Ford’s Fiesta has been the best-selling car in the UK for the last nine years and the latest model shows no signs of relinquishing its place at the top of the charts.
Unlike the Colonel’s famous fried chicken, there’s no secret recipe to its success, just a perfectly judged combination of comfort, refinement, practicality, value and a commitment to wrapping it all up in a fun package.
The mkVI Fiesta was a step-change in design with bold styling and flowing lines giving the small Ford a strong identity and a contemporary, sporting appearance.
The latest model continues with that theme and, although the styling is a little less eye-catching, a little more upmarket, maybe even a little less inspiring, once you’re behind the wheel and on the move, it’s clear that Ford has retained the popular hatchback’s razor-sharp handling.
That move upmarket has seen the bottom-of-the-range Studio trim disappear – the vacancy for a cheap small Ford has been filled by the Ka+ – leaving Style, Zetec, ST-Line, Titanium and luxury Vignale specifications with prices between 14,000 up to £22,000.
You can have the Fiesta with either three of five doors – unlike some manufacturers who have dropped three-door versions of their small hatchbacks – and with a choice of two petrol engines and one diesel.
The base engine is the 1.1 Ti-VCT which is available with either 69 or 84bhp. The 1.0-litre, three-cyclinder turbocharged Ecoboost engine is the mainstay of the range and can be had with 99, 123, or 138bhp.
Finally, if a diesel is your powerplant of preference, Ford can provide you with a 1.5 TDCi with a choice of either 84 or 1128bhp.
There’s a limit on the engine-trim combinations – the 140PS Ecoboost is only available in either ST-Line or Vignale models for example, while the only automatic gearbox option is the company’s Powershift transmission with the 100PS Ecoboost engine.
My Titanium spec test car was equipped with the 125PS 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged power unit – henceforth known at the engine – mated to a six-speed manual transmission sending power to the front wheels.
It’s an engine that’s been around for a while now but its talents are diverse: It’s punchy and economical with a cheeky character. It’s quiet as well, with excellent refinement at cruising speeds but emitting a pleasant thrum when pressed.
Performance isn’t startling – the sprint to 62mph takes 9.9 seconds and top speed is 121mph – but with the eager engine note offering a sufficiently inspirational soundtrack and the smooth six-speed manual and light controls providing the encouragement, progress appears a lot slicker that those figures suggest.
The previous Fiesta was rightly lauded as, pound for pound, one of the best-handling cars on the market and the new model continues with and improves upon that tradition.
The steering is a tad lighter which means that it’s a little less taxing to drive in urban areas, but that has done nothing to dilute the fun-factor on faster roads.
There’s still enough weight in the steering – and the wheel is the perfect size – that you can feel the mass building as you turn in, and there’s certainly a welcome degree of feel to let you put the car where you want on the road with ease. There’s lots of grip to exploit at the front too, so you can carry a surprising amount of speed through a bend without worrying about it washing wide.
The chassis is playful and finding its limits can be highly rewarding. Lifting the throttle, or gentle braking, will allow you to tighten your line while the excellent body control means that it’s balance is rarely unsettled by mid-corner bumps but the Fiesta really impresses in the way it combines that agility with a comfortable and composed ride.
Part of the reason for the Fiesta’s sophisticated ride is it’s relatively low weight, which also has other benefits such as handling, performance and, of course, efficiency.
The driving position is spot on. It feels quite sporty but access is easy. The manual gearbox is well judged, with a slick, precise action that encourages swift and smooth changes.
The latest Fiesta rides on the same Global B platform as the previous car, which means that, under the skin at least, very little has changed. At the front the swept-back headlights, Aston Martin-mimicking grille remain, while the shoulder rises steeply to give the Fiesta a familiar profile.
It's a different story at the back where larger, horizontal lights and a redesigned tailgate broaden the car's stance, giving it a much more planted, stable look. There is a small increase in length (71mm) and width (12mm) but the changes are so subtle in their execution that it takes a keen eye to pick them out without parking the two models side by side for comparison.
Where Ford has made significant, and very welcome changes, is on the inside where there has been a significant step up in both the quality of materials and their application, as well as a major improvement in ergonomics.
A large, tablet-style touchscreen is mounted atop the dashboard with the air con controls laid out below. Although I'd rather see screens integrated into the dash rather than looking like a bit of an afterthought it seems to be the fashionable thing to do these days but the display is crisp, bright and easy to use but I did find it ever-so-slightly sluggish in response to my prodding finger.
It comes with Ford's SYNC3 software that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
My Titanium test car came with 16in alloys, tinted rear windows, automatic lights and wipers and an eight-inch touchscreen with sat nav. Between the gauges there's a 4.2in multi-function display which can show driving data.
It's all relative of course but, for a car of this size, the Fiesta provides spacious accommodation. There's so enough flexibility in the seating and steering wheel positions that anyone, regardless of stature, should find it easy to get comfortable. The thick C-pillars and small rear window hampers visibility around the back of the car but its compact dimensions should make that a little easier to live with.
According to Ford there's an additional 16mm of legroom in the rear and while that might sound a paltry figure, the fact is that taller passengers should have little difficulty getting comfortable, although the seating position might prove a little too upright to make longer journeys a particularly enticing proposition.
Bizarrely, the boot capacity changes dependent on your choice of either three- or five-door. Pick the three-door and you'll have 292 litres with the rear seats in place, or 1.093 with them stowed away. The five-door, meanwhile, offers 303 with the rear seats up, but 984 with them folded down.
What is consistent across both versions is the wider boot opening, which makes loading bulkier items a touch easier. However, some of that good work is undone by the relatively high boot lip. However, a £75 investment will snare you a variable boot floor which can be used to create a flat load area with the rear seat stowed away.
Sitting behind the wheel of the new Fiesta, either tackling tight and twisty country lanes or cruising along a motorway, it's not hard to understand why it's remained at the top of the sales charts for so long.
Ford have taken those basic ingredients – comfort, practicality, value and the unerring ability to put smiles on faces – and improved on them in every way. Coupled with that, the new Fiesta's interior is a vastly improved environment from which to enjoy its many attributes.
Ford Fiesta Titanium 1.0T EcoBoost Start/Stop 6-speed manual
As tested: £19,390
Engine: 1.0-litre 3-cylinder turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Max power: 125PS
Max torque: 170Nm
Max speed: 121mph
Acceleration (0-62mph): 9.9sec
Extra urban: 78.5mpg
Emissions (CO2): 98g/km
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