DELIVERING refinement and a big-car feel in a light car is virtually impossible. But Ford has managed to refine the new Fiesta to a point where it rides like a French car but has the quality, quietness and ambience of a German one.
The air of sophistication carries over to the cabin, too. The newest Fiesta looks and feels more expensive than it really is.
The steering is reach and height-adjustable, which is unusual in the light-car segment. There is an up-market look and feel to the switchgear and the overall interior feeling suggests it should be in a segment above.
The seats are supportive and comfortable, particularly in the Zetec and though you sit some distance from the steeply raked windscreen, visibility is excellent.
The prominent C-pillars do hinder over-the-shoulder rear views, though.
In the centre of the dash, the mobile-phone inspired design works well for the audio controls. Likewise, the switchgear for the heating, and other ancillary features are of a high quality.
That was not always the way with the current car, which looked and felt a little underdone in the cabin.
On the road, Ford has managed to make the Fiesta smooth and quiet and delivered a reasonably energetic driving experience.
It may not be as sharp as the current car, but more buyers will appreciate its higher levels of suppleness and refinement.
The trade-off in the previous crispness in the chassis has been the development of a big-car ride.
The electronic power steering is sharp and accurate, and Ford’s claims of better lowspeed manoeuvrability and more precise high-speed stability seem on the money.
The five-speed gearbox is slick and the handling precise.
The Zetec’s suspension, with its slightly sportier tune, could be adopted across the range without complaint because it remains supple yet allows sporty handling. It’s that good.
We can only wonder how good the new Fiesta could be with a 2.0-litre four in XR4 guise . . .
The early production cars we sampled, the Titanium five-door and Zetec threedoor, had excellent fit and finish and there was a palpable sense of engineering integrity in the cars.
The 89kW 1.6-litre four is smooth and revvy. But to get the best out of it liberal use of the silky five-speed manual is required.
We got 7.8 litres/100km in spirited driving on winding roads near Siena. Ford says the 1.6 is good for 5.9 litres combined fuel economy.
Interior space up front is good and though rear passengers get plenty of headroom, legroom is snug. Boot space is reasonably good.
The only sour note on overall quality was the exposed, black-painted seatbacks, which we suspect will scratch easily.
Ford’s McAlary says the company hopes to sell about 600 a month, about the same rate as the current car.
We suspect once word gets out how competent the new Fiesta is, it could challenge the supremacy of the Mazda2, Honda Jazz, Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Getz in the sales race.