By on May 20, 2022

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 roof. 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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22 Comments on “Rare Rides Icons: The Ford Festiva, a Subcompact and Worldwide Kia by Mazda (Part III)...”


  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Like that wagon and panel version in the pictures above. Never heard of any serious mechanical problems with Festivas and for an inexpensive efficient car they definitely fit the bill. Miss those new car prices from the 80s and 90s.

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      As the articles states, these cost the equivalent of $16-$17k in today’s dollars with barely any features. You gotta be nuts to think this underpowered, unsafe car is a better value than what you can find today.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        This. You can get a base Kia Rio for that money, and it’s a fine little car.

        Sometimes we forget how far the state of the automotive art has advanced in the last 20-30 years.

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          Not too many new Kia Rios or Hyundai Accents available now and they are selling for much more than 16k in the present market. Might have to wait well into 2024 to see more of them available. I see a number of Ford dealers advertising preowned Fiestas and Focus at new car like prices.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        Well cars today are at least twice 16k and continuing to climb. Not saying I want to drive an 80s car across country but a smaller vehicle for running errands and commuting updated for today’s safety would sell during this time of ever high fuel prices. There are a few affordable options like the Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Versa, and the last of the Chevy Sparks. Despite that I do miss lower priced vehicles, lower priced gas, and lower priced fuel but missing is not the same as expecting. Maybe the Chinese will eventually sell affordable EVs that are smaller but I doubt we will see any additionally new smaller cheap ICE vehicles unless you count the new Maverick which is very scarce which I know all too well after waiting 8 1/2 months to get my Maverick.

  • avatar
    focaltac

    Unless I’m mistook the motorized self-fitting restraints lived in the roof rails, not the doors.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I think it would be nice to own that LTD Crown Victoria.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Corey contributes detailed and interesting columns regarding autos and auto history.

    Another TTAC staffer posts thinly veiled political polemics.

    So for ‘the love of TTAC’ please let’s post more comments on Corey’s columns. Contribute to his excellent automotive journalism or we may lose it.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I suppose what bothered me about the “political posts” isn’t the political content per se, but that the same old ground relating to COVID keeps getting covered – mask mandates, trucker protests, and on and on. And endless “gas war” articles (hint: when you mention the word “war”, that’s an invitation for people to just start yelling at each other). I’m actually glad to see some different topics being covered the last couple of days, and I hope we see more of that.

      And 100% agree on Corey’s stuff – it’s excellent. Reminds me of the old “curbside classic” days.

      • 0 avatar
        Tim Healey

        A few things here: Corey’s content wouldn’t disappear just because you guys don’t comment enough. That’s not quite how it works.

        As I’ve said before, we’re never going to shy away from politics if it relates to cars, the industry, or car culture. Even if the topic is polarizing. Or if staffers are in disagreement, even. As long as arguments are fact-based, intellectually honest, relevant, and not bigoted, they will generally be allowed.

        The “gas war” construction might sound hyperbolic, but it’s not dishonest, and it gets attention. And we’re generally taking sides. And when we do, it’s clear that it’s one author’s opinion, not the site’s.

        Thanks!

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      @Arthur–Agree at least Corey’s articles do not elicit all the political comments.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I love the white walls on this! It looks like a Slovakian pimp mobile.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Wasn’t too long ago that you could get whitewalls on new vehicles and some tire makers like Hankook still offer whitewalls on some of their smaller sized tires.

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        True. At one time they were very important. They would distinguish your ride from the cheap lesser models. In the ’70s, most new car buyers either paid extra for them or bought a trim level where they were standard. It was even fairly common to see them on higher volume late 1960s muscle cars like the GTO and 442. They went out of vogue with low profile performance tires in the mid/late ’80s

  • avatar
    bjohnson10

    It’s easy to mock a basic car like this, but I bought one new in 1990 when I finished college and needed a reliable car, and it was perfect for me (and only $6000). The dealership was forced to stock them so they could get more Explorers from Ford, so they sold them cheap to unload them. I drove it for 140k miles and the only time it stranded me was with a dead battery. I even sold it with the original clutch. Okay, A/C would have been nice for all those trips from CA to UT, but aside from that…

    Oh, and my friends called it the “Clown Car.”

  • avatar
    wjtinfwb

    The Fiesta was the entry-level Ford when I was in College, several friends had them as I was always happy to drive one as they were fun, tossable little runabouts. The Festiva that replaced it seemed like a huge downgrade however I still see them bombing around town on occasion. One co-worker who had one absolutely despised heres, but it ran every day and never failed to deliver her to work. She replaced it with a new Chevy Cobalt that may have seemed like a step up but was in the shop frequently and eventually was scrapped due to a fubar’d transmission. I’d imagine a new Festiva for 15k would fly off the lots with today’s market and gas price volatility.

  • avatar
    azfelix

    The colorful decals on the white car certainly bridge the transition from the 80’s Miami Vice era to the 90’s Solo cup graphic. During this period I recall finding a contest insert in an auto magazine soliciting entries for potential graphics that could be ordered for your Festiva. I submitted three images.

    My large Ford ‘F’ with stylized, long, windblown, ribbon-like flourishes worked well on the passenger side only.

    The one with a series of bullet holes tracking towards a red and white bullseye was intentionally provocative.

    However, I always felt that my William Tell inspired arrow arching towards an apple “coulda been a contender”.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Apparently, the in early ’90s, every car manufacturer decided simultaneously to buy graphics from the same designer for all their cheap cars.

  • avatar
    BEPLA

    Agreed – Corey’s articles keep me coming back for more.
    That other guy makes me want to delete the bookmark for this site.

  • avatar

    Of all those cars I like the most Merc Grand Marquis. Definitely cool looking classic American car with vinyl roof.

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