You’re going to see an awful lot of the new Ford Fiesta pretty soon. It’s bound to take its traditional place near the top of the British sales charts, and it deserves to do so far more than ever before. But though there’ll be plenty around, I’d wager three-quarters of them will be petrol-powered – the smaller you go, the less economics work in favour of diesel.
Why? Because the increase in purchase price is a greater proportion of the car’s overall value, and small cars tend to have lower annual mileages, so it takes longer for the improvement in fuel economy to outweigh the higher purchase price.
Nonetheless, a quarter of a massive sales volume is worth having, so Ford offers two diesel engines for the Fiesta: an 89bhp 1.6 16v, or the 67bhp 1.4 8v, tested here in best-selling Zetec trim, which sells for a sky-scraping £12,595 for the five-door.
Hmm, £12,595 for a Fiesta! Better be good...
The Fiesta offers plenty of virtues, which add up to a class-leading drive. So yes, it is good. Nearly-£13k good? Well, I have some reservations about that.
And they all concern the engine. It’s not bad, and delivers some excellent stats, headlines of which are 67.2mpg and 110g/km, but you pay for its parsimony with some distinctly ordinary performance figures. These days, 101mph flat-out and 14.9sec for the 0-62mph scramble fail to impress, especially at this price.
And that engine likes to remind the driver of its diesel nature. It’s rumbly when cold, rumbustious under acceleration, and drones with a rattly overtone around town on a light-to-medium throttle. It fails to deliver that low-rev turbodiesel shove we’ve all got used to, instead metering out just enough pace that it never actually feels slow. The Fiesta deserves a bit of zing, and the 1.4 petrol provides it – the diesel doesn’t.
So remind me of the good bits about the Fiesta?
You pay no penalties for diesel ownership elsewhere. This is a very grown-up small car, with proper seats, solid-feeling trim and high-quality switchgear. The dashboard looks good – even feels good too, so long as your hands don’t stray below the padded top – and the equipment level in Zetec trim affords pretty much everything you’ll need, from air-con and electric front windows to an MP3 socket.
There’s decent space all-round too. Real adults can sit in the back, and the boot is capacious by class standards, though the loading lip is high and the seat squab doesn’t tip: you merely flop the backrests down, which leaves a stepped boot floor in cargo-hauling mode.
Refinement is excellent, despite occasional protests from under the bonnet: road noise is low, there isn’t much wind noise at speed, and the engine falls to the background at a cruise. The Fiesta certainly lives up to its price tag in this department.
What about the drive?
Oh, it’s good. There’s a real fluency and poise about the Fiesta. It’s softly set up but extremely well balanced, so it’s thoroughly chuckable yet very pliant and comfortable. In fact, this is probably the best-riding small car you can currently buy, full-stop.
There’s a great feeling of consistency to most of the controls too. The five-speed manual box shifts with precision and ease, as if its every movement is cushioned by a measured film of oil. The steering is linear too, though a touch numb compared with Fiestas of old and lacking bite compared with the tuned responses of the semi-sporting Zetec-S. But the only let-down dynamically is the action of the brakes. They pull you up strongly enough but are rather sudden in action after an initial dead phase of pedal travel.
>> Click next to read CAR's verdict on the Ford Fiesta diesel
The new Fiesta is a great car all-round. It’s good-looking, decently built, spacious, well equipped and mature, and it offers the kind of refinement and fittings you’d never have expected in a supermini even five years ago.
But the 1.4 diesel doesn’t show it in its best light, even if 67.2mpg sounds incredibly tempting. Our advice? Stick with the majority and go with the petrol engine. It can’t match the diesel’s economy but 49.5mpg and133g/km aren’t bad, you get 95bhp for £500 less, and petrol’s cheaper to buy.