spoiler. This is particularly true in the case of the Lynx where the spoiler divides the rear into two separate viewing segments which tends to be a little annoying, but may be something that an owner becomes accustomed to.
The larger 1.8 litre fuel injected engine mated to the 5 speed manual transmission, as was fitted to both of the test vehicles, provided good, responsive performance throughout the rev range and is well suited to city and highway driving alike. The engines provided smooth and quiet operation and did not display any sign of harshness, even when approaching the upper rev limit.
Unfortunately we cannot compare the smaller 1.6 litre engine, or the operation of the four speed automatic transmission, but suspect the performance would be noticeably inferior to the 1.8 litre.
The Lynx and the Liata both provide good feedback to the driver giving an impression of predictability and sure-footedness on the road. There is a small amount of understeer when cornering with zeal as with most front wheel drive vehicles but certainly not enough to cause concern.
The manual transmission has an easy shift action and the clutch operation is smooth and light, making the Laser an easy car to drive.
The brake action initially felt light and responsive, but quite a high level of pedal effort was required to bring the Liata to rest. The ABS equipped Lynx seemed better than the Liata although the pedal felt a little dead when initially depressed. Firmly applying the ABS brakes of the Lynx provided excellent stopping power.
By teaming up with Mazda in Japan, Ford has released to the Australian market a new, attractively styled Laser which has excellent finish standards, far superior to previous model, Australian built Lasers.
The new Liata and Lynx perform well in 1.8 litre form, as tested, and provide a comfortable and stable ride with no apparent ill manners.
The Lynx in particular comes very well equipped and its distinctive, sporty appeal may indeed generate some form of cult following. Of course, you get nothing for free, and at $32,119 not including air conditioning, the Lynx is fairly pricey.
All three new Laser styles should generate a great deal of interest for those looking to purchase a new vehicle in the small car market. They are modern, attractively styled vehicles which offer good levels of equipment and well worth a test drive and buyer consideration.
Unfortunately, the down side of the hatches' sleek and swooping rear styling is that rear passenger head room tends to be somewhat restrictive and this may spoil the appeal of the Laser as a family car.
Test vehicle supplied by Ford Motor Company of Australia Limited.
|Model||Laser KJ Liata LXi|
|Body type||5-door hatchback|
High brake pedal effort
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||1.8 L|
|Wheel size||14 "|
|Type||Power assisted rack and pinion|
|Width (including mirrors)||1710 mm|
|Max towed mass (trailer plus load)||500 kg|
NRMA Theft Rating
Acceleration - Test results
|50 - 80km/h||6.1 secs|
|60 - 100km/h||7.8 secs|
|0 - 80km/h||6.9 secs|
|0 - 100km/h||10.7 secs|
|Best recorded during testing||8.2 L/100km|
|Worst recorded during testing||11.3 L/100km|
|Average on test||9.61 L/100km|
|Distance to stop (from 80km/h)||35.6 metres|
|Interior noise at constant 80km/h||68 dB(A)|