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For the eighth generation, Ford tread lightly with the new Fiesta. But does that compromise it as a good used purchase?

For anyone under the age of 40, there has always been a Ford Fiesta. Such longevity confers on it the kind of rarefied status that makes a car synonymous with both the brand and its proclaimed values.

Certainly, the outgoing model – launched back in 2008 – has been not only the bedrock for Ford’s sales in Europe but also the prime conveyor of its ‘Feel the difference’ dynamism and peach-pretty exterior styling.

The Fiesta’s new wide-looking grille is a visual ploy to make the slender supermini seem wider than it is

And although it never managed to be the cheapest, most practical or best-equipped supermini, the Fiesta's virtues repeatedly distinguished it as not only the car to beat in our eyes but also the default option for a new generation of downsizers and first-time buyers.

Consequently – like Volkswagen with the Volkswagen Golf or BMW with the 3 Series or Porsche with the Porsche 911 – when it came to replacing the outgoing Fiesta with a new generation, Ford has opted not to drastically tamper with the formula.

In fact, although the car ultimately earns an ‘all-new’ differentiation from its predecessor, some of it could rightly be described as a far-reaching overhaul rather than a white-space rethink.

Instead, Ford’s stated aims have focused on addressing the issues that inevitably crop up when producing the same model for nearly a decade: renovating the styling, reinventing the interior, improving quality and fine-tuning the performance.

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The timing of this model's arrival was impeccable. The latest generation of rivals at the time – most notably, the Seat Ibiza and the Volkswagen Polo – could credibly claim to have exceeded the long-standing benchmark set by the Fiesta.

As a result, this new version must improve on not only its predecessor’s impressive legacy but also the polished desirability of the competition. No pressure.

2008-2017 Ford Fiesta engine line-up and trim levels

This Fiesta was available in no fewer than six trim levels, including the semi-rugged Fiesta Active and the pocket rocket Fiesta ST hot hatch. Standard cars could be ordered in Trend, Titanium, ST-Line and Vignale trim.

Entry-level Trend cars ride on 16in alloy wheels and get LED projector headlights, electric heated wing mirrors, a QuickClear heated windscreen, 8in touchscreen infotainment system with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, cloth upholstery and lane keep assist as standard.

Stepping up to Titanium models adds rear privacy glass, chrome exterior trim, keyless start, cruise control and rear parking sensors, while Titanium X cars get 17in alloy wheels, LED rear lights, climate control and uprated B&O play stereo system, among other extras.

ST-Line cars share more dynamic exterior design elements with the full-fat ST, and get a sports-tuned suspension, but otherwise shares a similar kit list to the Titanium trim. ST-Line X models step up to 18in alloys, and largely have the same extras as the Titanium X.

Vignale cars have their own unique front grille, bodystyling and 17in alloy wheels. Inside, the front seats are heated and upholstered in Sensico artificial leather. Adaptive cruise, keyless entry, front- and rear parking sensors and a rear view camera are all included as standard.

The engine line-up consists of a naturally-aspirated 1.1-litre petrol, available on base-level Trend cars only, and a 1.0-litre turbocharged EcoBoost three-pot in a range of outputs. The 99bhp EcoBoost is sold in six-speed manual form only.

The 123bhp and 153bhp versions included mild hybrid assistance for improved efficiency, but only the lesser-powered variant can be equipped with a 7-speed DCT automatic transmission. The range-topping ST got a bespoke 1.5-litre unit which producing 197bhp. Diesel engines were removed from the line-up entirely in 2020.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Ford Fiesta rear

The Fiesta’s new appearance exemplifies the care Ford has taken not to step too far from its predecessor’s shadow.

No one, certainly not a repeat buyer, is likely to mistake this new generation of it for a rival. There’s a much higher chance it will be mistaken for the previous generation. That likelihood, though, somewhat understates the first-rate job done with the exterior styling.

You can tell the UK matters to Ford because it has split the Fiesta’s rear seats 60/40 to the benefit of buyers of right-hand-drive variants

The model preceding this one was distinctive, but stubby, too, and notoriously wedge-like in profile. Most of the best work has been done on softening and simplifying the design; using straighter lines or, in the case of the bonnet bulge, eliminating them completely. Of course, the real coup is proportional: the new Fiesta is 71mm longer and 13mm wider than before – a modest growth rate given its starting point but significant enough for the evolutionary approach to result in a more satisfyingly balanced and subtly better-looking car.

Alongside the daintiness, Ford has added some additional muscle mass. The car’s structure is claimed to be 15 percent stiffer than its predecessor’s, a benefit of 35 percent more boron steel, stiffer mounting points for the front subframe and rear torsion bar and an increase in laser welding in the body.

Improved torsional rigidity is the ideal starting point for a chassis overhaul, which, in the Fiesta’s case, included a lighter, stiffer anti-roll bar in the nose, tougher, double-bonded suspension bushes and a physically larger twist beam at the back. Having increased the front track by 30mm and the rear by 10mm, Ford claims 10 percent more cornering grip, too, abetted by brake-operated torque vectoring.

The ride and handling are not aided by any commensurate loss of weight, though. The previous Fiesta was not particularly heavy, but persisting with its platform (and making the body larger) negated any meaningful reduction in mass, which makes the 117kg difference between this car’s claimed kerb weight and the Seat Ibiza’s stand out, on paper.

At the very least, it gave Ford’s latest engine line-up more work to do. The backbone included three recognisable versions of the turbocharged 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine: 99bhp, 123bhp (tested here) and 138bhp. It’s twinned with a new six-speed manual gearbox.

At the base of the pecking order is the same naturally aspirated 1.1-litre three-pot that shares its architecture with the Ecoboost motor, albeit with a wider bore, longer stroke and no turbocharger.

Its introduction means the venerable 1.25-litre Sigma engine, already outdated at the previous Fiesta’s inauguration, finally exits stage right. Topping the range was a 1.5-litre Ecoboost unit using turbocharging, high pressure fuel injection, and twin independent variable cam timing to produce 197bhp and 214lb ft of torque, and finds a home in the nose of the third generation Fiesta ST.

INTERIOR

Ford Fiesta interior

The outgoing Fiesta’s cabin was unarguably its weakest aspect. Despite a facelift in 2013, Ford never managed to counteract the last-decade mix of a button-heavy dashboard and tiny infotainment screen, neither of which could be operated with anything like the seamlessness that a smartphone-owning buyer expects.

From that exceptionally low bar, this model constituted a predictably gargantuan step up.

Siting the rear wiper control at the very tip of the right-hand column stalk makes no sense to me. 90% of the time, contact with the control will be both unwitting and infuriating

Unsurprisingly, the previous interior was done away with completely. According to Ford, its replacement effectively halved the number of switches and buttons, many of them having been relocated to a new 8.0in touchscreen - although entry-level models get a 4.2in TFT screen.

It’s possible to get a little overexcited about the then new Sync 3 infotainment system. Plainly, the touchscreen is superior to the Byzantine sequence of buttons that had to be pushed to make its forerunner operate, and in its size, positioning and sensitivity, you could hardly ask for more.

Nonetheless, in the format we tested (and without physically plugging in a smartphone) the set-up seemed curiously limited: you get tabs for audio and phone, the ‘Mobile apps’ tab doesn’t work without your phone’s help and ‘Settings’ contains nothing you’ll need on a daily basis.

Conversely, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a DAB tuner and standard Bluetooth, the Fiesta does supply the essentials. Sat nav went untested – our early build car was bereft of the system, usually standard with Titanium trim.

Perhaps it’s the sparseness of the menu system that confounds expectations, Ford having taken its user-centric pursuit of simplicity to a degree that leaves just plain tabs to push on. An aid to usability, no doubt, but hardly iOS-like in likeability, even if the screen's glass front is iPad-esque.

Around the display, Ford endeavoured to upgrade the trim materials and employ more seamless surfacing. In the car we tested, a heated steering wheel featured, along with a 4.2in TFT display in the instrument cluster.

In Fiesta terms, it’s a triumph, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is a cabin brought steadily up to date rather than plonked triumphantly at the head of the class. For all Ford’s professed attention to detail, there’s still plenty of tough plastic on show and the humdrum tactility that comes with it.

Ford did not completely exorcise its addiction to small buttons, either: the HVAC functions are needlessly strewn among 13 of them. Subjectively, it is also not the prettiest or cleverest solution to grace a supermini, lacking a Mini’s themed aesthetic or the harmony of the Ibiza’s layout.

It is also not dramatically larger than its predecessor. This is to be expected from a car that has gained only a scant 4mm of wheelbase length and even Ford claims it enhanced the notoriously stingy rear leg room by just 16mm.

Given the monster-selling success of its forebear, it could credibly be argued that the Fiesta’s small size has not impinged on its popularity previously but that doesn’t alter the fact that young families might find themselves better served by the extra 20mm of typical rear leg room we recorded in the Seat Ibiza or its 50-odd litres of extra boot space.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

1.0-litre EcoBoost Ford Fiesta engine

Had the new Fiesta’s development budget been the size of the UK’s Brexit divorce bill and the car widely as new as a four-year-old’s school uniform, we’d have regretted the omission of one particular item that might have been inherited from its predecessor: Ford’s 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine.

One of the very first downsized turbo three-pots of its kind in 2012, this motor has been imitated countless times, but it remains to be equalled for its energetic fizzing charm or its smoothness or willingness to work at both low and high revs.

In faster bends you can adjust the Fiesta’s attitude with a lift of the throttle, almost as you might in a 1980s hot hatchback

In this application, your sense of the motor’s balance and slickness, and its impressive mix of potency, operating range and refinement, has been bolstered by Ford’s efforts to reduce noise and vibration at source, and to better isolate the cabin through measures such as an acoustic windscreen.

There’s also the Fiesta’s six-speed manual gearbox to consider, with its very pleasingly light and short, although slick and positive, action. The upshot is that there’s a new-found sense of quiet discretion about this powertrain, as well as the familiar old accessible slug of torque and vivacity as the tacho needle soars.You couldn’t really ask for much more in a supermini engine.

And you won’t want for more urgent acceleration. Our benchmarking suggested Ford’s claim of 9.9sec to 62mph (9.6sec to 60mph) was slightly conservative and showed this car to be quicker than any like-for-like three-cylinder turbo petrol rivals that we road tested at the time.

For in-gear flexibility (30mph to 70mph in fourth gear) it’s a good second and a half faster than those rivals (although the relatively short intermediate ratios of Ford’s six-speed gearbox are a significant factor here, whereas most rivals still have a five-speeder).

And here’s why the car is so punchy: although Ford can officially claim only 125lb ft for this engine, it’s producing a fair bit more pulling power than that in reality. On overboost, which is technically ‘transient’ (although available for long enough to be considered permanent in any meaningful sense), the engine actually makes up to 133lb ft in second gear, 148lb ft in third and 155lb ft in fourth, fifth and sixth. 

Our biggest criticism of the car pertains to wind noise suppression, which, particularly relative to the gains made on engine refinement, seems pretty average. So you’ll notice the Fiesta’s good manners at idle and town speeds, but also some fluttering from around the mirrors and door seals at higher speeds.

RIDE & HANDLING

Ford Fiesta cornering

From a dynamic perspective, the influence of the 4mm added to the Fiesta’s wheelbase ought to be easily balanced out by the width added to the car’s axle tracks (30mm front, 10mm rear).

So, even on paper, the Fiesta’s real unique selling point was never really under threat here.

Body is barely disturbed from its habitual equilibrium through dips. Damping is outstanding for a £16k car

And in practice, this car is what its forebears always were: the outstanding choice for keener drivers. It continued to transcend the realities that normally define how much fun you can have in a small and cheap car, delivering remarkable cornering gip and balance, and genuinely compelling handling response and driver engagement, partnered with ride refinement that’s hardly compromised at all.

Our test car needed only 16in alloy wheels and standard suspension to feel a generous cut above the next most dynamically sophisticated rival in it class.

There are small cars that approach what it can do in terms of outright grip and incisiveness (although not on mid-corner balance) – and most of them need much firmer, more restless and less isolating suspension settings to do it.

The Fiesta’s genius is really that you can have fun driving it without being made to pay a dynamic price for that fun. Its ride is medium-firm but still rubber-footed, absorptive and pleasingly calm over high-frequency lumps and bumps.

Its vertical body control and general close damping are unusually good. And when it corners hard, it doesn’t do so entirely without body roll but seems to turn what little roll it has to its advantage, initially developing grip with it – and then using it to balance dwindling grip levels on the limit.

There is, perhaps, an ever-so-slightly elastic, compliant feel to the car’s power steering that we don’t remember being present in the car that went before it, but that’s our sole reason to object to what Ford has done to its market-leading supermini from a dynamic standpoint.

And it’s not enough of a reason to deny what continues to be an outstanding effort and a five-star score in this section.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Ford Fiesta

Titanium spec is pretty high, giving you keyless start and Sync3 infotainment with smartphone mirroring and DAB – but we thought rear parking sensors and height-adjustable front seats both ought to be standard, too.

Where other running costs are concerned, Ford squeezed the 123bhp engine into the same CO2 company car tax bracket as the 99bhp version.

Fiesta’s long-term popularity and repositioning keep its depreciation relatively sturdy despite huge volumes

On real-world economy, you can expect to just beat 50mpg on a steady mixed touring run and do better than in an equivalent Kia Rio but not quite as well as in an Ibiza.

VERDICT

4.5 star Ford Fiesta

Don’t think this generation of the Fiesta is simply a reskin of the previous one.

Such an assumption doesn’t do justice to the design and engineering work done here to make a market leader better – while also doing no harm to it.

A dynamically brilliant supermini but no longer the very best one

Ford’s evolutionary approach is understandable and its success in producing the best car in its class to drive, and one much better than the car it replaces in other respects, shouldn’t be underestimated.

However, no other part of the car market punishes conservatism quite like the supermini segment.

‘Steady as she goes’ hasn’t produced a car with the instant visual appeal of its predecessor here, nor armed it with the cleverly packaged space or material class it needed to fend off a gaggle of more rapidly improving opponents.

Which is why we couldn't quite return the Fiesta to its old spot at the top of the class, ahead of the then Seat Ibiza that felt notably more rounded and complete.

A car as uncommonly good to drive as this will never stray far from unqualified recommendation in this magazine but, for a modern supermini, it cannot be a golden ticket, either.

Ford Fiesta (2017-2022) First drives