Mainly, it’s about the powertrain. We already know the EcoBoost engine works brilliantly with Ford’s five-speed manual, but even the best small-capacity engines have a tendency to perform indifferently with self-shifters.
Not this one. Your very first impression will be of how strongly and easily the Powershift Fiesta accelerates from standstill. There’s not a lot of drama, and unless you really bury your foot, there need not be too many revs, either.
The remarkable bottom-end torque of the little powerhouse works perfectly with the gearbox ratios. From lights, you can effortlessly beat the white van man who wants to squeeze you into the gutter.
As speeds rise the car shifts smoothly upward, arriving early into sixth because the torque of the little engine is well up for it. There’s an S (for Sport) setting that keeps the engine revving a little harder, plus a handy rocker switch on the side of the selector knob that lets you change up and down with satisfying ease and speed.
It may be a cheap substitute for steering column paddles, but after you’ve used it a bit, you soon see it has its own merits. In D, the gear you select manually defaults back to normal automatic mode quite soon. In S, the gear you select stays selected unless you move the rocker, or select D on the main lever.
The rest of the Fiesta is very familiar. Our test car had Zetec suspension that offers peerless body control but less-than market-leading surface sensitivity (not helped by the fact that our car had optional 16-inch alloys running 45-series tyres). The steering is terrific, and the car corners with neatness and impressive grip, wet or dry. For keen drivers, it’s a top combination.
The Fiesta’s weak link these days is its interior. The looming array of centre switches and controls isn’t nearly as attractive as some rivals, and the clunky steering wheel “wands” don’t get anywhere near conveying the excellence of the car’s dynamics and sporty exterior.
Many cheaper cars are now better designed, and as Fiesta lovers, we’re impatient for change.