Ford Verve

Exclusive: We get behind the wheel of Ford that will become next supermini

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

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Reinventing the Fiesta was never going to be easy, but with a fresh name and dramatic look, Ford’s Verve is right on target for a direct hit on 2008’s sales charts. Not only is it one of the most attractive superminis we have seen this year, our early drive suggests it should be a cracker on the road, too, thanks to its fantastic new chassis.

The battle for control of Britain’s new car market starts right here... Charged with overhauling the Vauxhall Corsa as the country’s best-seller, the stunning Ford Verve is at the core of a plan to make the blue oval Europe’s most exciting motor manufacturer.

Such aggressive, ambitious ideas call for radical solutions. The Verve will replace the Fiesta when it goes on sale in November 2008. But does it deliver? To find out, Auto Express got behind the wheel for the test drive everybody wanted.

Unveiled at September’s Frankfurt Motor Show, the Verve proves there is more to small Fords than the Fiesta. While that car drives well, the Corsa has shown buyers want something as good to look at as it is to spend time in. And the Verve certainly delivers. Muscular Focus-style wheel­arches and svelte bodywork give a dynamic shape, as if it’s ready to leap forwards. It’s a world away from the slab sides of the Fiesta, and has a chic yet sporty feel.

The huge front air intake provides the Verve with a similar appearance to Peugeot’s current range, but we are assured this will shrink on the produc­tion car. The sleek, coupé-style roofline will also be changed to ensure plenty of headroom for rear passengers.

But Ford’s designers are adamant this car must look as desirable as it is functional. So while it sits on sporty 18-inch, 12-spoke alloys, the Verve would have just as much appeal on smaller wheels and without some of the chrome detailing around the window line. Slip inside, and you’re left in no doubt that Ford is pushing boundaries. The door handles are shocking pink, as are the seatbelts, and there’s bright pink stitching on the seats.

Ignore the lurid colours and the Verve has a premium feel. The shapes on the dash and instrument binnacle are interesting, easy on the eye and set to feature in the production car.

We particularly liked the speedo and rev counter, which are angled slightly towards each other to draw the driver’s eye in. Overall, the layout is simple – with only three buttons for the ventilation controls, all placed low down, and a simple cluster of switchgear for the rest of the controls loca­ted above. It looks really classy, and builds on the theme which works so well in Ford’s latest larger models.

As on the Mondeo, there’s a ‘Ford Power’ starter button mounted just to the right of the steering wheel. Push that and the car barks into life. As this model was built primarily to show off the design, engi­neers have not spent much time fine-tuning it for the road.

As a result, there is little in the way of sound-deadening in the cockpit and the centre-mounted exhaust delivers a sporty sound. Yet otherwise, the Verve feels remarkably well engineered. It shares its chassis with Mazda’s new 2, so the steering is res­ponsive and sensibly weighted, and the car provides the kind of agility in bends you expect from a small Ford.

At the same time, the Verve is com­pliant over bumps and doesn’t roll too much through corners. If this is a sign of things to come, the model will certainly live up to its sporty look.

The driving position is excellent, and our automatic car featured sporty steering-mounted gearchange paddles that you push with your thumbs. With no B-pillars, visibility all-round is sup­erb, while a panoramic glass roof gives the sort of spacious feel that’s usually reserved for MPVs. Fold-flat rear seats ensure the Verve is practical, too.

If Ford’s goal with this car was to transform the Fiesta’s image from staid but sensible to funky and functional, it has succeeded. The Verve’s shape is as sporty as it is stylish, and the design should work well whether in base or top-spec trim. As the brand has stuck so closely to the promises it has made with its most recent concepts, small car buyers have a lot to look forward to.

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