The Ford Festiva, a Subcompact and Worldwide Kia by Mazda (Part III)


We return to the Ford Festiva once again today, as the subcompact Mazda-designed hatchback stormed North American shores. It did so wearing a Ford badge and a South Korean VIN, courtesy of a Kia factory. But North America wasn’t the only place it landed.

As we learned last time, the Festiva was built in several different countries and assumed many identities over an extensive history. The Festiva still has not reached the end of its life, but we’ll cover that in a separate article. We pick up today in North America, circa 1987.

The Festiva arrived directly from South Korea for the exciting 1988 model year. While it was sold only at Ford dealers in the U.S., Canadian distribution saw it parked at Mercury lots as well. However, Canadians had to wait longer for subcompact hatch goodness, as Festiva didn’t arrive there until 1989. See the prior entry for a brief history of the initial trims offered on Festiva.

The model’s introductory styling lasted only a short while, as Festiva was facelifted and upgraded generally for the 1990 model year. Where visuals were concerned, there was nothing to draw new consumers into the showroom. The headline change was the new grille, which saw the Ford Blue Oval relocated slightly. It migrated further upward in the grille, just north of the center. The initial Festiva’s two-bar grille sported a new growth in the middle, some additional plastic applied over the initial design. The Ford logo was nestled within the new plastic nose extension.

Otherwise, the front end stayed the same with nary a change to the headlamps or bumper. Even the steel wheel design remained unchanged. At the side, there was a new door mirror that was a bit more aerodynamic looking than its predecessor. The mirrors folded to the side at a new vertical hinge, instead of the curved look of the previous mirror. The rear of the hatchback was completely unchanged.

It would hardly be worth calling the 1990 North American update a refresh were it not for the mechanical changes that accompanied the new grille. The 1.3-liter Mazda B3 engine swapped its fuel mixing from a carburetor to more modern fuel injection. Gone was the four-speed punishment manual, as all trims received a five-speed. The three-speed Mazda automatic remained unchanged.

Elsewhere there were some safety changes. Passive restraints became a forced regulation as airbags approached, and the Festiva played along with the addition of motorized front belts that ran on a track in the door. Fortunately, back seat passengers have now considered worthy of additional safety: Rear seat shoulder belts became standard equipment.

In 1990 the base price of the Festiva L in the U.S. was $6,579 ($14,929 adj.). Stepping up to the L Plus netted two important upgrades: An actual AM/FM radio, and a rear defogger for the hatch! That trim asked $7,371 ($16,727 adj.). Going all-in for the LX with its powered exterior mirrors, rear wiper, tinted glass, and tilt wheel required $8,010 ($18,177 adj.).

The following year in 1991, trims were shuffled for the North American Festiva. The previous L, L Plus, and LX lineup saw the latter two trims combined into the singular GL. To compensate for fewer options, the GL received standard alloy wheels, and an optional sports package that applied tape stripes and other go-fast accouterments. The trim combination was an attempt to save some cash on Ford’s part. The L got more expensive in ’91 at $6,905 ($14,831 adj.), but the GL was square in the middle of the extinct L Plus and LX, at $7,745 ($16,635 adj.).

It turned out that 1991 was a highlight year for the Festiva, as in 1992 customers could no longer opt for power steering. The Festiva’s final model year was 1993 when there were no substantive changes made to Ford’s smallest car offering. For the entire run, the Festiva was limited to a three-door hatchback body style so as not to compete too much with the larger Escort. As we’ll see in a moment, other markets allowed the Festiva a longer leash, and it branched out into different fun shapes (Iranian-made pickup notwithstanding).

The Festiva was not all that successful in North America: Between 1988 and 1993 Ford shifted around 350,000 examples. For comparison, the larger and much more acceptable Escort sold 387,815 examples in 1988. Total Escort sales while it and the Festiva occupied dealer lots together were a shocking 1,763,597.

While it was failing to sell Festivas to North Americans, Ford also attempted to offer additional Festivas to the Japanese market. In 1989 the company made the interesting decision to begin importation of five-door hatchbacks (Festiva 5) and sedans (Festiva β) from South Korea to its Autorama dealerships in Japan. And while that doesn’t sound all that strange, the two new body styles were only offered in left-hand drive. Rather inconvenient for the economy car buyer in the right-hand drive JDM. The Japanese Festiva was one of the earliest to perish, as Mazda’s production for the home market wrapped in December 1992.

Elsewhere, the Festiva also struggled. Mazda produced its own version of The Ford Candidate as the 121, and marketed it in Australia and European markets in 1987. Production continued only through 1990, and Mazda Australia carried remainder units on lots through February of 1991. The three-door was replaced that year by a five-door version, and Ford slapped their badges on it to try and help boost sales. Domestic loyalty and all that. The only way to get an automatic Festiva in Australia was to purchase the five-door.

Ford brought back the three-door once more, early in 1993. It wore a new name exclusive to the Australian market: Festiva Trio. Like North America, all Australian 121s and Festivas were powered by the 1.3-liter B3 – no BJ to enjoy. The Festiva lasted in Australia through March of 1994.

As mentioned above, the Mazda 121 was exported to Australia and Europe. The latter continent was covered by Ford’s successful Fiesta, so Mazda was free to push their wares there. In Europe, the 121 catered to the very cheapest end of the economy market, where it was sold with the smallest 1.1-liter engine that was not available in other places. The 121 was updated at the same time as the North American Festiva and had a new grille, different exterior trim, new gauges, and new seat materials.

Unlike other markets, the European 121 was replaced with a new Mazda immediately upon its discontinuation. For 1992 Mazda exported an all-new 121, which was based on the Autozam Revue. The Autozam brand’s various wares were unsuccessful, and after the marque was shuttered the subcompact was renamed the Mazda Revue in markets that lacked the 121.

The Festiva was most successful in the South Korean market, where it lived a long and prosperous life under Kia’s watchful eye. In Korea, it was called the Pride and entered production in March 1987. Pride was available in five different body styles: a three-door hatchback, a four-door sedan, a five-door hatch, a three-door panel van, and a five-door wagon. Initial availability was only the three-door hatch; the five-door arrived late in the 1988 model year. The sedan was called Pride β (which Ford used in Japan) and was offered from November 1990. The last two versions to arrive were the panel van and wagon, in 1992.

Kia sold the Pride on the European market, and its greater variety of body styles proved problematic for Mazda and the 121. There was not much reason for a customer to buy the 121 from a Mazda dealer when much greater choice was available down the road at Kia. The European versions were updated slowly with new trims, and niceties like fuel injection (1994).

Pride wasn’t updated for the first time until 1993, at which point production moved from Gwangmyeong to Gwangju. The Pride’s original home needed production space for its immediate replacement in most markets, the Ford Aspire (more on that in our next entry).

The remarkable thing about the Pride is that it remained in its initial generation long after others threw in the towel. With an update in 1993 for the ’94 model year, Pride remained on sale through 2000. Sales of the Pride overlapped with the first Kia Rio, which took over subcompact duties immediately. Kia was not ready to let go of the Pride name, however, and the Rio was renamed New Pride for all export markets from 2005 to 2011. That year, there was another new Rio, also called Pride for export. The Pride name lasted through 2017.

With the Festiva on its way out and South Korea’s appreciation of the Pride at a high, Ford needed a more modern successor. This time, they’d try and save even more money and selected Kia as their design partner instead of Mazda. We’ll Aspire to pick up there next time.

[Images: Ford, Mazda, Kia]

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