The Fiesta remains a compact car, even though Ford has stretched it slightly. It’s 71mm longer and 13mm wider but rear knee room - always at a premium - is up by a modest 16mm. Ford says there’s 35% more ultra-high strength Boron steel in the car’s body structure, and the B-pillar and doors have been re-designed for improved side-impact protection.
On top of that, more laser welding, stiffer attachment points for the front subframe and new welded attachment points for the rear axle add up to a 15% increase in torsional stiffness.
Ford’s suspension engineers have also been through the suspension system. The front track is 30mm wider, the rear wider by 10mm and the wheelbase has crept up just 4mm. There are new hollow front anti-roll bars and redesigned mounts for the rear axle and the lower front control arms. The bigger axle mounts are designed to filter out road imperfections and friction in the steering system is said to have been reduced.
What's it like?
Like the previous Fiesta, but with an admirable extra level of polish. The ST-Line X we drove is powered by the 138bhp version of Ford’s excellent 1.0-litre turbo triple. Although this engine has just 15lb ft more torque than the 99bhp and 123bhp versions, the extra horsepower is noticeable as you push the engine to 6000rpm. Even when wrung out, it remains surprisingly civilised. It’s hardly neck-snapping, but the motor is capable of propelling the Fiesta through some impressive overtaking manoeuvres.
Top marks, too, for the newly honed shift action of the six-speed gearbox. It’s extremely impressive. Short action, swift and clean, it helps enormously where rapid downshifts are needed when, say, entering a bend and the engine needs to be kept on the boil. Great work on the accelerator response as well. It takes the lightest tickle to keep the engine revs up, allowing easy down-changes, essential with a small engine like this.
According to the Fiesta chassis engineers, the ST-Line chassis has been tuned to sit halfway between the baby luxury of the Vignale model and the hardcore appeal of the upcoming ST. And that’s exactly how it feels. The ST-Line feels briskly capable, but it still rides with impressive fluidity, soaking up poor surfaces and allows just enough body roll to stay on the comfortable side of sporting. The increased grip is felt on long, sweeping, corners as is the impressive control of understeer. The latter, the engineers assured me, was partly thanks to the individual front wheel braking of the Fiesta’s Torque Vectoring system which is completely imperceptible.
Over longer distances and meandering backroads of the sort we experienced in rural Spain, the ST-Line’s chassis balance meant that the car remained comfortable over longer distances and would be an easy drive at the end of a tiring day, but still has enough verve to be entertaining in the right circumstances. It’s calm and composed on the motorway, though might suffer a little too much wind swirl around the A-pillars
Should I buy one?
This is a very good car, but not without its downsides. On a practical level, rear cabin space is very tight and the boot isn’t the biggest in class. The driving position is impressive (especially the range of seat height adjust) and the new interior is a major leap forward. The whole car has much more of a quality feel.
It drives extremely well, it’s pacy and the chassis is impressively well-honed and well-balanced between sport and comfort. However, the base ST-Line (£17,595) is the same price as the Seat Ibiza 1.4 FR, which has a slightly better spec, more space and a more punchy engine.
This £18,945 ST-Line X model has the addition of the superb and hard to resist B+O high power audio system (£300), as well as heated seats and a heated wheel (£225). The final showroom price (the same tag as the recently tested 1.5-litre Vauxhall Insignia estate) is steep for a warm supermini, even one as satisfying as this.
As good as it is, these higher-spec Fiestas have some very strong competition.
Ford Fiesta ST-Line X 5-door 1.0T Ecoboost
Location Valladolid, Spain; On sale Now; Price £18,945; Price as tested £19,470; Engine 3cyls in line, 998cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 138bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 138lb ft at 1500-5000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerbweight 1144kg; 0-62mph 9.0sec; Top speed 125 mph; Economy 63mpg; CO2 102g/km Rivals Seat Ibiza; Mini