Ford Fiesta Active review
With a strong driving experience and trendy SUV styling, the Fiesta Active has a lot to recommend it – but the standard car is cheaper
Everyone – car makers included – knows SUVs sell. You only need take a look at a full car park anywhere in the UK to recognise that. While the SUV boom was originally focused on large family-sized cars, in more recent times it has filtered down to smaller models. Today, superminis are getting in on the act as well, and the Fiesta Active competes with models like the SEAT Arona, Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008 and the Citroen C3 Aircross – though it’s slightly smaller than all these models. While Ford has the EcoSport as a direct challenger in this market, the Fiesta Active is more of a crossover, offering the SUV look blended with the car-like qualities of the standard Fiesta.
Good things, though, often come in small packages, and that’s true of the Fiesta Active. Because despite having a ride height that’s 18mm taller than the Fiesta on which it’s based, the Active has had its track widened by 10mm. This translates into a planted feel on the road, fun cornering and a car that’s generally true to the Fiesta’s ethos. All in all, it’s an appealing and likeable small SUV.
The Fiesta Active has three trim levels: Active 1, B&O Play and Active X. If you’re familiar with the standard Fiesta range, Active 1 is based on Zetec, but adds some extra (mostly aesthetic) trinkets. And while there are only two engines available – one petrol and one diesel – these are offered in no fewer than six power options. There’s a 1.5-litre diesel in two power outputs, as well as Ford’s petrol 1.0-litre EcoBoost triple in no less than four guises, ranging from 84 to 138bhp.
Both the Ford Fiesta and SUVs are incredibly popular, so combining the two to make the Ford Fiesta Active must have seemed like a no-brainer for Ford. The company expects 15 per cent of the Fiestas it sells to be the Active variant, after all. But while some may have feared a taller Fiesta would lose the handling finesse Ford’s evergreen supermini has long been known for, in truth, the Fiesta Active is similarly enjoyable to drive.
It is, to be fair, more expensive than a standard Fiesta, but the Active gets a plusher entry-level trim, so this isn’t felt quite as keenly as it might be. There’s room for five adults (at a push) inside, while the Fiesta Active gets the same well-designed cabin and up-to-date eight-inch Sync 3 infotainment system as the standard Fiesta – as long as you avoid that entry-level Active 1 car. As a bridge between supermini and full-on small SUV, with the impressive qualities of the Ford Fiesta thrown-in, it makes a lot of sense.
Engines, performance and drive
The battle car companies face when designing SUVs is that if they make a taller car, they tend to raise its centre of gravity. This, in turn, will lead to more body roll when cornering, which is an enemy of a fun driving experience – something that wouldn’t bode well with the Fiesta’s reputation.
Ford must have been well aware of this when designing the Active, so while the car has rugged plastic wheel arches, roof rails and more sturdy-looking bumpers, it actually rides just 18mm taller than the Fiesta hatch. To further minimise the impact an SUV stance might otherwise have and to compensate for the slightly taller frame, the Active’s track has been widened by 10mm.
These design elements are worth knowing, because they mean that if you’ve driven the standard Fiesta, the Active doesn’t deviate too much from that car’s impressive handling characteristics. There is a fraction more body lean when cornering, but nowhere near enough to dent the Active’s overall handling prowess. It also has an almost identical – albeit marginally higher – driving position to the Fiesta, plus the same snickety gearbox and sharp steering.
All models come with what Ford terms “rough road suspension” and a driving mode selector with Eco, Normal and Slippery settings. It’s unlikely the Fiesta Active will get you hugely far off the beaten track, but the slightly raised stance should make taking it into a field, for example, less nerve-racking than it would be in a conventional supermini. The car’s underside will also be that little bit further out of harm’s way when negotiating urban obstacles like speed humps and kerbs.
Ford only offers the active with a 1.5-litre diesel engine and a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit. The diesel is offered with 84 or 118bhp, while the petrol comes in 84, 99, 123 and 138bhp formats.
Choose one of the EcoBoost petrols and you’ll be getting an eager powerplant. The slightly gruff nature intrinsic to three-cylinder engines gives the EcoBoost a pleasing amount of character when accelerating, but once on a cruise it’s a hushed companion, and an all-round solid performer. Note the most powerful petrol isn’t available with the entry-level ‘1’ trim.
Performance, naturally, varies depending on which EcoBoost configuration you choose. The 84bhp version takes 12.7 seconds to go from 0-62mph, the 99bhp version shrinks this to 11.2 seconds, while the 123bhp and 138bhp engines do the same in 10.4 and 9.7 seconds. We’d argue the 99bhp unit is the one to go for though: it’s swift enough for most needs, and you can have fun wringing out its power, while staying on the right side of the law. A sweet-changing six-speed manual gearbox is standard across the range, with a six-speed auto offered as an option, but only with the 99bhp petrol engine.
Turning to diesel, the 84bhp 1.5-litre engine is only offered with ‘1’ trim, while the 118bhp isn’t available unless you upgrade to B&O Play. You’ll probably want the more powerful diesel though– the 84bhp unit takes 12.7 seconds to propel the Active from 0-62mph, with the 118bhp version reducing this to a more palatable 9.5 seconds. Either way, the 1.5-litre engine is refined for a diesel unit in a supermini, only really revealing a slightly gruff character under heavy acceleration. Go for the more powerful variant and you’ll have to do this less, though.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
Remember those compromises we mentioned earlier about SUVs being less agile than more established body styles? The same theory applies to economy. Add size and you reduce efficiency – partly due to extra weight, and partly due to a taller car being less aerodynamic.
Fortunately, because the Fiesta Active is only slightly larger than the Fiesta, and only weighs an extra 100kg or so, its efficiency losses are pretty minimal. Ford claims official economy of 64.2mpg for the 118bhp diesel and, while we saw a low 50mpg figure in our test drive, a diesel Fiesta Active will still be one of the more frugal small SUVs you can buy. For reference, opt for the 84bhp diesel and official economy climbs to 70.6mpg.
Specify your Active with the 1.0-litre petrol engine and official economy sticks around the mid-50s, with the 84 and 99bhp engines returning 56.5mpg, and the 138bhp version managing 54.3mpg.
Regardless of which fuel you choose, if you compare these figures to the Fiesta hatchback you’ll see a difference of between 3mpg and 5mpg. It’s noticeable, but hardly damning.
The Active stands up pretty well to the competition where economy is concerned, too. The SEAT Arona officially manages 57.6mpg with the base 94bhp petrol engine, rising to 70.6bhp if you chose the equally powerful 1.6-litre TDI diesel.
As far as road tax is concerned, most models emit between 103 and 118g/km of CO2, so first-year road tax (which is typically included in on-the-road prices) will be £165 – though note that the automatic gearbox offered with the 99bhp EcoBoost engine emits 138g/km of CO2, so will be £205 for the first year. Subsequent years will see you taxed at £140, no matter which engine or gearbox you choose.
Insurance for your Ford Fiesta Active should be cheap enough. Choose Active 1 trim with either the 84bhp petrol or the 84bhp diesel and you’ll be looking at group 7 out of 50, while the models most dimly viewed by the insurance industry (the 118bhp diesel and 138bhp diesel) sit in group 14; cover shouldn’t be expensive, either way, and should be slightly cheaper than it would be with the SEAT Arona, which sits in groups 8 to 18.
If cheap insurance is the goal, though, bear in mind choosing a Fiesta hatchback instead of the Active will get you more affordable cover: the Fiesta Style sits in group 2 out of 50 – though only if you specify it with the unenthusiastic 69bhp petrol engine.
Our experts predict the Fiesta Active will retain an average of 42.56 per cent of its value after three years and 36,000 miles, which is roughly the same as the standard, Fiesta. Our choice, the B&O Play model with the 99bhp EcoBoost engine, should hold onto 36.5 per cent of its value, while the 118bhp and 138bhp petrols will be more resistant to depreciation - though they’ll cost you more to buy in the first place.
Interior, design and technology
When the new Fiesta launched in 2017, its new interior put criticism of the outgoing model’s button-heavy cabin to rest – so it’s no surprise Ford has stuck with the same layout for the Active model.
The driving position, naturally, is ever so slightly higher than it is in the standard Fiesta, but your feet and arms adopt an almost identical position, and you’d be hard pushed to tell much of a difference between the two cars from behind the wheel. This is a good thing, though, as it means the gearlever is where you instinctively reach for it and feels satisfyingly chunky, the steering wheel sits comfortably in your hands, and the pedal box can accommodate even larger feet.
Interior quality is decent enough. The Volkswagen Polo feels plusher, sure, but in general the Fiesta Active acquits itself well. Unique upholstery patterns help it stand out from the crowd. As is common in the supermini class, lower down in the dashboard there are scratchy plastics, but higher up things are more pleasant, and softer to the touch.
The range starts with the Fiesta Active 1. This includes a leather steering wheel, keyless entry and go, all-round electric windows, 17-inch alloy wheels, silver roof rails and a 6.5-inch version of Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system.
Upgrade to B&O Play spec and you get a punchy B&O Play 10-speaker stereo, anodized yellow trim detailing, a 4.2-inch driver dashboard display, the eight-inch touchscreen, a front armrest, traffic sign recognition, auto-dipping headlights and cruise control – all for around £1,300.
Top-spec Active X cars add power-fold mirrors, heated part-leather seats, an upgraded climate control system, a reversing camera, plus auto lights and wipers. Active X is a further £1,100 or so over B&O Play though, and we can’t help feeling the mind-range car offers most of what you want, without costing too much.
Individual options include an opening panoramic sunroof for £600 (note that this means you lose the roof rails), an adjustable boot floor for £75 (this probably should be standard), pop-out door-edge protectors for £100 (worth having) and a £200 driver assistance package. This last item can’t be added to the Active 1 model, but it’s good value if only because it includes adaptive cruise control.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system may not be the best in the business (Volkswagen offers slicker units, for example) but it still has a lot to recommend it. While it lacks physical shortcut buttons at its left and right edges to easily bring up the radio volume, for example, the central screen hosts large, easy-to-prod icons, and there are physical play/pause and skip buttons at the screen’s base.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included in the Sync 3 system, as is a physical knob for the volume and power – no prodding at a screen for these functions. Helpfully, there’s also a button that turns the screen off without shutting the entire system down – useful if you’re travelling at night and want to avoid screen glare while you listen to the radio.
Do note Active 1 trim gets a 6.5-inch screen and the Sync3 setup, though this does include a DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus you can upgrade to the bigger screen, complete with sat nav, for £300.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The latest Ford Fiesta has a more spacious cabin than its predecessor, and the Active continues to make the most of these gains. Although five adults will be a squash, this is true of most cars of a similar size, which tend not to be bought by drivers who regularly carry a full complement of passengers.
Legroom, headroom and passenger space
As with similarly-sized cars, those in the rear of the Fiesta Active will be forced to adopt a relatively upright seating position, and front-seat occupants will have to be considerate of how far they have their seats forward if adults are behind them.
While the Fiesta Active makes a strong fist of the space its small dimensions provide, and young families should do well with it, if you want to maximise the amount of interior space your small car offers, look into the Honda Jazz– it’s the epitome of clever packaging.
At 311 litres with the rear seats up, boot space in the Fiesta Active is almost identical to the Fiesta hatch, which offers just eight litres fewer. Drop the seats in the Active and luggage space grows to 1,093 litres. These figures are reasonable, if nothing to write home about. The SEAT Arona, for comparison, offers 400 litres of luggage space with the rear seats up, while the Citroen C3 Aircross has 520 litres if you slide its rear seats forward.
Ford will fit the Fiesta Active with a tow bar for £225 – though not in conjunction with the optional panoramic sunroof. So equipped, the Active will tow up to 1,000kg, and will do so most comfortably if you choose the 118bhp 1.5-litre diesel engine.
Reliability and Safety
The 2017 Ford Fiesta was awarded the full five stars for safety by Euro NCAP, and this should apply to the Active variant. Adult occupant protection was rated at 87 per cent, child protection was similarly strong at 84 per cent, and safety assist was given 60 per cent.
Go for the mid-range B&O Play model and you’ll get traffic sign recognition (helpful for sticking to the speed limit), auto-dipping headlights and fatigue detection. Blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert (this latter item warns you of objects in your path when reversing) are packaged, together with heated, power-fold wing mirrors, for £475.
The Driver Assistance pack, meanwhile, bundles adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (which operates at speeds up to 50mph) and fatigue detection. At £200, this kit is worth having.
As a new model, judging the Fiesta Active’s reliability is more a question of providing background than concrete evidence. Ford as a company came 16th out of 26 car makers in our 2018 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, up from 19th in 2017.
And when the Fiesta last put in an appearance in Driver Power, again in 2017, it scored 50th out of 75 cars – though an impressively low (4.7 per cent) proportion of Fiesta owners reported issues with their cars in the previous 12 months. This was for the previous-generation Fiesta, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.
Ford’s fixed-price service plans come in a number of flavours. A basic two-year plan covering one service is £260, and high-mileage drivers can opt for a two-year/two-service policy for £500. A three-year/two service policy is £530.