2 It has to be bril­liant to drive

CAR (UK) - - Analysis -

IF THERE’S ONE thing we ex­pect from the new Fi­esta, it’s that it’ll be a hoot. Agility, poise and the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate those sen­sa­tions to the driver have been the bedrock of Ford prod­ucts for more than 25 years. The ‘best to drive’ tag has played a key role in help­ing buy­ers look past some of the Fi­esta’s weaker points, like in­te­rior plas­tics hard enough to with­stand a nu­clear blast and dis­ap­point­ing rear seat space.

The plat­form is a mod­i­fied ver­sion of the old car’s and the en­gine line-up will be fa­mil­iar to any­one with one of those on their drive. There’s a sim­ple tor­sion-beam rear axle and a pair of struts at the front, be­tween which nes­tle a va­ri­ety of three-cylin­der petrol and diesel en­gines.

The old 1.25-litre four has been pen­sioned off, its place at the bot­tom of the range taken by a new nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 1.1-litre triple with 69bhp or 84bhp, and five gears in ei­ther case. A se­ries of blown EcoBoost triples of­fer a choice of 99, 123 and 138bhp, all backed by long-strid­ing six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sions, with a dual-clutch auto op­tional on the 99. There’s a pair of 1.5-litre diesels too, of­fer­ing 84 or 119bhp.

But who needs a rat­tly old diesel when the EcoBoosts are so bril­liant? Which power out­put you end up with is par­tially gov­erned by the trim you choose. Sen­si­ble Zetec (from £14,215 with the 84bhp 1.1; £580 more with an EcoBoost) lim­its you to a 99, but go for the plusher Ti­ta­nium and you can add a flake for £500, push­ing power to the next level.

That’s the car in the pic­tures, and it’s hard to see why you’d need more. The 123 de­vel­ops the same 125lb ft as its lit­tle brother but spreads it over a wider range, drop­ping the 0-62mph time from 10.5sec to 9.9sec with zero im­pact on thirst. It’d be even quicker with gears that weren’t de­signed for space travel. Third is good for 100mph and there are still three cogs to go, but it’s to the EcoBoost’s credit that it still feels punchy in all of them while mak­ing mo­tor­way cruis­ing ef­fort­less. There’s mean­ing­ful urge from below 2000rpm and then an­other kick dur­ing the sec­ond half of the rev nee­dle’s climb, all ac­com­pa­nied by a bur­bly three-pot sound­track.

Don’t let the im­proved noise iso­la­tion and ride comfort con­vince you the Fi­esta’s gone soft, be­cause this is still the best han­dling small car in the busi­ness – you sense that much be­fore you’re even out of first gear, as you feed some lock into the steer­ing to wind your way out of a park­ing space.

Grip is eye-pop­ping and the weight­ing and re­sponse of the elec­tric steer­ing so much bet­ter than any other su­per­mini. It also rides with big-car style, and the bal­ance be­tween those two de­mands will suit most driv­ers per­fectly. But if you want to hoon, ST-Line trim is hot-hatch-lite: it looks the part and backs it up with even sharper han­dling, plus the op­tion of the 138bhp EcoBoost that cuts the 0-62mph sprint to 9sec dead. Un­til the ST ar­rives, this is the most fun you can have in a Fi­esta. And thank­fully that’s quite a bit.

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