You know you’re getting older when the car you’re considering buying is not necessarily the fastest in the range. But maturity doesn’t have to mean a loss of enthusiasm, which is why our favourite Fiesta is shaping up to be the Zetec S, a car that can provide quality entertainment with little compromise.
It doesn’t quite have the gusto of the 148bhp Fiesta ST, but still delivers a well-rounded package with an affordable £11,595 price tag and group seven insurance.
There are two engine choices – a torquey and frugal 1.6-litre TDCi turbodiesel or the rev-happy 1.6-litre 16-valve Duratec petrol engine tested here. Straight-line performance isn’t a Zetec S strength. At 9.9sec to 60mph, you won’t see one at Santa Pod, but a closer set of ratios for the five-speed manual transmission and an instant throttle response help keep the Zetec S in its high-revving sweet spot. On a fast, flowing B-road, the Fiesta’s 99bhp feels powerful enough and the slick gearchange (from the ST parts bin) makes the frequent cog-swapping a delight.
Though the engine might be seen as a bit pedestrian, the tuned chassis is inspired. Riding on 16-inch alloys, and with firmer springs and dampers than the standard car, the Zetec S possesses a natural sporting poise.
It doesn’t have the outright grip of the Citroën C2 VTS, but the fluency of its movements and the high levels of feedback through the controls make the journey much more interactive, if not quite as rapid.
The petrol-engined Zetec S comes with hydraulically-assisted steering, while the diesel variant gets a less communicative electro-hydraulic rack in the interests of fuel consumption. Driven near the limit, the steering feels direct and properly weighted, which further encourages the driver to exploit the progressive chassis behaviour. A benign handling set-up and the absence of any form of stability or traction control allow the driver easily to control the Zetec S’s attitude using the throttle.
With front airbags, a CD player and air-conditioning as standard, the Zetec S is reasonable value as well as a fantastic drive. Maybe growing up isn’t so bad after all.