I had a reason to drive the old stager all that way. Ford is unveiling the new Fiesta in a glitzy show inside the Cologne factory where soon it’ll start going down the production line.
My journey concludes by barging the 39-year-old Fiesta backstage, just before the new one is rolled out. It’s clear there’s zero stylistic DNA shared across those four decades. But you will have spotted the firm thematic link between the new generation and the current, outgoing one.
It’s more than a facelift, mind, even if it does use the old platform. All panels and the glass have changed. In other words, Ford could have opted to make a step change in the looks, but chose not to because people like the one they have now. It’s the best-selling car in Britain and the best-selling small car in Europe, so you can see why Ford was disinclined to be reckless.
Inside, though, you do see a jolting discontinuity in this new Fiesta. This cabin isn’t just evolved, it’s transformed. There’s more that you won’t see in these pictures: a set of new or modified engines, new transmissions and improved chassis. A bounteous buffet of big-car driver aids is available. Those should help you not crash. If you do, stronger steel in the door posts will help look after you.
Inside, the current Fiesta’s gritty blue dot-matrix screen and mosaic of buttons have been consigned to automotive archaeology (and to the Ka+). It’s all about the touchscreen. It wipes up to 20 buttons off the dash, though they’ve sensibly kept a few useful shortcuts and climate controls as hard keys. The systems can do iOS and Android phone mirroring as well as running apps including Spotify, Aupeo, Glympse and AccuWeather.
Top-enders, including any spee with built-in nav, carry this all on an 8in tablet. Mid-spec cars have a 6.5-incher in the same housing. In Ford language, these run the Sync 3 operating system, as per the firm’s big cars in the US and Europe. It’s connected via your phone’s data plan. Even the base Fiestas get a 4.2-inch colour screen plus a a dock to mount and charge your device.
A key option is a sound system developed with B&O, so your music files or streams should emerge into the air with a spring in their step. So far, we’ve seen only prototypes, as the Fiesta doesn’t actually hit the roads until July. So the cabin quality should rise beyond the state of the examples we’ve sat in. And they’re pretty good.
The Vignale even runs to a stitched dash top, and it’s soft-touch on the rest. Much of the switchgear and bezels have chrome embellishment. The seats are based on Focus items and there’s more adjustment to the driving position. There’s a fraction more rear kneeroom too. The suspension is claimed to serve up a more pliant and quieter ride too, thanks to stiffer steel suspension parts resonating less, and strategically softer rubber bushings.
But it wouldn’t be a Fiesta if it didn’t handle. Here the gains come again from that stiffer rear torsion beam, a part derived from the ST200’s item, and from front top mounts that are stiffer laterally for precision but soft lengthwise for absorbency. The engineers have gone through the steering to reduce friction; Ford has always been good at this. Grip will rise, partly because the biggest tyres are now wider 18s, and because to accommodate those, the track has been widened. Wider track is always a shortcut to grip.
The brakes improve too, with rear discs replacing drums on all versions over 100bhp – the thing’s supposed to stop from 60mph like a 997 911. On the acceleration side, the EcoBoost 1.0-litre turbo triple is still the fun one, at 100, 120 and 140bhp. There’s also a low-power nat-asp version of 1.1-litres. For diesel, it’s a 1.5 at 85bhp and, with VGT, a lively 120bhp. The manual gearboxes are new, with a six-speed on most versions at last.
In 2018, the EcoBoost gets cylinder cutoff for lower consumption in light use. Trouble is, the official claimed mpg wilt at the same time get worse, because by then the industry will be switching to the more realistic WLTP test cycle instead of the laughably optimistic NEDC test used now.
Spec all the assistance systems and a Fiesta images its surroundings via two cameras, three radars and 12 ultrasonic sensors. The collision-mitigation system uses radar and cameras to ‘see’ ahead for 130 metres, and can even detect pedestrians at night by the light of the headlamps. The self-parking system doesn’t just steer the car and tell you when to brake, as others do. It will brake itself if you don’t. Adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot alert should keep you out of other cars’ way at a cruise.