4 It has a legacy to live up to
FORD HAS shifted almost 4.5m Fiestas in Britain since 1976, making it the UK’s most popular car since records began. As a nation we love our Fiestas. Even when, in those grim middle years, we probably shouldn’t have. There was nothing particularly innovative about the irst Fiesta. It followed the template set by the Fiat 127 and Renault 5, themselves merely improvements on Issigonis’s original Mini, but it quickly became Britain’s favourite supermini, and dragged into the modern era a Ford still peddling rear-drive saloons that looked like they were drawn by a four-year-old. A mildly updated second-generation car arrived in 1984 and again sold well, but Peugeot’s 205 was a far better supermini. No surprise then that 1989’s Mk3 Fiesta was a clear 205 copycat, at least in looks. Unfortunately it was nothing like as good to drive. A product of the malaise years that also gave us the phoned-it-in Mk5 Escort, the Mk3 Fiesta was almost as bad, trying to pass o turgid engines and joyless handling in a 205-a-like shell. Even the fast ones were rubbish. ‘Another du fast Ford’ screamed our XR2i road test cover line, and adding a turbo for 1990’s RS only made matters worse. But in 1995 something incredible happened. Having put driving kicks irmly on the agenda with the 1993 Mondeo, Ford tweaked the Fiesta’s suspension and dropped in brilliant new 16-valve Yamaha-developed Zetec-SE engines. Apart from now looking like the emoji for ‘I’ve just walked in on my parents having sex’ it was improved almost beyond recognition. And in that moment Ford had laid a winning framework of zesty handling – plus sub-par packaging and Transit-quality cabin plastics – that would underpin every Fiesta for the next 20 years. The Mk5 of 2002, bigger and heavier, but also slower, was a solid eort, if no game changer. But its successor was. As sharp of suit as it was of chassis, the sixth Fiesta put the badge on the top of the sales charts and it’s been there ever since.
The idea was right from day one, so they’ve stuck with it for 40-plus years