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Ford Fiesta
7/10

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Road Test

Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCi Titanium

Driven October 2008

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Car designers no longer talk in terms of other cars when they’re contextualising their work, they talk about phones, mp3-players, and portable games consoles. By which reckoning, the new Ford Fiesta isn’t a car at all, more of a big gadget. I’d like to see the handbag this could fit in.

Women loom large over this latest incarnation of Ford’s evergreen supermini. Ford’s design team, presided over by the amusingly forthright Martin Smith, even invented a Second Life-style target buyer called Antonella, so we can blame her/it for the preponderance of ‘surprise and delight’ features, dimensionally best-in-class door bins, and a centre console modelled, yes, on a mobile phone. With this sort of back-story, I approached the new Fiesta – painted, ironically, a sort of Torquay retirement home purpley/burgundy colour – rather like I imagine the ageing Chuck Norris would approach a Take That concert. Is this a small car or a copy of Heat magazine on four wheels?

But there’s no need for the straightforwardly heterosexual male to feel emasculated. This is a terrific little car, and the sort of thing the world could do with being terrific right now. Ford, enjoying one of those product booms that car companies periodically seem to go through, has lately given all its cars the same slick, smoothly engineered feel. Now the Fiesta has it too.

Visually, it’s very close to the Verve concept that’s been doing the rounds. Crucially, it’s also a small car that still looks like a small car, rather than porking out and migrating into the class above. Yes, it softens Ford’s ‘Kinetic’ design language a little, but there are plenty of clever visual hooks: the extra edge on the head-light, the sharp tailoring of the rear lights and the competing surfaces around the nose and front wings are all smart (or ‘hexagenous’, to use newly minted Ford jargon, which apparently helps ped-pro. As does the ‘tri-plane’ curvature on the bumper).

The doors (still called ‘doors’, though a Ford department is working on a new name as we speak) open wide, and it’s almost MPV-ish to get into and out of (or EAES, for ‘entry and exit system’). As the first new car in Ford’s global ‘One Vision’ strategy, the Fiesta has to accommodate the smallest 2.5 percentile female up to the lardiest 97.5 percentile male, everywhere from Beijing to Baton Rouge and all points in between. The seats are mounted lower than before, though, and the gearlever and instrument panel higher – so despite this ‘one-size fits all’ strategy, it’s actually surprisingly purposeful.

Antonella apparently likes colour-coded dash surfaces, and the interior trim varies between soft-feel slush moulding and disappointingly brittle plastics. As for this mobile-phone-inspired centre console business, well I’m sorry, but I couldn’t actually get the radio to work, and the toggle bit (it’s called HMI or Human Machine Interface, seriously) that takes you between different bits of the menu also foxed me. Attractively youthful ‘design progressives’ (another Ford phrase) will no doubt love it. Nor did I like the seat fabric in this particular car, though the seats and the driving position are excellent. The wheel itself is a chunky three-spoke item.

At launch, six engines are available: two 1.25-litre petrol units (59 and 80bhp), a 1.4-litre petrol (95bhp), a 1.6-litre petrol (118bhp), and 1.4-litre (67bhp) and 1.6-litre (89bhp) diesels. An Econetic 1.6-litre diesel arrives later this year, whose lower suspension, smaller tyres, flush wheel covers and particulate filter help it deliver 76.3mpg and reduce its CO2 emissions to just 98g/km.

Against a background like this, it seems churlish to mention such recherché concepts as handling, performance or, even, refinement. But having rebranded NVH as SQ&V (that’s ‘sound, quality and vibration’), the 89bhp 1.6 TDCi I tried proved Ford is now expert at managing it.

The new Fiesta is no environmental hairshirt. Despite extra sound-proofing, the diesel is still thrummy, but in every other key area, this is a marvellously refined car. Potential sources of wind noise were apparently identified and optimised at the component stage, so it’s amazingly hushed, at least until you’re driving the absolute socks off it. Which, at the risk of hastening global warming, you might actually be tempted to do.

It corners enthusiastically too. A Focus-style electric power steering system replaces the hydraulic set-up, and while it’s a bit airy-fairy at medium to high speeds, it’s perfectly competent. As is the chassis, without being utterly sparkling: there’s plenty of grip, and it doesn’t tip into understeer at the first sign of a bend. With MacPherson struts upfront and a beam rear axle, there’s nothing fancy underpinning the Fiesta, but the suspension has been thoughtfully tuned for the UK’s more dynamic tastes. 

Ford claims the new car is 10 per cent stiffer than the old one, and 55 per cent of the body is made from high-strength steel. Interestingly, one of the chief engineers, Jörg Beyer, suggests the future lies in improving the basic structure to enhance safety, rather than just filling the car full of heavy airbags (though the Fiesta has plenty anyway). In terms of saving weight, he has a point.

Prices start at £8,695 for the Studio version, with the Titanium (Ghia in old money) priced from £12,095. Supermini-deniers may once have pointed out you could get a proper car for that sort of outlay. Luckily, that’s exactly what the new Ford Fiesta is.

Jason Barlow

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