► New Ford Fiesta Active review
► We test the Fiesta on stilts
► Price, specs and a full verdict
What more is there to say about the venerable Ford Fiesta? We’ve recently driven the furiously fizzy Fiesta ST and loved it, the more common-or-garden rest of the hatchback range impressed on the launch and continued to do so in subsequent group tests, so what’s next? Now, we’ve got the five-door-only Fiesta Active to get our teeth into…
What exactly is the new Ford Fiesta Active?
It’s an unashamed leap towards, but not quite into, the SUV sector for Britain’s bestselling car. Naturally, you’ll be thinking that job was meant for the somewhat also-ran Ecosport, though; and you’d be right. Except that’s a ‘full SUV’, according to Ford, despite its previous-gen Fiesta underpinnings, and demand’s growing for more Diet Coke crossovers.
That’s why we’re driving this 19mm higher Fiesta (18mm ride height hike plus 1mm tyre sidewall) in the hills above Nice, France. It’s the first of a trio of Active models, with Ka+ and Focus attempts in the product plan before 2018’s out.
The basic premise is something we’ve seen before – the conventional Fiesta’s lines have added heft thanks to plastic matt black cladding that encircles the whole car. There’s a contrasting-coloured roof, 17-inch alloys with rubber that widens the stock Fezza’s track by 1mm, and roof rails that’ll carry a meaningful amount of load – but the latter’s only on offer if you’re one of the four in five buyers that eschew the headroom-sapping full-length panoramic glass roof.
Inside the basic formula remains, except Ford’s installed a pair of sports seats with a natty design that mirrors the exterior colour scheme. Careful attention was made to preserving the H-point, which is the hip’s position relative to the rest of the controls, so the driving position is unchanged. That hue also leaks onto various interior trim parts, with the resulting ambience more cheerful than we expected – especially in the sandy-beach Luxe Yellow launch colour pictured here.
There’s also the bespoke Active grille, which sets it apart from other Fiestas, and LED headlamps also join the list of options for the first time – though not uniquely to Active models.
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Boot space is reasonable and the back seats split-fold, as you might expect on a car aimed at lifestyle buyers and young families.
The big question: does Active drive like a Fiesta?
Yes and no. Let’s start with that suspension hike. It’s been achieved with a view to maintaining the normal Fiesta’s characteristic handling, which means more than a simple spring and damper change. Instead, Ford’s engineers have used a bespoke front suspension knuckle and hub points, retuned the electric power steering and stability control, tweaked the rear dampers and added a hydraulic rebound stop to the front ones. This last, the Blue Oval’s people say, smooths out rough roads and their associated cabin-intruding noise.
So a lot of work’s gone into the development of the chassis. Thing is, body control has suffered in this reach for the stars, and consequently it is that bit less enjoyable. The steering remains well-configured and decently weighted, but any rhythm is difficult to maintain through the sweeping curves and switchbacks of Route Napoleon because the body’s moving around and wanting to pitch its nose deeper into each corner. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it’s certainly the least dynamically interesting of the current crop of Fiesta that this tester’s tried.
The car we drove had the lightly sparkling 138bhp 1.0 EcoBoost turbo triple under its bonnet, but this somehow felt muted compared with our recollection of an equivalent ST-Line Fiesta with the same motor. Strangely enough, we were assured it’s identical in terms of hardware and configuration, but certainly in the Active the 9.4-second 0-62mph time seemed somewhat optimistic.
The six-speed gearbox is unchanged, but Ford’s added some drive modes to supplement the outdoorsy new look. It’s nothing complicated: Normal is self-explanatory, while Eco clogs up the throttle to make it less enjoyable burning unleaded. Slippery mode has stability and traction control programmes that allow for less wheelspin in snowy or icy conditions.
Wait: is Active an off-roading Fiesta?
It isn’t, no. It might look a little chunkier, but a Suzuki Swift 4x4 will make mincemeat of this car when the going gets really tough. All-wheel drive isn’t an option here – that would bring it too close to Ecosport territory – and nothing about the Active lends itself to harder work than a dry, flat, grassy field or gravel track. The styling’s more of a look than an indication of seriously improved terrain-tackling talent. Tellingly we weren’t offered anything more challenging than tarmac to test the car on.
But back on the road in the main you won’t be too disappointed. The cabin’s nicely insulated, the ride compliant enough if a little spikey considering the taller stance, and we’re very fond of the front seats, which manage a nice balance between comfort and side support – ideal considering the extra lateral body movement if you’re pressing on.
Active comes in three trims: 1, B&O Play, and X. They’re all decently appointed, though we’d pick mid-spec because that nets you the black contrast roof, 8.0-inch Sync3-equipped touchscreen and (you guessed it) a particularly impressive B&O Play 10-speaker sound system.
Forget aspirations of conquering the wilderness in the Fiesta Active. It’s a road-biased car that isn’t going to win a Dakar rally, but if its styling is a winner for you then we reckon it’s still an option that’ll have to make your shortlist. It isn’t priced particularly offensively, and residual values are predicted to mirror ST-Line Fiestas too, so finance and lease rates won’t affect its viability for most.
But as car fans we’re a just a little perturbed with the cynicism of the whole idea, given it’s not demonstrably more capable than any other Fiesta…
Read more Ford reviews by CAR magazine here