I’d wanted my own fast Ford since growing up with an XR2 in my household. So when it came to buying my first car I went for the last fast Fiesta to come out of Dagenham – the 1.6-litre Zetec S.
My Fiesta taught me a lot about driving, both good and bad. It was responsible for nearly all my motoring ‘firsts’ – feeling proper acceleration, going around corners quickly and even little things, such as having a prang (not my fault!) and experiencing things like torque steer.
Having experienced more modern warm and hot hatches since working at Autocar, there are still things about the Fiesta I crave. I loved its short throw gearbox, its heavy steering and clutch, as well as its superb handling. The thing would stick like glue around corners and understeer would only kick in quite late, meaning it responded well to being pushed.
The way it dealt with bumps around town was astonishing for a car with a sporty set-up and shames a lot of superminis on sale today.
It looked the business, too. I wasn’t a teenager obsessed with having the loudest exhaust or the biggest alloys, but I always felt a bit smug knowing my Fiesta looked sportier than anyone else’s motor. Its multi-spoke 15-inch alloys still look great today, while its rear boot spoiler, chrome exhaust tip and black metallic paint job completed the subtle yet sporty look.
I’m also proud of the way I ended my affair with my Zetec S. It didn’t end up on the back of a recovery truck having been dumped in a ditch or squished between two trees.
When it went on sale in 2000, the Zetec S ended a painful five year period with no fast Fiesta to celebrate. The spec carried over into the MkV and MkVI models and I’d like to think the success of the first Zetec S had something to do with Ford doing an even sportier ST model next time around. Now, if only they’d do an RS version of today’s car…