In some markets, the announcement of a new Ford Fiesta is a big deal; here, perhaps not so much. But what the old MkVI model had going for it were two facts: one, even in its most basic guise, it had pretty much the best chassis of any supermini going; and two, it built on that solid handling platform with its sensational, beguiling and utterly brilliant performance range-topper, the ST — a hot hatch with very few dynamic peers at any price point.
For the MkVII Fiesta, though, it’s clear to see that Ford has decided its evergreen hatchback should grow up a little. That’s because, again in other markets, there’s now a cheaper five-door machine called the Ka+ to service the basic motoring needs, allowing the Fiesta to push upmarket and take on the Volkswagen Polo in the prestige stakes.
To that end, the Fiesta is a touch bigger. It looks smoother and the rear end is now dominated by wide light clusters instead of the slim upright units of the old car. Inside is a cabin that is leaps and bounds ahead of what went before, with up to 15 driver assist technologies offered (including luxuries like radar cruise control and active parking functionality), much better user of high-quality materials, a console simplified in design and ergonomics to stand among the class best, touchscreen infotainment displays of either 6.5- or 8.0in and a ten-speaker, 675-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system on the menu. It’s a much nicer place to sit than the old car, so it’s a plus point there and as for the exterior styling? Yeah… it’s inoffensive enough.
From launch, three small-capacity, turbocharged engines will be offered, but the only one of interest to us is the 1.0-litre EcoBoost, which comes in 99-, 123- or 138bhp guises. In the latter, it can be offered as an ST-Line, which makes it look like the old hot hatch wonder, even if it doesn’t have the mechanical chutzpah to match the physical bravado of a body kit, boot spoiler, large and attractive alloys and 10mm lower, firmer suspension.
The refinement levels are off the charts, while there’s still a belting chassis on display here, bereft of understeer and blessed with extraordinary grip levels across all corners.
That’s not the say the 1.0-litre engine isn’t a good ‘un. It is; torquey and flexible in the midrange, possessed of a great voice and happy enough to rev, as it’s allied to a slick six-speed manual. Nor is it to say that, dynamically, the Fiesta is a failure. The refinement levels are off the charts, while there’s still a belting chassis on display here, bereft of understeer and blessed with extraordinary grip levels across all corners.
The thing is, the steering’s a bit odd and unpleasant at times, and we never got out of the 1.0 triple with a big grin on our face; it’s just a little bit too cultured to drive. So, we’re waiting for the inevitable ST — using a worked-upon, 197bhp three-cylinder motor — to see if the Fiesta has retained its ‘drivers’ favourite’ crown. Until then, it’s a case of very good, but could do better.