New Fiesta boosts its street cred

Wed, Dec 5, 2012, 00:00

The fact that Ford chose to launch its updated Fiesta in Rome’s famed Cinecittà film studios can be, I suppose, interpreted in a number of ways.

Smack dab in the middle of towering sets replicating ancient Rome, there is an obvious comparison between the rise, fall and rise of the Roman empire and the current trough in which the European car industry find itself, and Ford especially so.

Is there a parallel between factory closures, billion-dollar losses and layoffs and the sound of the barbarians gathering at the gates? Perhaps. Or perhaps Ford was simply looking for a bit of reflected glamour by wheeling the Fiesta across the cobbles on which Charlton Heston, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Anita Ekberg once strode.

Glamour is something you would have to say the Fiesta has in spades. When this current generation was first launched, it was a very good-looking car, but this update has only strengthened that hand. It’s entirely new from the windscreen forwards, and with that jutting shark’s mouth grille, which owes no small debt to former Ford subsidiary Aston Martin, you would have to admit that it’s striking, if not perhaps classically Italianate.

Inside, much effort has gone into improving cabin quality, and the results are palpably good. Before, you would have had to place the Fiesta just behind the likes of the Volkswagen Polo in the interior quality stakes. Now it’s neck-and-neck.

High-tech equipment

Glancing briefly into the plain beige vinyl cabin of an original 1977 Fiesta that Ford had brought along to the launch underlined the incredible levels of high-tech equipment you can now specify. From the mobile phone and media player-linking Sync system that recently debuted on the new B-Max mini MPV to a new function called MyKey, which allows nervous parents to limit the speed, audio volume and other functions of the car when their teenage offspring have borrowed it, the Fiesta can now be specified to levels that would have seemed ludicrous when the original was launched. A self-braking city safety system, a function that automatically phones the emergency services in the event of an accident and niceties such as a reversing camera and an automated parking system are now all available, for a price.

Indeed, you’d have to ask if Ford is backing the wrong horse, investing in high-tech gizmos at a time when most buyers are looking more closely at the bottom line and rivals like Dacia are arriving with arrestingly low-balled prices. I asked; Ford said no. All its research points to customers wanting more and more technology in the car.

It’s the technology under the bonnet that makes the updated Fiesta more interesting, though, as at last it has received the engine that could almost have been specifically designed for it. Ford’s award-winning 1.0-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost engine has already found happy homes in the Focus and B-Max, but the Fiesta is surely the car best suited to the lightweight, frugal, free-revving little unit.

For the first time, you’ll be able to buy an EcoBoost unit that doesn’t use a turbocharger, and the new 65bhp and 80bhp versions of the engine will eventually replace the ageing 1.25-litre Yamaha-developed unit at the base of the Fiesta range. Punchier 100bhp and 125bhp versions, with a turbo, will be rarer by far in Irish dealerships but, sadly, that’s all that Ford made available for us to drive on this event.

I say sadly; actually it was terrific. In 125bhp form (a version which still scores a 99g/km Co2 rating and can, claims Ford, average better than 65mpg) the turbo EcoBoost almost qualifies as a junior hot hatch. There’s a touch of off-boost lethargy below 1,900rpm, but after that the little engine revs smoothly and crisply to the 6,500rpm redline, and there’s a thick seam of effortless 170Nm torque to revel in on the way there. Even with just a five-speed gearbox, it’s an effortless drive, and maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be a hint of Porsche-like roar as you pass 4,000rpm.

Power steering

As ever, the Fiesta’s chassis is up for any challenges you throw at it, and the updated electric power steering is better than ever. Firmly sprung and rewardingly talkative, it goes beautifully with the Fiesta’s neutral balance and grip. Even on roads streaming with heavy rain and peppered with aggressive Roman traffic, the Fiesta never felt less than confidence-inspiring, and frequently felt just damned good fun. One word of caution: on previous experience, the Fiesta is rather tyre-sensitive, and fitting cheap replacement tyres can make that lovely steering feel disconcertingly vague and unresponsive. You have been warned.

Alongside the EcoBoost units and the carry-over 1.25 petrol, Ford will also offer a new 1.5-litre TDCI diesel and two updated versions of the existing 1.6-litre diesel, the most efficient of which emits just 87g/km. Prices will start from €15,550 for the most basic 1.25 and you can expect the 99bhp EcoBoost turbo to clock in around the €17,500 mark.

Rome’s rule across Europe was once so powerful that all a traveller had to say was “civis Romanus sum” to ensure safe passage. Ford’s dominance of the European car market was once equally great, and while the Fiesta is still the best-selling small European car, it remains to be seen if Ford’s grip on European sales will be closer to Caesar or to Nero.

The Fiesta is packed with glamour, technology and sheer driver appeal, but in a free-falling market, is even all that enough?

The lowdown Ford Fiesta 1.0

Engine

999cc three-cylinder turbocharged petrol generating 123bhp at 5,500rpm and 170Nm torque at 1,550rpm

Performance

0-100km/h in 9.4 seconds

Economy

4.2 L/100km (65.7mpg)

Emissions

99g/km (€160 motor tax until Budget 2013 changes)

Price

The EcoBoost is special order only for now, but the updated Fiesta range will start at €15,550 for a 1.25-litre petrol engined version

Rivals

Renault Clio Dynamique 0.9 90bhp, €17,490. Seat Ibiza 1.2 TSI FR 5-door, €17,640. Chrysler Ypsilon 0.9 TwinAir Limited, €17,945.