Just as the Focus redefined the standards of ride and handling that buyers in its class could expect in 1998, so the latest Ford Fiesta sneaked a new supermini benchmark into the decade just gone, with barely 12 months to spare.
Yes, I know the Fiesta is closely linked to the Mazda 2. But it doesn’t feel like it. Perhaps the 2 is a tiny bit pointier at the front end, but the Fiesta’s steering is still fabulously direct and feelsome. And its ride is sensational; there are cars two classes up from this that don’t have the same ability to soak up the imperfections of British roads.
There may be plusher small cars; a Mini feels better-built, for example. And I’m still not 100 per cent convinced about the mobile phone-inspired central console controls. But in terms of dynamics in mass-market, genuinely affordable vehicles, the Ford set new standards so high that, as with the Focus, we could be halfway into the next decade before anyone even matches them.
Achieving that in a market sector that offers bugger-all margins to play with is one of Ford’s finest hours; how this car was beaten to last year’s Car of the Year crown by the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia will always remain a mystery to me.