Mayfair to Monaco in Ford’s Fiesta Vignale

Published: 15 December 2017

► Poshest Fiesta across Europe
► Will it appeal to the well-heeled?
Transcontinental road trip time!

Mayfair: the undeniably expensive residential quarter of the UK’s capital, where understated chic is the modus operandi for its moneyed inhabitants. No surprise that despite its national popularity, you don’t see many Ford Fiestas in these rarefied surroundings: the Blue Oval’s a bit too blue collar around these parts, dahrling.

But could such sniffiness be on the verge of being remedied by the introduction of the plushly trimmed Fiesta Vignale? No, really?

To find out, we subjected the new Ford Fiesta Vignale to a morning of slow-speed Mayfairian exploration, before opening up its EcoBoosted taps along French autoroutes to pay a visit to the preposterously pecunious surroundings of Monaco. 

CAR magazine’s full Ford Fiesta Vignale review

Are you serious – a posh Fiesta?

Yes, Ford’s upmarket Vignale ethos has been applied to Britain’s best-selling car, following on from earlier tzjujed-up examples of, in order of appearance, the Mondeo, S-Max, Edge and Kuga.

Ford Fiesta Vignale in Mayfair

Of course, Ford’s not new to upscale Fiestas, with the Ghia label attached to each of the first six generations of the evergreen supermini. 

There’s no sign of a Ghia coronet logo anywhere, so banish thoughts of vinyl roofs, velour seats and photographs-of-walnut dashboard appliques. Instead, there’s an opening glazed top (below), Black Ruby-coloured hide and photographs-of-purple carbonfibre for the trim infills.

So is Ford on to something with the new Fiesta Vignale?

Let’s deal with what makes the Fiesta a great small hatch first before getting waylaid in the lap of luxury.

Descending their apartment steps, well-heeled drivers make for something suitably status-confirming from the parade of cars lining the Mayfair kerbsides. Invariably the selection of vehicles conforms to the archetypal triumvirate of newly minted prestige saloons, swarms of Smarts and battered 1980s bruisers (because irony). 

From a purely pragmatic perspective, a compact car with space for four makes sense, and here the Fiesta fits bill.

An inherent lightness to the controls makes the Ford a doddle to zip in and out of traffic queues, whizz around tight bends and nip into parking bays. A reversing camera – that soon gets clarted-up in road grime – and sensors in the rear bumper make that task even easier, but why not complete the job with a matching set up front?

There’s less weight to the Mk8 Fiesta’s steering compared with its predecessor, but it remains conversant with your palms, even at urban speeds; dodging potholes with a deft nimbleness is as easy as twirling your way into that parallel parking slot.

Driving in London’s stressful: how does the Fiesta pamper its pilot?

Repeat after me: ride compliance. Okay, it’s not exactly wafty, but the Fiesta’s suppleness remains the segment benchmark despite both a wealth of talent from across the brand spectrum and the Vignale’s 17-inch rims.

You won’t find yourself going out of your way to avoid raised ironworks as the damping ably rounds off sharp edges that would otherwise be telegraphed to passengers’ tushes.

Further salving the trudgery of urban motoring is the Vignale’s adaptive cruise control – part of an optional £200 Driver Assistance Pack – although its benefits are somewhat constrained in town by the six-speed manual ‘box.

Not that there’s an issue with the transmission, which is deliciously slick in operation, but not being an automatic means there’s no opportunity to use the cruise bring you to a complete standstill. Instead, it turns itself off south of 20mph, meaning your right foot resumes control of the pace.

You frequently will come to a halt in London traffic allowing the stop-start system to do its thing unobtrusively, saving burning away unleaded unnecessarily with all the CO2-negating benefits to passing pedestrians. Plus you’ve a grin-inducing thrum from the eager 1.0-litre triple each time it fires back into life. 

And what a punchy little peach the EcoBoost is, especially in its most powerful 138bhp guise. Not that you can make use of much of that circumnavigating the US Embassy’s perimeter road, but its rich seam of 133lb ft of torque is accessible from just 1500rpm delivering useful bursts of speed to cheekily make progress.

Pity there’s no electronic handbrake with an autohold function to make it even simpler. Likely you’ll be inclined to rest your toes on the brake pedal, dazzling those stuck behind with the standard LED brake lights.

Okay, so it’s decent in town, but surely a chore at high speeds?

If your formative driving experiences were centred around superminis born in the 1980s where the steering wheel would vibrate like a Zanussi if you so much as thought about approaching the national speed limit, then prepare for a re-education.

Once you’ve escaped the LDN-centric snarl-ups, dealt with the tedium of passive-aggressive manoeuvres on the M20 and sauntered over – or under – the Channel, the joy of sparsely populated French motorways awaits.

It’s an over-hackneyed phrase to suggest the Ford’s a large car writ small, but the Fiesta Vignale really does feel like, erm, a large car writ small.

That low-speed suspension compliance is even more sophisticated as the pace is ramped up: it proved satisfyingly planted at 130kph along Autoroute du Soleil, while excursions into villages along its peripheries allow the Ford to demonstrate just how keenly it handles on twistier sections.

Remember, this is the luxury-focused Fiesta, yet it’ll ably kick the asses of many a hot hatch wannabe on a B-road, while remaining dignified and composed when more sedate progress is required.

Up front, the leather-trimmed chairs offer the kind of support you’d expect in an executive saloon, with a useful breadth of (manual) adjustability which mitigates against fatigue; delete your chiropractor from your speed-dial. 

We’ll give a shout-out to the conveniently located lumbar adjustment at the front end of the seat, too, but it’s a pity the base itself can’t be tilted to bolster under-thigh support.

It’s a different case in the back, where the Vignale’s glass roof impinges on rear-seat headroom, while accessing the back seats requires a Houdini-esque degree of flexibility if you opt for the three-door bodyshell.

A tiny engine and high speed sounds thirsty…

Asking whether we got close to the official 62.8mpg claim is funnier than an entire Jack Whitehall routine, but hovering around the 40mpg mark was fine, given how long a strong pace was maintained on our Anglo-French road trip.

It’s a really eager powerplant that feels significantly swifter than its 9.0sec 0-62mph time suggests, cruising quietly at a smidgen under 3000rpm in sixth once you’ve galloped up to motorway speeds. 

When you do press on with a little more alacrity, that thrum becomes more of an intoxicating snarl, encouraging you to have more fun.

There’s barely any wind noise from the door mirrors, but given that they look about as big as tablespoons you’d expect quietness. That said, it’s worth considering the effective £360 optional blindspot warning system, especially if you ply away miles regularly on multi-lane highways. It’s a shame that tyre roar wasn’t kept in check to the same degree: at anything over 60mph it began to grate.

Out on the open road the adaptive cruise control makes significantly more sense – worth noting that you can change gear without disengaging the system as you depress the clutch. A small modification with a significant benefit.

It wasn’t 100% perfect as the self-braking function is a touch sensitive, dabbing on the stoppers at the point when you’d typically begin indicating to overtake, easily scrubbing-off 10mph off if you don’t sweep out promptly.

Monaco baby, yeah!

Yes, scores of Euros spent at les péages and the Ford’s scooting about the famous Monegasque streets, with its sharp turns, steep inclines and wall-to-wall wealth.

Arguably the most iconic – and idiosyncratic – of circuits on the Formula 1 calendar, what you can drive of the grand prix circuit under normal circumstances feels akin to a winding B-road, albeit one lined with buildings and governed by a 50kph speed limit.

Ford Fiesta Vignale in Monaco

That climb up from Sainte Devote – more severe than it looks on TV – leading to the sweep around Place du Casino, before looping around the Fairmont Hotel hairpin, once again showcases the Fiesta’s agility and ability to make you smile at relatively low speeds.

Nevertheless, the real star of the show is that flexible engine-and-gearbox-interface, where the torque and well-chosen ratios mean you can snick it into third and forget about it as you lap the F1 route. Again. And again.

This is just as well as after 2500 miles of driving it’s inevitable that the cupholders would be employed on water bottle-carrying duties – those pesky 500ml receptacles are tall enough to be an annoyance when swapping cogs thanks to their position just aft of the gearlever. 

So did the Fiesta Vignale really feel at home?

Opening the front portion of the panoramic roof allowed the sounds and scents of Monte Carlo to infuse the Ford’s cabin as we exchanged nod and glances with the beautiful people. 

All we needed was a photo of the Fiesta parked outside the Casino for posterity – and to confirm its luxury small car credentials. 

We confidently approached the security official and popped the question. With a characteristic Gallic demeanour, he rocked back on his heels, tilted his head to the side as he observed the Vignale script on the front wings and pursed his lips. The seconds ached slowly by before he tersely spat out a firm ‘non’ and promptly turned around.

Well that was a boot in the proverbials!

Driving away from the scene of our rejection to find something we could have for free in the principality, namely an hour’s free parking (you can take the man out of Yorkshire, et cetera), we began the contemplative naval gazing.

Monaco proved that among well-off clientele there is demand for expensive small cars: all manner of Abarth-fettled Fiat 500s, Brabus edition Smarts and Minis maxed-out with optional extras confirm this. But if Monaco’s a microcosm for European cities generally, then perhaps we’re not yet ready for such a well-dressed small Ford.

It’s clearly not the price that’s the issue – we figured you’d be sat down by now to help cushion the £21,045-as-tested blow – as a well-specced ST-3 will likely be north of that.

No, instead it’s the workaday, universal charm of the Fiesta we’ve bought and loved and bought some more for 40 years that’s at the crux of this. A pricey fast Ford is a tenuous link to the marque’s motorsport heritage – it’s a connection people are happy to pay. That one has to explain what a Vignale even is makes it a trickier bond to establish.

Make no mistake, the Ford Fiesta is a great small car and one we’d recommend in a heartbeat, but the Vignale’s festooned with fripperies that do little to embellish its appeal. 

Hold on for the Fiesta ST – your smile will likely be even bigger anyway.

All our Ford reviews in one place

By Keith WR Jones

Former managing editor of the Bauer Automotive hub and car brochure library owner