Ford surprised everyone when the concept car that they showed us in 2007, the Verve, really did bear a very close relationship with a production car that they launched a year later, in 2008 as the latest generation of the Fiesta. Gone was the slightly boxy styling of the previous model, which had sold strongly throughout its seven year life, to be replaced by a new generation supermini which put a heavy emphasis on styling as well as dynamics which by general consensus were class-leading. It was enough to convince not just loyal Ford buyers but plenty of others as well that this was the B-segment small hatch of choice and sales were strong from the outset. Well, in the UK they were, with the Fiesta claiming the market’s Best Seller spot month after month. In Europe, it has not fared quite so well, with fiercely patriotic buyers favouring the local product – Clio and 208 in France, the Punto in Italy and the Polo in Germany, but even so, the Fiesta has sold strongly for years. This is a fiercely competitive class, so no-one can afford to rest on their laurels for long, so it was not surprise that after four years, Ford showed a facelifted model at the 2012 Paris Show, with the updated version going on sale a few months later. The most obvious change was at the front with a new grille which many said looked it had been borrowed from Aston Martin, a myth that no-one really tried hard to dispel, but there were all sorts of other styling tweaks as well as a comprehensive mechanical going over. Once again, the praise poured in, and so the Brits continued to favour it over at least a dozen similarly sized rivals, and there has only been the occasional month when it as not achieved more sales than any other car on the UK market. Surprisingly, more than three years after the arrival of the facelift, I’d still not driven one. Finally the chance came with this test car, in photographically less than ideal – but very popular with customers – Panther Black Metallic. It had the five door body and was in mid-range Zetec trim, which is exactly the same as the last, pre-facelift car I tested back in October 2012.
All the publicity that accompanied the launch of the facelifted Fiesta was around the availability of the 1.0 three cylinder Ecoboost engine, but if you looked more closely at the whole range, you could see that some of the established engines were carried forward, and it was one of these, the 1.25 litre Sigma engine which was under the bonnet of the test car. It is still available with two different power outputs, and mine was the more potent of the two, in which guise it generates a healthy 82 bhp. A few years ago, this would have made for a really rather rapid car in this class, but such is the weight of the modern supermini that 82 bhp is not enough to make the Fiesta feel anything other than modestly endowed. Although this engine has been around for a good few years now, it is still a good one. It remains quite smooth and refined, so you can get the most out of it without feeling that you are hurting both your ears and the engine. In short, is simply gets the job done without fuss. For point and squirt motoring, in town, it is more than potent enough, of course, but out on the open road, you may have to use the gears a bit more than you would expect. But that is no hardship at all. This engine still has a 5 speed ‘box, but the spacing of the ratios is well chosen, and the gearchange quality is excellent, with the lever slotting from gear to gear with a precision of the legendary knife through butter, even though there is quite a long travel for the lever to move through. There is no Stop/Start system on this version of the Fiesta, but even so, fuel economy was generally good, and I averaged around 45 mpg on every trip I made, whether that was a short journey or a longer motorway trip. And motorway journeys were not the hardship that they used to be in cars from this class even relatively recently. Noise levels are low and this is a refined cruiser.
The Fiesta has long been seen among the long list of rivals as the most fun car to drive thanks to its combination of steering and handling. Most tests that you read go almost overboard with the superlatives they express on these attributes. So my expectations were sky-high, which means it was perhaps inevitable that I felt a tinge of disappointment. Not because either was bad in any way. Far from it, just that they did not excel quite as strongly as I had been led to believe. That said there was a nice weighting to the steering, with plenty of feel giving a perfect idea of what the steered wheels were going to do. There are exceptional levels of grip and the Fiesta almost seems to relish twisty roads more than straight ones. This version of the Fiesta comes on 195/55 R15 inch wheels, a slight change from the pre-facelift car, and they contribute to a pliant and comfortable ride which seem to apply regardless of the surface on which the car was being driven. The brakes proved well up to the job, with a nice progressive feel to the pedal. There is a conventional pull-up handbrake fitted between the seats. Visibility is generally good, though the view over the shoulder is somewhat limited thanks to the kicked up window line, but it is notable that this is better than in the 3 door version. Judging the extremities of the car is easy, with a relatively vertical tail and stubby nose, meaning that the car was easy to park, and it also proved readily manoeuverable in confined spaces.
The facelift did address the interior as well, though it really did not go anything like far enough, as this is perhaps the weakest aspect of the car. There is a complex dash moulding, with all manner of different surfaces and features, some of them quite soft to the touch (despite what you might think when you look at them). The dash does not line up nearly with the door casings either. A number of different materials are used, mostly black in the case of the test car, though there are some shiny silver plastic inlays that want you to think of them as metal effect, none of them giving the same impression of quality that you would find in some (but by no means all) the Fiesta’s rivals. The choice of some rather odd textures, especially on the dash top, don’t help matters. On the test car, there were a number of creaks from the ensemble. Although it doesn’t win prizes for its appearance, it is all easy enough to use There’s a leather wrapped wheel which sits in front of the instrument cluster. This has two large dials, each in its own deeply recessed cowl and complete with the turquoise pointers that Ford has been featuring on many of its models in recent times. There is a bar chart style water temperature gauge and that for fuel level gauge is inset between the two larger instruments, below the area used for the odometer and trip information. Two chunky column stalks are used for indicators and wipers, whilst lights are controlled from a rotary dial on the dash to the right of the wheel. It is the middle of the dash which has received the most obvious change in the facelift, with a slight simplification and reduction in the number of buttons. though looking at the test car, you would be hard pressed to believe it. A small inset 4.2″ display area is sculpted into the top of the dash, and this houses the clock and shows radio station selections and then below this are the buttons to operate the audio unit which are still arranged in the style of a mobile phone. Back in 2008 this might have seemed like a good idea, but in the smartphone era, the styling link is getting a bit old-fashioned in concept, as well as being rather fussy to look at. Some of the symbols on the buttons were less than obvious as to what they might do. There are audio repeater buttons on the left hand steering wheel spoke. Lower down in the dash are three rotary dials for the air conditioning system. Zetec trim includes Ford’s heated windscreen. In winter months, this is a real boon. but in the height of summer, I got the downside of it, which is that you can, from certain angles and light conditions, see the heating elements. On the whole, a small price to pay.
Zetec trim means cloth upholstery, as you might expect. It also means manual seat adjustment, with a bar under the seat for fore/aft and levers on the side for backrest angle and seat height. Only the driver gets height adjustment, the seat for the passenger is fixed, in a position where there is still plenty of headroom. The seat belts have height adjustment on them, and the steering wheel telescopes in/out as well as up/down. Net of all this was that I could easily get the perfect driving position. The seat itself proved comfortable.
Space in the rear is reasonable, though there are roomier rivals. Three adults across the rear seat would be a squeeze, but two should find ample shoulder room, though just about anyone will need to pull the headrests well up, as if they are in their lowest position, you will find them in an uncomfortable place somewhere in your neck or your back. Leg room will really depend on how kind the front seat occupants are feeling. With my need for a seat set well forward, there is decent leg room, but set the front seat towards the rear of its travel, and there is really not much space for rear seat passenger’s legs at all. You sit quite upright, so headroom is not a concern unless you are very tall indeed. There’s not much in the way of luxury here, and if you want to wind the windows down you will have to do just that, as only the front has electric windows. You do get map pockets on the back of the front seats and a stowage area in the rearmost part of the centre console, but there are no pockets on the doors.
The boot is quite deep, with the floor quite a bit lower than the base of the tailgate, but the floor area is not that large, with the sides closed off so that they are flush with the wheel arches all the way to the tailgate, though there are useful side pockets on each side,. Again, a number of rivals offer more room. More space is created by dropping the asymmetrically split backrests down, but the resulting area is not flat, as these sit rather higher than the floor of the boot. There is a space saver under the boot floor, with a bit of space to tuck a few bits and pieces around it. Inside the cabin, there are bins on the front doors, a good sized glove box, a cubby over the driver’s right knee, and mouldings for cup holders in the centre console.
The Fiesta has been sold with a wide variety of trims, over 25 of them since the 2008 launch, with names which do not make it easy to position them in the right hierarchy. Until the middle of 2016, the entry point was the Studio, which was listed more to provide a low starting price rather than a car which many will actually buy. Next up was the Style which gave you electric front windows and remote central locking. You needed to stretch to the Style+ to get air-con. These variants were all phased out in the middle of 2016, with Ford preferring to push customers who wanted a low priced car into the new Ka+ instead. The test car was a Zetec, and this is one of the most popular trims, not least because this is the version with all that you could reasonably want in a supermini, including 15in alloys, a DAB radio, a 4.2in screen infotainment system, a trip computer, heated front windscreen, air conditioning and hill start assist as well as a number of chrome trim embellishments, front fog lights and body coloured door mirrors and door handles. There have been Zetec Colour Editions which were predominantly a Candy Blue Fiesta with a Frozen White roof and vice versa, which added privacy glass and some white stitching on the steering wheel and gear lever gaiter. The mid-range ST-Line replaced the Zetec S models in mid 2016, with this trim available on five-door versions of the Fiesta too unlike the old Zetec S. Key highlights include an ST-styled bodykit, a large tailgate spoiler, side skirts and a deeper front bumper, plus it benefits from unique gunmetal grey 17-inch alloys. Inside there are sport seats and a chunky three-spoke steering wheel, while under the skin is a lowered and stiffened suspension set-up. Titanium models add more luxury equipment to the supermini, including climate control, cruise control, lumbar support, velour floor mats and a Sony DAB stereo, as well as automatic headlights and range-sensing wipers. The range-topping Titanium X models receive mainly safety features such as a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, and keyless entry and start. As well as choosing the trim, you need to pick the body style with three or five doors being the choices in Europe (there is a slightly odd looking four door saloon available in some markets, such as the USA) and then there is the engine. As well as the 3 cylinder 1.0 Ecoboost, available in 80 PS normally aspirated and 100 and 125 PS Turbo versions, there are the older tech 4 cylinder 1.25 litre, in entry level 60 bhp and as tested here 82 bhp guise and a 105 bhp 1.6 litre petrol unit as well a 1.5 diesel producing either 75 or 90 bhp. Ford’s Powershift automatic transmission is available with either the 1.0T 100 bhp Ecoboost or the older 1.6 litre petrol engine.
I was favourably impressed by the Fiesta. The basic design may go back 8 years now, but Ford’s program of updates have kept it looking fresh and despite the arrival of an array of newer competitors, it still sits right at the top of the class. It won’t win any prizes for the quality of the interior fittings, but they are not so bad that you can’t live with them, and for those who do, then you get a car with the dynamic sparkle that has largely been designed out of pretty much all its rivals. Even in this 1.25 litre version, the car is fun to drive, so I can only guess that with the more powerful EcoBoost engines it would be a real hoot. I remain hopeful of being able to source one to find out for myself.