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The Laser is one of Ford's success stories for the eighties until the company decided in the early nineties to close down the Australian assembly plant in favour of importing these cars directly from Japan.
With a natural fall-off in sales due partly to an increase in purchase price, Laser sales are on the increase and rising each year, as this once popular small car begins to regain some of its former appeal.
The latest KN series Laser features a new lighter bodyshell, with many new body panels for both sedan and hatch, more refined engines, an increase in safety and security and improved performance, while maintaining the current pricing.
Both the hatch and the sedan are available in LXi trim with a 1.6 litre engine and in GLXi trim with a 1.8 litre engine. The basic LXi hatch and sedan with manual transmission are priced at $19,990 and the GLXi models are $21,990 for the manual and $23,894 for the Automatic. The GLXi optional power-pack is $890 and manual or automatic transmission is optional on all models. Our test vehicles were both sedans with manual transmission, the LXi with a 1.6 engine and the GLXi with a 1.8 engine.
Both the LXi and GLXi models feature air conditioning, power steering, driver's airbag, tilt adjustable steering column, tilt and height adjustable driver's seat and electronic engine immobiliser as standard equipment. The upper level GLXi has a 1.8 engine, four wheel disc brakes, larger tyres, colour keyed door handles and velour seat trim. A power-pack consisting of electric windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, electric mirrors with colour keyed housings, illuminated entry and map lights, is an option on the GLXi only.
Both the 1.6 and 1.8 litre engines have Double Overhead Camshafts with 16 valves and multipoint fuel injection. New intake manifolds and revised valve angles claim to improve engine torque and reduce fuel consumption for both engines.
The five speed manual transmission is unchanged, however the automatic transmission has been subjected to some significant upgrades, that enable it to compensate for climate conditions and other variables by strategically altering the shift points, while also improving the shift quality.
Although the basic design of the Laser's suspension is unchanged, upgrades include stiffer suspension arms and bushings, relocated stabiliser bar and revised damper rates, which have improved ride, stability and noise. The power steering rack and mountings have been revised to provide a more positive and responsive feel.
The LXi models are fitted with front power assisted disc brakes combined with drum brakes on the rear. All GLXi's have power assisted four wheel disc brakes, although ABS is not offered as an option on either model.
Security does not appear to be a high priority on small Japanese cars, however the Laser has a ‘Smart Key' system using a transponder in the ignition key, requiring a match with the computer's code before enabling the engine's ignition and fuel systems.
Although claiming to use some of the same ‘New Edge' theme styling that Ford first used on the British Ka and again on the Australian AU Falcon, I consider the Laser to be more conservative and therefore not as startling at first glance. Its smooth clean lines are pleasing to the eye, giving it the impression of a larger car while retaining the unmistakable Ford corporate image.
The KN Laser has been given a totally new bodyshell that has brought the front and rear windscreens more vertical, differing from Ford's Falcon models. This has produced a flatter roofline making access in and out of the Laser a simpler task. All models have an all-new bonnet, guards, bumper, grille and headlights. Although the rear of the sedan features a new boot lid, rear quarter panels, tail lamps and bumper, the rear shape is not dissimilar to the previous model. The rear door windows have reverted to a two-piece glass and the exterior door handles have lost their rounded style. In direct comparison, the overall design of the previous KL Laser sedan was more in line with the current AU Falcon styling than the new KN model.
The hatch or sports wagon, as it is now called, has lost its previous flashy sports look at the rear, in favour of a squarer wagon appearance. Obvious advantages of this body style are the increased headroom in the rear and superior luggage space.
Increased safety has been built into the new Laser, incorporating triple H-frames in the roof, bodysides and floor structure to keep the cabin area intact, plus internally ribbed and padded sections on interior head impact areas. A driver only airbag is standard on all models, however, there is no option for a bag on the passenger side.
Ford claims that 85 percent of the materials used in the Laser's manufacture are recyclable, and some components are actually made from recycled materials.
Seating in the Laser is nothing elaborate, but it is easy to find a comfortable driving position, taking advantage of the adjustable steering column and the height adjustable driver's seat. Head, leg and shoulder space in the front cabin area is quite adequate for most people. The rear seat has safety belts for three people, but for extended periods, would be more comfortable with just two average size adults. The trim in the LXi gives the impression of vinyl at first glance, but on closer examination it is obvious that it is a woven fabric material. Trim on the GLXi model is a softer more attractive velour.
Storage spaces are in abundance with pockets in the front doors and glove compartments in both dash and console. Pockets in the front of the console and dash incorporate dual cupholders. The rear luggage compartment is quite roomy for a small car and is further enhanced by folding the rear seats down if required.
The main instrument panel has not changed greatly in shape, however, the gauges have been mirror reversed. Instead of the instrument binnacle flowing into the centre dash and console controls, the air conditioner, heater, stereo, ashtray and lighter are now incorporated in a separate panel.
When positioned in the driver's seat, all controls are easily reached and operated, and orientation is simple due to the standard layout. The addition of the power-pack option on the GLXi model makes it easier to operate mirrors, windows and doors from the driver's position, which can be quite a stretch over to the passenger side when operating manually.
Both the 1.6 and 1.8 engines are sprightly performers when matched to the five speed manual transmission. These DOHC 16 valve engines are quiet and smooth in operation, although the throttle was rather touchy when moving in slow traffic situations. The extra capacity of the 1.8 engine proved to be the better all round performer in a variety of driving conditions with only a marginal increase in fuel consumption.
The Laser proved itself to be a capable all-round performer on the road with positive steering and confident handling characteristics. The manual gear ratios were well suited to the respective engines and the gearshift had a positive and light operation that was user friendly in every way.
The disc and drum brake system on the LXi functioned well although the left rear brake was inclined to lock-up prematurely. Although both systems suffered with slight fade in our performance testing, the four-wheel disc brakes on the GLXi were more consistent in operation.
Considerable thought has gone into the Laser's engine compartment layout with access to regularly serviced items being a simple task. As well as being easily accessed, the componentry is placed in a logical and balanced manner. Service intervals have been scheduled every 10,000 km or six months and the manufacturer's warranty is three years or 100,000 km, with an extra two years cover against corrosion perforation on the body panels.
Although somewhat conservative in its styling, the KN Laser incorporates a number of engineering advances that have introduced significant improvements to its safety, convenience, comfort, and performance. Prospective hatch buyers will no doubt have some hesitation in regard to Ford's alternative Sports Wagon approach, however, there will be a percentage that will recognise the added benefits of this design.
The Laser is not really outstanding in any one area, but it does do everything well and is therefore set for success in a market where a medium small car incorporating quality and reliability is required.
Test vehicle supplied by Ford Motor Company of Australia Limited.
|Model||Laser KN GLXi|
Ease of driving
Touchy throttle action
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||1.8 L|
|Claimed max power (kW)||92 kW @ 6000 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||163 Nm @ 4000 rpm|
|Wheel size||14 "|
|Type||Power assisted rack and pinion|
|Width (including mirrors)||1885 mm|
|Max towed mass (trailer plus load)||500 kg|
NRMA Theft Rating
Acceleration - Test results
|50 - 80km/h||5.2 secs|
|60 - 100km/h||7.0 secs|
|0 - 100km/h||10.8 secs|
|Best recorded during testing||7.9 L/100km|
|Worst recorded during testing||8.5 L/100km|
|Average on test||8.1 L/100km|
|Distance to stop (from 80km/h)||30.1 metres|
|Interior noise at constant 80km/h||68 dB(A)|