Four years ago, Detroit briefed Ford of Europe to do the new Fiesta. Do it, but not overdo it. The platform had been brand-new only five years before, most of the engines less than that. So just go over the looks, eh? And, of course, replace the dash, the main element of which was modelled on a Motorola clamshell phone that had gone off-trend even in 2008.
Finally install a better suite of driver aids. Didn’t happen like that. The new Fiesta is pretty much all-new. Ford changed the seats to get more adjustment, so it had to change the floor. The team changed the B-post pressings to get more side-impact safety, so by then they pretty much had a new inner bodyshell on which to mount the new panels.
They widened the front track, so they redesigned pretty much all the front suspension. Also, bigger wheels increased grip, so they fettled the brakes. The rear suspension was heavily modified to match. Talk about mission creep. Several full and frank exchanges of views flew between the engineers in Cologne and the accountants in Detroit.
What you see from the driver’s seat may be a big change, but the Fiesta feels instantly familiar once it’s rolling. The smooth-acting prompt-responding controls, the feeling of refined tautness in the way it goes down a road. And, of course, the plucky 1.0 EcoBoost engine. We’re testing it in 140bhp trim.
It’ll also sell as a 100 and 125, but their torque outputs are similar so unless you rev them they won’t feel much different. The high-output one comes in the relatively sporty body-kitted ST-Line version, the car in these photos, or the luxe Vignale.
The engine remains pretty much a hoot to use, with shedloads of mid-range puff and a boisterous enthusiasm to rev to its 6,600rpm cut-out. One small annoyance is a tendency to hang on to revs after you’ve released the throttle and pressed the clutch, hindering quick upshifts from first or second. Otherwise all’s good.
The new six-speed gearbox itself has a well-greased and precise stick action, and well-chosen ratios. The new 120bhp diesel is refined for a compression-ignition supermini. The suspension engineering and chassis electronics mean you don’t often feel the extra weight in the nose, either.
But only five per cent of UK Fiesta sales are diesels, and fewer still will be this costlier high-output one. There are two distinct suspension settings. Most versions have a comfort-oriented set-up. This standard chassis retains the characteristic Fiesta sense of agility as you swing it into a bend.
It also resists understeer very gamely, subtly using the unseen hand of brake applications on the inside wheel. On very quick twisty roads with three-dimensional corners, the damping can get a bit uncertain, leading to a corkscrewing of the body.
Anyway, the extra grip means it’s able to corner at faster speeds and put the damping under greater duress. The ST-Line’s chassis is even more sure of itself. Thank its lower ride, stiffer springs, firmer dampers, stronger rear twist-beam and firmer front anti-roll bar, and even recalibrated steering assistance and ESP tune.
So body roll is always lower, the steering more precise even when there’s strong cornering load. What sucks away a little at the involvement is that unlike in older superminis or the outgoing Fiesta ST, there isn’t much chance in the ST-Line of trimming the line on the throttle. But then the steering is so precise that’s maybe not much of an issue.
It’s not as brilliantly transparent and tweakable on the limit as a Mini, but then we still have the true ST version of the new car to come. Although the ST-Line has a tauter ride than the base chassis, overall comfort isn’t really compromised, except over sharp bumps at town speed.
The base suspension is pretty plush in town, especially on the versions with smaller wheels. For the way most people drive, the standard chassis’ combination of small-car agility and big car ride is a well-judged compromise. At a cruise, the steering holds its lane well.
That’s even without the camera based lane-keeping assist switched on, which nudges the wheel away from the lane lines if you meander too close. Wind noise isn’t at all bothersome, especially not in the Titanium and Vignale – you can hear (or rather not hear) the difference made by their double-laminated sound-muffling windscreen.
All the better for the stereo. Several editions have a B&O-branded system. The bass is pretty tight and the stereo image vivid, but just like B&O’s other car systems the treble is metallic and tiring to listen to. I say B&O’s systems… while the sound was shaped by B&O engineers working with Ford, the system is actually made by multi-brand audio giant Harman.
Which was recently taken over by Samsung. Looking around the cabin, an all-new dash architecture moves away from the jagged shapes of the old Fiesta into a series of wave-like strokes. Extra trim strips break up the old car’s big plastic slab. An erect tablet touchscreen takes up the prime central site and is bright and very visible, but has the side-effect of relegating the face-level vents into nipple-level vents.
The top-level screen system comes at a relatively keen option price. It’s an eight-incher with smooth graphics and a quick processor, and does phone mirroring neatly, as well as providing native navigation. The seats have a wide range of adjustment, so you can now get yourself lower in the car than before. It’s a good position to drive from.
The backrests are generally supportive, though the ST-Line ones are a bit pushy in the ribcage area. The space in the backstops short of being an assault on human rights, at least unless you have the pano sunroof, which hacks away at headroom.
But really if you want to carry grown-ups in the back of your supermini and not be hated by them, do the right thing and get a new Ibiza or a Jazz. At the moment, the Fiesta comes in three dress-ups. The regular ones are the Style, Zetec and Titanium, some of which also include X and B&O sub-strata.
Then there’s the ST-Line with its body kit and suspension said to be halfway to next year’s ST. Though, frankly, I hope it’s actually only about a third of the way. Then the Vignale. Ford’s quasi-posh sub-brand hasn’t moved much metal so far.
But, hey, the Fiesta Vignale’s exterior look is classy, with a nice textured chrome-like grille and differently detailed bumpers. At first glance, it’s a plausible effort at a premium supermini, indeed a premium Ford. You also get some extra looking-after by the dealers, including a promise of pick-up, drop-off and courtesy car at service time – though I’m guessing it’ll actually be the discourtesy of a Ka+.
Inside the Vignale, your eye first alights on nicely diamond-quilted seats and a plush stitched cover for the main dash moulding. Your backside sinks into those seats with a sense of ease and comfort. This is good. Then you shut the door and have to tug on a terribly cheap hollow hard plastic handle. All Fiestas have this moulding.
Couldn’t they have spent another 50p? It draws your attention to the other cost-cut plastics around the place, cracking the veneer of aristocracy in this £20k supermini. But to stress: the important bits, the dynamics and engineering, are thoroughly respectable.
Even on the Vignale and ST-Line, you have to pay extra for much of the driver-assist kit. It runs to lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warning (those actually are standard on the whole range), speed-limit-sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, active park assist, reversing camera, blind-spot warning, and cross-traffic warning for when you’re reversing out of a parking space into the road. Next year, and it’s hard to wait so long, we get the true ST.
With it is the intrigue of its new 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo with cylinder deactivation to improve economy when you’re dawdling. When you’re not, the power is 200bhp and the torque a rich 214lb ft. Also, next year is a jacked-up Active edition, which has black plastic cladding around its lower perimeter.
It looks better than a Rover Streetwise, honest. So, lots of different Fiestas, because the small-car market is diversifying. Given the Fiesta is persistently Britain’s best-selling car, if they were all the same you’d probably end up trying to unlock someone else’s car in a car park.
So the Fiesta might be little better to drive than the superb the old one, and indeed some rivals such as the Micra have almost closed the gap. But the extra equipment, safety technology and options will surely keep it at the apex of the charts.
What would have happened if the designers and engineers had known from the very start of the project that they were going to do such a comprehensive job, rather than the quick once-over their Detroit bosses told them to do? They could have made it completely different, rather than just evolved.
But the European Ford management say they asked customers, who liked the current one very much and didn’t want the look or the format or the driving experience to change much. An entire million of them have been sold in the UK alone so you can see the logic.
Mind you, I’m reminded of what old Henry Ford said about putting America on wheels: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Still, evolution works for the 911 and the Golf, and we liked the old Fiesta too, so we won’t moan.