Small car buyers simply can’t ignore shiny new Fiesta

WITH 12 million Ford Fiestas already sold across the world, the latest model has a lot to live up to and it’s been carefully designed to succeed.

It’s lighter, yet stiffer, greener and cheaper to run. It’s also safer and better to drive even than the Mazda2 supermini with which it shares a common platform.

Ford’s Fiesta lineage goes back to 1976 but over all those years, one thing has remained constant. This has always been the car that signified the health of the supermini sector. It was always there or thereabouts when buyers were drawing up shortlists and it was usually the best car in its class to drive by quite some margin. The previous sixth generation car was again a great drive but lacked the quality modern cabin of the best cars in its class. This seventh generation Fiesta covered those bases and has moved to consolidate its position at the top.

So, climb in: what’s the experience like? Well, the first thing that you’ll probably notice is that there’s nowhere to put your key, Ford having switched to one of those trendy (but rather pointless) ‘Power’ buttons which you press to start. It’s easier to get comfortable at the wheel than it was in the old car thanks to the improved seating and rake/reach wheel adjustment. Peace of mind comes with the news that this was the first Ford small car to feature a driver’s knee airbag, along with side airbags and optional curtain airbags.

On the road, your experience should be that the car has a more solid feel, despite the fact that it’s 40kgs lighter. Electrically assisted power steering made its debut on this Fiesta and while it may have enthusiasts groaning, the technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, the feeling no longer being as if you were at the wheel of a PlayStation game. We particularly liked the ‘Stall Prevention’ feature, designed to help in low speed manoeuvres by altering the engine’s ignition profile and preventing that embarrassing stalling moment when there’s a queue of traffic behind you.

Engine choices start with the familiar 1.25 and 1.4-litre Duratec petrol units. Also available is the old and frugal, if rather leisurely, 69bhp 1.4-litre TDCi. Above this level, things start to get a bit more interesting. The 94bhp 1.6-litre TDCi Duratorq engine can be ordered in ECOnetic form emitting just 98g/km of CO2. At the other end of the scale, Ford is keen to reassure driving enthusiasts that it hasn’t forgotten them either, with the 119bhp 1.6-litre T-VCT petrol powerplant that makes 60mph in 9.9s, used in plusher models that include the sporty Zetec-S.

“This Fiesta may not be the largest car in the supermini sector but on just about every other main criteria, it’s either up there or class-leading....”

If you go by the maxim that if something looks right, it is right, then you’ll probably like the latest Fiesta. It’s offered in both three and five-door body styles and both are tidy pieces of styling. Penned by a British-led team headed up by Martin Smith, it adheres to the ‘kinetic design’ philosophy of modern Fords, with details such as sleek, wraparound headlamps, bold, pronounced wheelarch lips and a strong bodyside beltline to create a dynamic look, even when the car’s stationary.

Light clusters

The front end features a sliver of a grille with a big trapezoidal air intake down below. The rear end features huge light clusters that smear round onto the flanks of the car, freeing up space for a very wide hatch aperture. The fascia is radically different to what has gone before, the twin-cowled instrument cluster and boldly jutting centre console with a winged effect for the minor controls being a far cry from the somewhat utilitarian grey plastics of this car’s predecessor. Ford’s ‘mobile ‘phone-inspired’ Convers+ infotainment system is also offered. There’s reasonable, if not outstanding, stowage space, the boot capable of swallowing 295 litres, and ingenious storage areas abound throughout the cabin, including charging points for mobile ‘phones and MP3 players.

All Ford’s Fiesta models now have ESP stability control as standard which is a very welcome addition to the range. Prices are a little on the expensive side these days but buyers can console themselves with generous specifications and the knowledge they’re getting one of the best superminis around. Trim levels start with Studio, rising through Edge to the low running cost-ECOnetic model. Zetec is a popular choice, while the 3-door-only Zetec-S adds yet more sporty flavour, offered either with 1.6-litre TDCi diesel power or the 1.6-litre Duratec Ti-VCT petrol unit. At the top of the range, Titanium variants are specced up like Christmas trees but retail at the kind of money which would buy you a significantly larger car. Less, as so often, is more. Anyway, even entry-level Fiestas come with ESP, ABS, front, side and knee airbags, a CD player with controls on the steering wheel, central locking and electric heated mirrors. There are nice touches too: we particularly liked the EasyFuel cap-less refuelling system.

The Ford Fiesta has garnered a reputation for being one of the cheapest superminis to run and this continues. Ford reckons that the improvements in efficiency made across the range will save owners of 1.4 TDCi models, as just one example, around a thankful of fuel a year (45 litres over 9,300 miles). The ECOnetic will grab the headlines with its 98g/km emissions and 76mpg economy but even the standard 1.6 TDCi manages 107g/km and 67mpg while the 81bhp 1.25-litre petrol returns 50mpg with 129g/km emissions.

Insurance premiums and repair costs have been kept low by an intelligent approach to manufacturing. Bake-hardened steel on the front wings, for example, offers better resistance to low speed bumps and scrapes, though the plastic approach favoured by other makers seems a better solution. Headlamps and tail lamps are positioned high, away from potential impacts, while specially shaped ‘crash cans’ are designed as sacrificial parts, collapsing predictably in an impact to prevent more extensive damage and higher repair costs.

This Fiesta may not be the largest car in the supermini sector but on just about every other main criteria, it’s either up there or class-leading. It at last has cutting edge looks and a decent cabin, plus the ECOnetic version shows other makers how green a compact yet practical runabout like this can be. Overall, a pragmatic mix between tried and tested elements that are cost effective and shiny new details that gel extremely well. Small car buyers simply can’t ignore this car.