The Fiesta is Auto Express’s Car of the Year 2009, and it has set new standards in this sector – so rivals for the latest Polo don’t come any tougher! The Ford looks the part, too.
It’s wider, lower and shorter than the Volkswagen, and with a longer wheelbase and short overhangs it is well proportioned, while its sleek styling provides plenty of visual impact.
Inside, the car is equally bold. The swooping dash design and mobile phone-inspired centre console are well thought out and easy to use.
Meanwhile, the perfect driving position is what we’ve come to expect from the blue oval, and build quality is also hard to fault.
The Ford hasn’t got the upmarket feel of the Polo’s cabin, but this is because of the high-quality materials on the upper part of the VW’s dashboard.
Overall, though, the Fiesta provides an interior masterclass, especially as its load area can swallow an impressive 296 litres of luggage and its rear legroom is a match for all but the Renault’s.
Ford’s 88bhp 1.6-litre TDCi is a plus point, as well. Clatter at idle isn’t too intrusive and it doesn’t suffer from the resonance through the clutch pedal that blights the Polo.
Plus, thanks to its sharp throttle responses and slick five-speed transmission, the engine and gearbox gel exceptionally well.
Performance is strong, too. The 0-60mph sprint took 12 seconds exactly, so only the lightweight Mazda was quicker. In-gear performance is also solid: the Zetec recorded the best figures of all the cars on the test and feels punchy enough to make decent progress on country roads.
Hit the motorway and the Ford doesn’t isolate road noise as well as the VW, but it’s the most flexible car, with strong pace in fifth gear.
So it’s more than happy as a long-distance cruiser.
In fact, the ride comfort, stability and general refinement put some vehicles from the class above to shame.
And on our 1,000-mile test route, which took in a proving ground, city streets, country roads and miles of motorway, we found no driving conditions that fazed the Fiesta.
The chassis is faultless – it’s easy to drive in town and then comes alive on flowing roads. The steering is communicative, sharp and precise and, with superb body control and grip, the car is reassuring and engaging to drive.
This dynamic excellence extends to the ride, too. The suspension is supple and easily irons out imperfections, so the Fiesta is as comfortable as it is fun.
There is a cost for all this talent, though. A number of price hikes this year mean the Ford is the most expensive car. At £14,795, it’s £875 more than the Clio and £1,590 costlier than the less powerful Polo.
Poor predicted residuals compound the problem. The question is, does the Zetec do enough to justify that outlay and win the test?
Chart position: 1
WHY: Our reigning Car of the Year – the Fiesta’s sparkling dynamics, ride comfort and neat styling make it a class act.
* Ford Fiesta Zetec
* Price: £14,795
* Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 88bhp
* 0-60mph: 12.0 seconds
* AE economy: 41.5mpg
* Euro NCAP rating: Five stars