At some stage in our lives, most of us will have driven, or at least been a passenger, in a Ford Fiesta. Since its launch in 1977, when it redefined small-car motoring in Britain, the Fiesta has become an ever-present on Scotland’s roads. With 3.4m sold in the UK, it’s a family favourite in the way Henry Ford envisaged his Model T.
If truth be said, the last model — the sixth generation — was something of a lacklustre creation. Sure the exterior and engines passed muster, but the woolly handling was hugely uninspirational and the seats delivered as much support as the saddle on Craig Hoy’s Olympic bike would offer a sumo wrestler.
Now though the seventh-generation, essentially a production model of the Verve concept seen in Frankfurt last year, has arrived and without question it sets new benchmarks across its class; and thankfully that includes the seating.
As you’d expect from Ford, the Fiesta range is comprehensive. When it goes on sale in October there will be 36 models to choose from — ranging from £8695 for the entry-level 3-door 1.25-litre Studio, to £13,695 for the all-singing, all-dancing 90hp 5dr 1.6TDCi Titanium — and a mesmerising selection of CO2-friendly and economic petrol and diesel engines. It’s also 40kg lighter than the current model.
Just for good measure, there’s also seven trim levels topped out by Titanium which includes air-con, 15in alloy wheels, projector headlamps, leather steering wheel, front fog lamps and trip computer.
Underneath the Fiesta’s headturning, funky external lines, the new model shares platform components with Mazda’s lightweight 2 as part of what Ford calls its Global Product Development System. And the Fiesta, while clearly enjoying its own identity, carries Ford’s family looks including the distinctive and bold Ford face. There’s also sleek, wrapround headlamps, while bold, pronounced wheelarches give the car a strong stance.
Inside the cabin there’s been something of a quantum leap. The improvement is so impressive it feels as though it’s leapt at least two generations beyond the outgoing model.
Attractive and far roomier than you’d expect, the seats are both comfortable and supportive. Forward and lateral visibility, despite the fact you sit deceptively far back from the steeply raked windscreen, is excellent; rear vision though is slightly hampered by prominent C-pillars.
Ford has turned to mobile phone technology as the core design for the Fiesta’s infotainment system and controls, and as a result it’s a dawdle to use. Costs, of course, will always be saved and there’s a couple of areas where hard plastic surfaces have been used. Thankfully though, everything that’s on full display enjoys a more touchy-feely softness. Just for the record, the test cars were totally rattle-free.
On the Tuscan roads near Sienna — I tested both the 1.6-litre turbodiesel and 120bhp 1.6 petrol — both Fiestas felt firm and taute. Ford engineers have been brave in the way they’ve set the car’s suspension up. In addition to altering the bushings and spring and damper rates from the Mazda2, the Fiesta also has a stiffer twist beam at the rear. That, in simple terms, means the car thankfully handles far, far better than the outgoing version.
Yes there will be drivers who may find the ride a bit fidgety while negotiating the town centre bumps and dips across Scotland, but the overall package is difficult to beat. The five-speed gearbox is slick, handling is neatly balanced, and steering is both pinpoint accurate and sharp.
Both models tested had relative strengths and weaknesses. While the petrol was frisky through the gears, it didn’t exactly inspire confidence when asked to accelerate from 55mph to overtake an Italian truck.
The diesel, by contrast offered more top-end grunt and was the more relaxed cruiser. Our test car though did seem to pitch, at times uncomfortably, through the uneven surfaces of the miles of B-road. Having quizzed the Ford guys about the diesel’s ride, it was highlighted that the cars I drove were “early-production vehicles” and that “there were some minor glitches with some of the suspension set-ups”.
But when all’s said and done, the new Fiesta — built in Cologne and Valencia — is a stonker. Good looking; versatile with bags of room; fitted with up to seven airbags; comprehensive choice of engines and spec; and very competitively priced. It’s even cheaper to insure than the outgoing model.
“The Fiesta marks another major step forward for Ford,” Roelant de Waard, Ford’s chairman and managing director in the UK, said. “We’re No1 in Scotland and the new Fiesta will ensure we stay as Scotland’s leader.” To be honest, it’s difficult to argue with the Dutchman’s view.