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First drive: Ford Fiesta. Image by Ford.

First drive: Ford Fiesta
It's the new Ford Fiesta, one of our favourite superminis. Is it still great fun to drive?


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Ford Fiesta

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Ford brings us the seventh generation of its phenomenally successful Fiesta supermini, and it has ramped up the refinement, interior quality and on-board technology to make sure it retains its crown as the best supermini on sale. Ford also says it's even better to drive than the MkVI, but is it? And how does this first experience of the Fiesta bode for the forthcoming 200hp, three-cylinder ST hot hatch?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost Vignale
Pricing: Fiesta range from 12,715; 1.0 EcoBoost Vignale from 20,295
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual , front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 102g/km (VED 140 annually)
Combined economy: 62.8mpg
Top speed: 125mph
0-62mph: 9.0 seconds
Power: 140hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 180Nm at 1,500- to 5,000rpm

What's this?

Britain's best-selling car has been reinvented for the new MkVII generation. Yup, it's the Ford Fiesta, and perhaps the most important launch of this calendar year. Did you know more than 4.5million Fiestas have been sold in the UK alone, since 1976? That's how important it is.

So the new Fiesta has to be good, and Ford is bullish about the new supermini. The company is calling it the 'most technologically advanced small car on sale in Europe', mainly because 15 'big car' driver assist items - like radar cruise control and automated parking functionality - are stuffed into it. The Blue Oval is also making a big deal of the ten-speaker, 675-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system that's an option on most Fiestas. There are two special B&O Play Series versions of the Zetec and Titanium where it's standard fit, too, although of course you have to pay a premium for these.

The launch range is made up of three-cylinder petrol units, either with or without a turbocharger, and a solitary new 1.5-litre four-pot turbodiesel. The Ti-VCT 1.1-litre engine delivers either 70- or 85hp and is restricted to Fiestas at the bottom end of the range. Curiously, despite having near-identical power and torque outputs, it's not the same unit as found in the Ka+, which is a 1.2-litre lump. Curious.

Most buyers will avoid this 1.1 motor and its attendant five-speed manual transmission, though, because - mainly due to the existence of that aforementioned Ka+ - Ford is pushing the Fiesta upmarket, so there's an emphasis on high-spec variants instead. It's quite a top-heavy trim line-up, which only reflects current customer trends and also, says Ford, might mean the Fiesta starts taking sales as people downsize from the class above. Thus, you're most likely to encounter the 1.0-litre, turbocharged EcoBoost we're driving here, which comes in 100-, 125- and 140hp outputs, or the 1.5 TDCi, of which there's an 85hp/215Nm version and then a rather more corking 120hp/270Nm derivative, which we've driven and which we think is a damn fine engine. It also doesn't seem to bring about any significant eco-penalties compared to the 85hp TDCi, according to the on-paper stats, but of course it's pricier.

These higher-powered engines come with a six-speed manual transmission as standard, although it's a different gearbox on the EcoBoost compared to the TDCi - and they also have different gearknobs as a result, the petrol's being more rounded while the diesel's is a little flat-topped affair. Neat. Here in the UK, trim lines will run Style (you'll never see one of these on the roads, we guarantee you), Zetec, B&O Play Zetec Series, Titanium, B&O Play Titanium Series, Titanium X, ST-Line, ST-Line X and then Vignale. The ST-Line, obviously, looks sporty and has stiffer suspension and bigger wheels, while the Vignale is the fully-loaded premium machine. The B&O Play cars (around 900 more than their regular stereo-equipped siblings) add the sound system plus SYNC 3 voice control and navigation on an eight-inch screen and the option of two, shall we say, distinctive colours (Bohai Bay Mint and Chrome Copper), while Titanium trim seems to represent the best balance of kit-to-cost, from what we can gather.

As if all this weren't enough, the crossover-type, plastic-clad Fiesta Active (paging Hyundai and its ruggedised i20...) will join the range next year, giving buyers even more choice.

So, having roughly laid out the Fiesta family, we were given access to the 1.5 TDCi 120hp in Titanium spec, as well as the 1.0 EcoBoost 140hp in either ST-Line or Vignale trim. We've thus driven the latter here, which means you're looking at a Fiesta which costs more than 20,000 basic. OK, it brings with it all the Vignale concierge stuff that Ford is trying to promote, but that seems an awful lot of money to us. And we really hope it doesn't mean the 200hp ST, being readied for 2018, will cost more than 22,000...

How does it drive?

Just before we toddle off up the Spanish roads chosen as the launch venue, let's talk about the looks and passenger compartment of the Fiesta. On both counts, the car's rougher edges have been smoothed off, which is much more noticeable in the interior - on the old model, the cabin was really starting to lag behind class standards. That's not the case now. On anything bar the elusive, bog-basic Style model, buyers will enjoy SYNC 3 with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all presented on a 6.5-inch floating touchscreen that's the centrepoint of a dashboard that feels several grades better than what went before. In the Vignale, with its quilted leather seats and contrast-stitched fascia, the environment feels even more plush, and at long last the Fiesta has the finishing and infotainment to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Volkswagen Polo.

From Titanium level upwards - including the B&O Play Series cars, but strangely not the ST-Line - navigation is added to the connectivity package, and the screen swells to eight inches in size, which ramps up the premium factor further. The Fiesta is nice and spacious in the front, if not quite as commodious in the back, but the boot is marginally up in size to 292 litres with all seats in place. The hatch opening is wider, too, which is good news.

Coming back to our Vignale, externally it is defined by various luxury features like an opening panoramic glass roof (which generates a fair bit of additional wind noise at speed, even when closed), 10-spoke highly polished 17-inch alloys and a few Vignale badges dotted here and there. It thus doesn't look hugely different from the other Fiestas (sporty ST-Line notwithstanding), which is to say that the front is a gentle evolution of the MkVI's appearance, while the rear is defined by wide rear light clusters instead of narrow, upright items. It's a handsome car, the MkVII, if not exactly groundbreaking in appearance - edgy cars like the Nissan Micra and SEAT Ibiza have more visual clout.

Nevertheless, all of the above is somewhat irrelevant. The Fiesta sells in its droves in the UK, and it's not because it has a soft-touch dashboard. No, it's because this is the supermini that provides the sweetest drive, and the technical signs for this one are promising. It has a wider track and tyres. The suspension has been fiddled with and there's Electronic Torque Vectoring Control (ETVC), said to improve cornering grip by 10 per cent and braking distances by eight per cent.

All very noble. But - and we'll at least add the caveat here that we'll reserve fuller judgment until we've had more time behind the wheel in the UK - it would seem that, what with its push upmarket, the smoother looks, the increased levels of connectivity and the added refinement levels, something has been lost in the handling stakes. The Fiesta is good, very good in fact; it's still better to steer than the stolid, outgoing Polo. Yet it's not quite as sparkling as we were expecting it to be.

And no, before you start saying we're comparing the 'standard' new cars to the old ST, that's not the case - you didn't have to be in the best hot hatch of recent years to get a great experience in a Fiesta, as even a 100hp MkVI EcoBoost drove beautifully well. This MkVII just feels that bit too urbane and cultured, as if it doesn't want to get involved at the higher limits of driver involvement. Chief villain here is the steering, certainly on this Vignale model. It feels weirdly heavy and has an unpleasant self-centring effect that makes the car extremely nervous during higher speed direction changes. There's also more body roll on these softer-sprung Fiestas (the ST-Line is better tied-down), which is strange, because Ford normally gets its compliance-to-handling balance spot on.

Which is not to say the Fiesta is without merits in the chassis department. Front-end grip is absolutely mega; the only way we got the Vignale to even remotely show understeer was to behave like a complete and utter clown mid-bend, ramming on a load of unnecessary extra steering lock at precisely the wrong moment. We did this just to prove a point, mind, which is this: if you're even only a remotely proficient driver who can input progressive, fluid movements to a car's major controls, the Fiesta's nose will never, ever let you down. It's also a beautifully balanced car, with just enough rear-end mobility to make steering with the throttle possible... although, again, you have to be going some to actually get the tail moving.

The brakes are fine, and the middle pedal is placed and modulated just-so to allow for lovely heel-and-toe action. It's a shame, then, that the EcoBoost isn't quick enough to shed and gain revs to make this a worthwhile habit. As ever, this cheerful 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine is a marvel, with loads of pace, a torquey mid-range and that appealing, offbeat vocal gargle when it's being worked hard. But it hasn't been given the crispest flywheel, which means that seamless upshifts can be frustratingly difficult to get right if you're rowing the Ford along at decent pace.

Can you see a pattern emerging here? With the one hand, Ford giveth, and with the other, it taketh away. We suspect the problem is that the very use of the word 'upmarket' means - in Ford's collective mind - 'a Volkswagen Polo challenger'. And, for all the worthiness of the German car, it has never been an exciting thing to steer. It feels like Ford has gone down much the same route here, because there's one final upside to the way the more grown-up Fiesta MkVII goes about its business, and that's epic levels of refinement. The primary ride qualities, the suppression of wind and tyre noise, the lack of mechanical harshness... this Fiesta is far classier in that respect than its predecessor. But the worry is that such refinement has come at the expense of outright driving entertainment, and for a Ford, that's a worrying development.


We're probably being overly harsh on the Fiesta here, and more time behind the wheel of more variants in the UK might see us warming to it all the more. But our suspicion is that, if you were to draw a line between the vivacity of the old MkVI Fiesta and the sturdiness of the outgoing Volkswagen Polo, this MkVII Ford has edged closer to the latter than the former. It's still markedly better to drive than the VW... but that's talking about the current model, which is eight years old now. When the new, Polo MkVI appears later this year, will the Fiesta still be head and shoulders above its age-old rival in terms of dynamics?

We're not sure. And that's why we're sticking at four stars overall. There's little doubt the new Fiesta is an incredibly rounded and appealing vehicle for daily driving duties, given its super-hushed cruising abilities and that vastly improved interior. There's also little doubt it has every right to be challenging for overall supermini honours, because it's an extremely fine car in many respects. But at no point when driving any of these leading lights of the launch range did we get out of the Ford with a huge smile plastered across our chops. We were suitably impressed, yes; thrilled, though... well, that's another matter. Suddenly, the forthcoming ST has taken on even more importance than ever.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 29 Jun 2017    - Ford road tests
- Ford news
- Fiesta images

2017 Ford Fiesta Vignale. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Fiesta Vignale. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Fiesta Vignale. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Fiesta Vignale. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Fiesta Vignale. Image by Ford.

2017 Ford Fiesta Vignale. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Fiesta Vignale. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Fiesta Vignale. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Fiesta Vignale. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Fiesta Vignale. Image by Ford.


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