If last week’s first drive of Ford’s new ‘hot’ Fiesta ST left us a little underwhelmed and largely perspiration-free, what chance is there for its deliberately more tepid sibling, the Zetec S, to raise the temperature?A pretty fair one, actually. It has nothing to do with straight-line performance.
The Zetec S comes with a choice of two engines. The 1.6-litre 16-valve Duratec petrol has 49bhp less than the ST’s 148bhp 2.0-litre unit, the 1.6-litre 16-valve TDCi turbodiesel in our test car is down a whopping 59bhp. If you have a pressing need to travel at more than 112mph or accelerate to 60mph in under 11.2sec, then the oil-burning version isn’t for you. The petrol 1.6 won’t help a great deal, either: 114mph and 9.9sec just about square with Ford’s description of ‘lively’. Remember that the ST is a 130mph, sub-eight-to-60mph car.
It isn’t about cornering speed, either. Although the Zetec S shares a few of the ST’s design cues – specifically the roof spoiler, deep front and rear bumper mouldings, mesh front grille and form-hugging front seats (leather optional) – the underpinnings are less aggressively developed. There are 16-inch alloys, 195/45 R16 tyres and standard ride height against the ST’s 17-inch rims, 205/40R17 rubber and lowered suspension.
But sometimes less really is more. Rather than being a watered-down ST, the Zetec S – perhaps because it doesn’t set its sights so high – turns out to be a rewardingly rounded and cohesive package that’s actually more fun to hustle along a twisting road, especially if you value fluent, progressive chassis behaviour over outright grip and flingability. The steering geometry has more toe-in than the ST’s, which makes it feel particularly fluid and linear at modest to brisk speeds, if slightly edgier near the limit, and almost reminiscent of the now sadly defunct Puma. That’s no bad thing. Moreover, the Zetec S rides more comfortably than the well-above-average ST, and has a sweeter, slicker gearchange, too.
A flexible 1.6-litre common rail turbodiesel (essentially the same one fitted to the new Focus but with a fixed rather than variable geometry turbo) suits the character of the car perfectly, serving up 150 lb ft of torque (10lb ft more than the ST) at just 1750rpm. It’s reasonably refined as well, but has a distinctly diesely engine note.
We also tried the taller, boxier, roomier and more softly sprung Fusion with this engine (previously it was available only as the rather lacklustre 1.4 TDCi) and quickly concluded that it significantly boosts the appeal of the mini MPV, even if squealing the tyres is a more frequent possibility.
Like the Zetec S, the Fusion always feels poised and well balanced, though body roll is more pronounced in brisk cornering. More important, the ride is excellent and general noise levels even lower than in the Zetec S.
The only leak in the Fiesta’s seemingly watertight case is the competition: the £12,950 Seat Ibiza FR and £12,250 Skoda Fabia vRS both have 1.9 turbodiesel engines packing 128bhp and a massive 229lb ft – making them far swifter for around the same cash. But the Ford is still the sweeter drive.