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Ford Fiesta Zetec S TDCi

High performance diesel is the sporting flagship of the best-selling supermini range

The essential ingredient for any hot hatch is driving fun – and that’s where the Ford Fiesta really excels. When the blue oval’s supermini burst on to the scene 18 months ago, it set a lofty benchmark for driving thrills that – even now – few rivals can match.

That’s particularly true of the sporty Zetec S range-topper.

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In petrol-powered Mountune trim, the three-door pocket rocket secured a well deserved top 10 finish in our annual Performance Car of the Year test last year. This was ahead of much more powerful and expensive machines.

The diesel-engined Fiesta promises the same razor-sharp driving dynamics, together with a welcome reduction in running costs. However, there’s no denying the Ford starts at a disadvantage. Not only is the Fiesta more expensive, but the Zetec S also packs less power and has a shorter list of standard kit.

Chunky

At least the Fiesta looks the part. Familiarity has failed to dent its huge visual impact, and the Ford still turns heads nearly two years after its debut. Zetec S trim boosts the model’s appeal with a chunky bodykit that includes a large tailgate spoiler, side skirts and deeper front bumper. Our test car’s racy stance was further improved by the addition of £250 optional 17-inch alloys.

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Climb aboard and you’ll find further visual cues to the Ford’s performance potential.

Up front you get a pair of figure-hugging sports seats, a small three-spoke steering wheel and an aluminium finish for the pedals. Elsewhere, the cabin will be familiar to existing Fiesta owners, which means a decent amount of space, attractive styling and a perfect driving position.

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Opening the tailgate reveals a 295-litre carrying capacity – that’s 10 litres more than in the DS3. But the Ford trails on standard equipment. Bluetooth connectivity is a £200 option, and buyers can’t even specify cruise control, yet both are included on the Citroen. The Zetec S also loses out at the test track, where it failed to cover up its power deficit. In the sprint from 0-60mph, it posted a leisurely time of 12.4 seconds – a full 2.8 seconds slower than the DSport. To make matters worse, the Fiesta has a five-speed gearbox, so it’s a less relaxed motorway cruiser.

Still, the smooth powerplant has decent mid-range responses, which mean strong real-world performance, so the Zetec S keeps the DS3 in sight on the open road.

It’s also worth noting that Ford is upgrading this model’s engine to a slightly more gutsy 94bhp version of the 1.6-litre TDCi, to replace the 89bhp unit tested here. It emits less CO2, at 107g/km.

What our performance figures don’t reveal is just how much fun the Fiesta is to drive.

All the controls are perfectly weighted, and deliver bags of feedback. Point the Ford’s nose at a bend, and it corners with real poise and accuracy, while excellent body control and strong grip add to the car’s agility. Better still, the supple ride copes well with bumps, lumps and potholes.

This dynamic masterclass comes at a price, though. The Ford weighs in £16,395, which is £495 more expensive than its better-equipped rival. So, could the Fiesta taste defeat for the first time?

Details

Chart position: 2
WHY: Fiesta is one of the most entertaining cars we’ve driven, and the spicy diesel version promises to be an economical gem.

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