Ford's slightly rufty-tufty new Fiesta Active fills a useful niche while leaving the standard car's character intact

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The Fiesta Active is a simple idea, and how sensible it seems.

It’s a Ford Fiesta, basically, with all the four-and-a-half-star goodness that entails — only, in this Active form, it rides 18mm higher and has a bit of cladding around the outside to make it look more rufty-tufty. Like a jelly baby wearing walking boots. Suspension is modified to suit and the tracks are 10mm wider and tyre profiles tend to be a little higher. 

Gives you the confidence to drop off a road onto a gravelly lay-by or a bumpy bit of asphalt without having to worry about smacking the chassis onto the ground

The thinking is that if you don’t want a small SUV or crossover — and why would you? — you can have a car that’s a bit easier to get in and out of than a normal Fiesta, but will run up and down kerbs, in and out of potholes and on and off gravelly car parks and tracks without making you wince, and you don’t have to put up with a tall, poor-handling, inefficient ‘proper’ small SUV

Tick the right boxes and there’s a more hard-wearing interior fabric. There’s no four-wheel drive option, there are drive modes that change the stability programme not to give you grip where none exists but to allow a bit more slip on gravelly tracks. You can have a 1.0-litre triple petrol or 1.5-litre diesel engine

It’s the first of a few of these halfway-to-crossover models (which are probably halfway-to-halfway-to-SUVs) that Ford is introducing. You’ll be able to get an Active model of the new Ford Focus and theFord  Ka+, too. Ford reckons up to 15% of Fiesta buyers will choose the Active.

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I always did think the Rover Streetwise was ahead of its time.

How does the Active differ from the regular Fiesta?

It's taller. But only by the width of your thumb. 

Which is, truth be told, only as much taller as you’d want a Ford Fiesta to be, because it gives you the confidence to just drop off a road onto a gravelly lay-by or a bumpy bit of asphalt without you having to worry about smacking the chassis onto the ground. 

There’s quite a sense of liberation about driving a car like that — and I’m convinced that’s one of the reasons for the ever-expanding popularity of SUVs.

There’s a sense of security and imperviousness to a proper 4x4, which the Active doesn’t quite replicate, obviously, but it gets you a small part of the way there: to a puddle and pothole-strewn car park from where you walk the dogs or, if your lifestyle replicates the advertising campaigns, go kitesurfing or mountain biking. Or it just makes it easier to get in and out in the GP surgery car park (a scenario that mysteriously never makes the brochures).

Anyway, it doesn’t affect the Fiesta’s dynamics overtly. The ride is a bit more gently loping than the regular car’s, but it still steers accurately and responsively, and corners as pleasingly as any other car in the class. Dynamically, it’s better with the 1.0 petrol engine than the 1.5 diesel — quieter, too — because there’s less weight in the nose.

We tried the 138bhp petrol version, which is sprightly, but it can be had for 84bhp; but I reckon you’d want the 98bhp version or higher to make respectable progress (the 0-62mph time falls from 12.7sec to 11.0sec). This 138bhp variant has a claimed 9.4sec 0-62mph time and whizzes along easily. There’s appeal to the torque of the 118bhp diesel, but it feels heavier, less agile and transmits a bit of zing into the body. 

Ford offers a choice of three variants: the entry-level Active 1, uprated Active B&O Play and fully-loaded Active X. The differences are largely found inside, with the Active 1 using a 6.5in touchscreen infotainment system, the ste-up B&O Play model adding premium speakers and an 8in touchscreen, and the Active X adding heated door mirrors and a rear view camera pack as standard.

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Does the Fiesta Active work as a compact crossover?

I wouldn’t always recommend a small SUV or crossover, because they’re all too often lousy to drive and use quite a lot of fuel given their paltry off-road ability, but the Fiesta Active is a different case.

If you only need a little extra clearance and stick the right tyres on it, then — like, say, the Peugeot 2008 — it’ll get you out of low-grip places, even though it can’t be had with a four-wheel drive system that would be burdensome to carry around most of the time. 

And all the while it’s just a Ford Fiesta, meaning it’s good to drive, has a decent interior, good ergonomics and, these days, even an easy-to-use infotainment system. Active models start at around £18,000, while our test car was £21,000. It feels like a useful niche and I can see the appeal.

Ford fiesta 1

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.