The seventh-generation Ford Fiesta is the UK's best selling car, helped by frugal engines, handling verve and a big car feel
First DriveFord is cashing in on the popularity of its Fiesta ST hot hatch by lending its name to this less potent model. It makes a lot of sense
First DriveA punchy and efficient 1.0-litre engine makes for an entertaining junior hatchback
What is it?
In the absence of anything even with an ST let alone an RS badge in the current Ford Fiesta product plan, this is the most sporting version of Ford’s outstanding new baby you’re likely to be able to buy any time soon.
Power comes from an all new, 118bhp 1.6-litre motor, driving the front wheels through a five speed gearbox. It’s installed in the three door body shell and comes not only with the predictable go faster cosmetics like a large rear wing, bespoke alloys and a pretend rear diffuser, it also receives a 10mm drop in ride height, stiffened spring and damper rates and a bespoke calibration for its electric power steering.
What’s it like?
Don’t expect fireworks from the engine. It may be all new and you may well expect its 118bhp to go some way in a car 40kg lighter than its closest antecedent in the old Fiesta range, but in reality this new motor is more smooth operator than thrill seeker.
Despite notably short gearing – it adds little more than 20mph for every extra thousand revs per minute, performance is most kindly described as pleasant. It just ducks into single figures on the sprint from 0-62mph and will eventually take you to 120mph.
But while it tolerates being thrashed with benign good humour, it’s better left in the mid to upper reaches of its rev range rather than being parked on its 6000rpm red-line. Between 3-5000rpm it’s refreshing responsive yet still notably smooth.
Yes it does mean you have to change gear a fair bit, but with a shift quality as good as that in this Fiesta, this is no hardship at all.
The specific chassis tune selected for the Zetec S is less convincing. You can tell it’s been stiffened up, but for not enough of the right reasons. You feel it more in compromised ride quality than any extra zip into or grip through the corners.
While the standard Fiesta flows beautifully along even very challenging roads, the Zetec S is slightly but significantly more inclined to bounce and bump its way from place to place, and I would expect the disparity in their characteristics to be more marked still away from the car’s Tuscan launch venue and in the rather more challenging environment of the British countryside.
Even the steering is less satisfactory. It’s apparently been made heavier but what I noticed most was an apparent loss of some of the feel of the standard car.
Certainly, I felt less confident in placing the Zetec S on narrow lanes. Even the fact that the Zetec S is the only model in the range that will allow you to switch off the ESP is not the advantage it might sound: even in unswitchable cars, the ESP operation is unobtrusive and delayed until you probably actually need it.
I spoke to Darren Palmer, who project-managed the Fiesta, about the set up for the Zetec S and while he was never going to be critical of his team’s work, he did describe the standard Fiesta set up as ‘optimal’ from which you will draw your own conclusions.
Should I buy one?
It is often the case with small, light cars that are as clearly conceived as this that the more feature content you add on, the more of the original vision is taken away.
The Zetec S is undoubtedly the quickest of the new range of Fiestas, both in a straight line and around a corner, but I’ll be surprised if, once we’ve sampled the cheaper, lighter and less complex models in the range, we still conclude it’s the best.
Even so, none of this should detract from the fact that like every other Fiesta we’ve driven, it is a great new supermini. So if you want the flashest looking, fastest driving version of what seems sure to become Britain’s best new small car, it’s ready and waiting for you. But we’d first want to be very sure there wasn’t a cheaper yet more satisfying model further down the range.