As su­perb to drive as ever, the new Fi­esta fea­tures up­dated con­nec­tiv­ity tech and more space … but it can’t af­ford to snooze with a daunt­ing ri­val round the cor­ner

Car (South Africa) - - DRIVE -

IIt’s tes­ta­ment to the skill of the out­go­ing Fi­esta that, nine years after its ini­tial launch, it’s still a force to be reck­oned with in the B-seg­ment, the world’s largest ve­hi­cle sec­tor in terms of sales.

Sure, the Fi­esta’s cabin – not ex­actly classlead­ing in terms of us­abil­ity and per­ceived qual­ity way back in 2008 – has lagged be­hind the best in the sec­tor for in­fo­tain­ment tech­nol­ogy and space util­i­sa­tion, and those are some of the main ar­eas Ford has ad­dressed on the new model. The rest – en­gines, chas­sis and sus­pen­sion – have been car­ried over, with tweaks here and there to en­sure the pow­er­trains meet strin­gent emis­sions stan­dards and the dy­nam­ics main­tain the Fi­esta’s all-con­quer­ing sta­tus in the bends.

The lo­cal launch takes place in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2018 and we’ll get the five-door ver­sion only. It’ll be fit­ted with the be­low The new Fi­esta is 71 mm longer and 13 mm wider than be­fore, but the wheel­base has gone up by a scant 4 mm. bril­liant 1,0-litre, three-cylin­der Ecoboost in two states of tune, 74 and 92 kw, mated with ei­ther a six-speed man­ual gear­box or a dual-clutch with the same num­ber of ra­tios. Specification will be Trend and Ti­ta­nium. Ad­di­tion­ally, Ford SA will of­fer the 63 kw/215 N.m 1,5-litre diesel in Trend spec and solely with a man­ual ‘box. Europe gets St-line and lux­u­ri­ous Vig­nale trim (the lat­ter pic­tured here), but those aren’t slated for our mar­ket (a real shame in the case of the for­mer; it looks like an ST, and con­sid­er­ing the great suc­cess VW has had with its R-line prod­ucts, a missed op­por­tu­nity by Ford).

For the first time stretch­ing more than four me­tres long – 4 040 mm, to be ex­act – the new Fi­esta is a no­tably larger car than the pre­vi­ous one, but still looks com­pact and taut. The new hor­i­zon­tal rear lights look smart; large whee­larches mean al­loy sizes have in­creased,

balanc­ing the pro­por­tions; and the shal­low glasshouse and deep door metal im­bue it with a solid, premium ap­pear­ance. The only bum note, per­haps, is the de­sign of the head­lamps. En­cased in LED daytime-run­ning lights, seen right from the front they look a touch non­de­script. But that’s bor­der­ing on nit­pick­ing; over­all, the Fi­esta’s de­sign is a suc­cess.

The good news con­tin­ues inside. Gone is the fa­cia fes­tooned with tiny but­tons and in its place is a free­stand­ing eight-inch screen con­tain­ing the new­est ver­sion of Ford’s Sync 3 com­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­fo­tain­ment mod­ule.

Fit and fin­ish are gen­er­ally good, but there are ar­eas that feel cheap, such as the door pulls and seat ad­justers. Over­all, how­ever, it’s on par with ve­hi­cles such as the Mazda2 and new Kia Rio, although not quite on the level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion of the cur­rent Polo.

Ford claims rear legroom has been boosted by 16 mm and that, to­gether with scal­loped front seat­backs, the ve­hi­cle af­fords those passengers seated in the rear more com­fort. I could just about squeeze my 1,84-me­tre frame in be­hind my driv­ing po­si­tion, with my head lightly graz­ing the rooflining. That’s par for the course in this seg­ment, and only ve­hi­cles such as the Honda Jazz and Suzuki Baleno are no­tably more spa­cious. The boot mea­sures 292 litres.

Ford claims the new Fi­esta has 35% more ul­tra-high-strength Boron steel in its struc­ture, while more laser weld­ing, stronger at­tach­ment points for the front sub­frame and new, welded at- tach­ment points on the rear axle have seen the model’s tor­sional stiff­ness in­crease by 15%.

Like­wise, the sus­pen­sion has come in for re­vi­sion. The front track spans 30 mm ex­tra (and the rear by 10 mm), while larger axle mounts have been fit­ted to bet­ter fil­ter out road scars.

Com­bined with a re­worked six-speed man­ual transmission and elec­tri­cally as­sisted power steer­ing, the Fi­esta re­tains the dy­namic sparkle that has set gen­er­a­tions of this ve­hi­cle apart in a seg­ment that’s some­what bereft of driv­ing plea­sure. Body roll is kept firmly in check, there’s very lit­tle un­der­steer – the car has torque vec­tor­ing that’s meant to work im­per­cep­ti­bly, and it does – and the steer­ing is per­fectly judged.

Now, how­ever, the Fi­esta also rides even more flu­idly. On 18-inch wheels en­veloped in low-pro­file rub­ber, the scant few lumps and bumps of Span­ish tar were heard more than felt. I’d go so far as to say this is the be­strid­ing ve­hi­cle in the class.

Like­wise, the pow­er­trains are as good as you’d hope. The 1,0-litre Ecoboost, a mul­ti­ple En­gine of the Year vic­tor, is bril­liant: smooth, quiet and punchy.

There’s a caveat, though, and it’s one that ap­plies to all down­sized, tur­bocharged petrol pow­er­trains: in­dulge in the eas­ily ac­cessed per­for­mance and fuel econ­omy quickly spi­rals up­wards. Fol­low­ing one spir­ited drive up a de­serted pass north of Madrid, con­sump­tion nudged 9,0 L/100 km. Drive it far more se­dately, though, and you can ex­pect to come closer to match­ing the claimed 4,3 L/100 km.

If econ­omy is your main rea­son for pick­ing a Fi­esta, the 1,5 TDCI is the one to pick. It, too, is re­fined, there’s oo­dles of torque for safe over­tak­ing and vi­bra­tion at idle is all-but non-ex­is­tent.

Ul­ti­mately, it’s busi­ness as usual with the new Fi­esta. It has few vices and enough seg­mentlead­ing el­e­ments, with the Ecoboost en­gine and sub­lime chas­sis fore­most, to strike fear into the hearts of its com­peti­tors.

How­ever, a po­ten­tial hin­drance to suc­cess might be the up­com­ing new Polo that launches a month ear­lier than the Ford and looks likely to trump it for per­ceived qual­ity. That said, this first taste has con­firmed Ford hasn’t been on siesta and has pulled out all the stops to once again reign supreme in the bru­tal bat­tle for the B-seg­ment.

The 1,0-litre Ecoboost is bril­liant: smooth, quiet and punchy

clock­wise from top A panoramic sun­roof is now of­fered as an op­tion; all mod­els bar the base ver­sions have pro­jec­tor-style head­lamps with run­ning lights; stan­dard-fit­ment torque vec­tor­ing brakes the inside wheel to guide the ve­hi­cle tighter into a cor­ner.

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