Replacing the UK’s most popular car for the past eight years with a new model is a very big deal.
Ford has just done exactly that with the latest Fiesta, and the $64,000 question is whether the new car is good enough to stay at the top?
At first glance it looks like Ford has played it safe with the seventh-generation of the hugely successful supermini which has sold 4.5 million since it was launched in 1976.
More evolutionary than revolutionary, the familiar profile is still there, but the keen-eyed will spot the new car’s more fluid lines, smoother bonnet, swept-back headlights and horizontal rear lights.
Still available as a three or five-door (with a jacked-up, more rugged Active Crossover version in the pipeline), it’s also slightly longer and wider.
However, it’s inside and under the skin where the big changes have occurred.
Billed as the “most technologically advanced small car in Europe”, the Fiesta now sports an impressive list of cutting-edge driver assistance and safety gizmos, plus full connectivity, while the interior is nothing short of a revelation.
Let’s start with the cabin where the most obvious change is in the centre console where Ford’s latest SYNC 3 infotainment system is being offered on the Fiesta for the first time.
Depending on which trim level you choose, it’s possible to have an 8.0-inch “floating” touchscreen, giving you access to DAB radio, across the range, along with USB ports and Bluetooth connectivity as standard, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Not only does the new infotainment system erase some 50% of the sixth-gen’s bewildering number of buttons and bin the tiny infotainment screen, but it sets a template for a more attractive, cleaner cockpit design.
Thankfully, there are still plenty of small storage areas dotted around, while the comfort and quality has been improved all round with more soft-touch plastics.
The new Fiesta is better packaged too, with a sense of extra space up front and definitely more room for adults of an average height behind.
The boot has a slightly larger luggage capacity of 292 litres and there’s a wider opening for easier access, though it’s still only average for its class.
The driving assistance and safety technology on offer (though not all standard throughout the range) includes Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection available – Ford’s version of autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
There’s also cross-traffic alert, which can warn drivers that are reversing if it is not safe to do so, blind spot detection and Active Park Assist with Perpendicular Parking, which enables drivers to park hands‑free nose-to-tail and side-by-side.
The list goes on, so if you are considering the new Fiesta, it’s definitely worth scanning the options list and driver packs available.
I should add that Ford is rightly excited about the new B&O PLAY versions of the Fiesta, which offer an enhanced audio experience with 10 speakers (including a boot-mounted subwoofer) and a central speaker on top of the instrument panel.
Priced from £12,715 for the entry-level Style spec, the Fiesta range continues through to Zetec (the most popular current trim level) and Titanium to B&O PLAY series, sporty ST-Line models and the luxury flagship Vignale from £19,345 – a spec available on the Fiesta for the first time.
The petrol and diesel engines on offer include Ford’s acclaimed 1.0-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder petrol turbo in 100PS, 125PS and 140PS guises. There’s also a cheaper non-turbo three-cylinder 1.1-litre (70PS and 85PS), plus a 1.5-litre diesel (85PS or 120PS).
I tested the Titanium 1.5 TDCi (120PS), ST-Line 1.0T EcoBoost (140PS) and Vignale 1.0T EcoBoost (140PS), which were all mated to a six-speed manual gearbox (automatic versions of most models will also be available).
After you press the Start button, you’re immediately struck by the refined cabin experience. Clearly a lot of work has been done in this area with Ford claiming best-in-class levels of quietness.
Even with the more robust diesel and the sportier growl of the ST-line, it’s a sophisticated driving experience for such a small car.
The ride is still on the firm side, but seems to absorb everyday bumps and rougher road surfaces with ease.
The Fiesta has always been one of the best handling cars in its class, and the newcomer doesn’t disappoint. The standard car is just as much fun to drive as it ever was with an easy-going blend of precise steering, agility, plenty of grip and excellent body control.
The ST-Line is the model to go for if you want a more spirited drive, adding a slight growl to the familiar thrum of the eager three-cylinder 1.0 turbo and a sexy body kit, while the handling is even more entertaining thanks to a 10mm lower ride height and stiffer suspension.
If you spend most of your time on motorways, then the diesel would make sense. Powerful and refined, it’s a relaxed cruiser. The lowest output version (85PS) is the most fuel-efficient Fiesta – delivering 88.3mpg on paper, while emitting 82g/km CO2.
The petrol engines are frugal too. Even the ST-Line 1.0 turbo has a claimed 62.8mpg, despite a 0-62mph time of nine seconds and a 125mph top speed.
Ford hasn’t forgotten about personalisation either. Check out the varying body colour/roof combinations. Frozen White with a Race Red roof and matching door mirrors is especially eye-catching.
Frankly, the new Fiesta is hard to criticise, but it’s not perfect either.
Some of the plastics in the cabin (eg the doors are a little hard and cheap), the manual gearbox is slightly notchy and I would have liked to have seen more tech – especially autonomous emergency braking – standard across the range.
But overall, the more upmarket Mk 7 Fiesta is an impressive car and should have no trouble retaining its crown as the best supermini on sale in the UK. Some feat, considering it’s up against the likes of the new Nissan Micra, the Renault Clio, SEAT Ibiza, Volkswagen Polo and Skoda Fabia.
Verdict: The new Ford Fiesta is better than ever, building on the strengths of the outgoing car, while bringing it bang up to date with all the latest tech in a more sophisticated, spacious and stylish package.