Unquestionably, one of the finest new cars of 2008, the latest Ford Fiesta has taken road test victories in both three and five-door trim. We’ve driven it in 1.6-litre diesel and 1.4-litre petrol guises and have been impressed. So, is it as desirable in entry-level 1.25-litre petrol form?
Well, the choice of engine doesn’t affect the winning styling – the shapes and surfaces of the Fiesta’s body look great from every angle; the Hyundai appears dull in comparison. This sense of style continues inside, where the soft-touch dashboard is a step ahead of the i20’s.
If you look closely at materials in less obvious parts of the cabin you can still find hard plastics, but overall the Fiesta feels classy and well built. The prominent centre console dominates the interior, and while the large control panel won’t be to all tastes, the big buttons are logically laid out. The chunky heater knobs are just as easy to use. In the back, legroom is on a par with most class rivals, and the 295-litre boot grows to 975 litres with the chairs down. There’s no clever folding trickery, though – the seatbase is fixed, so the backs simply flop down on top. As a result, you don’t get a flat floor, and the Skoda has the Ford beaten for ultimate load capacity.
However, from behind the wheel the Fiesta is unrivalled. For starters, the driving position is excellent. All of the controls are perfectly placed and beautifully weighted. The steering, brakes, gearbox and clutch are all alive with feedback and feel wonderfully engineered. It’s this attention to detail that makes the Fiesta such an enjoyable car to drive on every type of road.
The steering is communicative, and even small movements result in accurate and responsive cornering, regardless of your speed. On top of that, the suspension manages to be both taut and compliant, so the Fiesta combines excellent body control and plenty of grip with a comfortable and relaxing ride. Few other cars on the road will put such a smile on your face – the Ford manages to be both fun and relaxing in one package.
Our only criticism of the Fiesta’s excellent chassis is the fact that electronic stability control is only offered as an option. And then, once fitted, it’s too intrusive when cornering and it can’t be turned off.
Thankfully, the 1.25-litre entry-level petrol engine does nothing to detract from the Fiesta’s desirability. It’s available in 59bhp and 81bhp forms, so it lacks the overtaking urge of more powerful models. But in-gear response is a match for the Hyundai’s and Skoda’s. The four-cylinder unit is refined, too, and this, combined with the excellent ride and decent noise insulation, makes the Ford the best choice for motorway driving.
With a £11,352 price tag, the Fiesta is the most expensive contender in this test – but its engineering quality runs deep.
The Fiesta blends hot hatch agility with a superb ride. It’s great to drive at any speed, on any type of road. A well laid out cabin, smooth petrol engine and excellent refinement are the finishing touches.
Model tested: Ford Fiesta 1.25 Zetec
Chart position: 1
WHY: Undisputed class leader is tested in 1.25-litre petrol guise for first time here.
* Engine: 1.25-litre 4cyl, 81bhp
* 0-60mph: 12.2 seconds
* Economy: 36.0mpg
* Annual road tax: £120
* Euro NCAP rating: Five stars