Since its last update three years ago, the Fiesta has been a top selling car in the UK. The success is continuing this year with it topping the increasingly crowded B-sector segment with year-to-date sales of 81,153, outselling the second-placed Vauxhall Corsa by almost 10,000 units and making it the UK's second best-selling car behind the Ford Focus. In the fleet sector, the Fiesta is currently the fifth best-selling fleet car with year-to-date sales of 33,158 - 14.1% down year-on-year.
The new Fiesta, which is the highlight of Ford's stand at the London Motor Show, comes in five specifications: Encore, Finesse, Zetec, LX and Ghia with a sporty Zetec-S due for launch in January. The Encore and Finesse have a 1.3-litre petrol or 1.8-litre manual diesel with manual transmission, Zetec with 1.25 or 1.4-litre petrol engine, LX with 1.25-litre manual or continuously variable automatic due to appear on January 1. The Ghia will have the same, plus the choice of a 1.4-litre engine. The Zetec-S will be powered by the 1.6-litre petrol engine, in manual only.
There is only one diesel option because, Ford says, the demand isn't there for more and it is saying nothing about the likelihood of an HDi version in the light of the announcements of a joint development project between it and the PSA Group for a new range of small common rail diesel engines - or whether there will be a liquefied petroleum gas version following on from the launch of factory-fit conversions of the Mondeo and Focus.
The new-look Fiesta features a range of styling and functional improvements on its predecessor. Externally, the car has been given Ford's 'new edge' design which characterises the Ka, Puma, Focus and Cougar, and can be seen in the Fiesta in its new trapezoid headlamps and new front wings, bonnet, matt black grille and bumpers and a new badge, with Ghia and Zetec having new seven-spoke 14in alloy wheels. Inside there are new front seats taken from the Puma, additional storage areas and new trim fabrics to match the exterior. The Zetec-S and Zetec have sports-style white dials on the unchanged instrument cluster. The other models make do with traditional white on black.
Safety characteristics have been enhanced, with new head and chest side airbags now an option, all models have a high-level rear brake light and anti-lock brakes and 'radio frequency' remote control locking are available across the range. With these changes Brian Wade, Ford small car brand manager, is confident the new Fiesta will find a welcome home with retail and fleet customers. Some 45% of sales go into fleets, typically with driving schools, local councils, small businesses, health authorities and some daily rental firms.
'The Fiesta sets the standard of the B-segment, despite the growing pressure from other manufacturers and that is why 21% of sales in this sector go to Ford,' he said. Two models were available for close inspection and driving on the car's press launch - the 1.25i 16v and the sporty 1.6i 16v Zetec-S. While insisting that the car is not a hot-hatch, but more a 'warm-hatch', the Zetec-S is the model Ford is pushing the most. It has been given unique front and rear body-coloured bumpers with front fog lamps, wire mesh upper front grille and chrome exhaust tailpipe fit, all on top of 15in alloys. It has sport front seats, special coloured fabrics and a graphite steering wheel with red or blue leather.
Its front end is more impressive than the rear where, but for the chrome tailpipe, there are no clues to its calibre. But step on the accelerator pedal and engage the 103bhp engine - taken from the Focus and given a little more oomph - and it leaps into life. But despite the immediate power surge it's not an unruly beast. The ride is excellent, aided by responsive steering and an excellent short-action gearchange taken from the Puma, making driving a delight, aided by the super-supportive seats and enhanced suspension.
For fleets, however, the smaller-engined 1.25i, is the more remarkable option. A 90km city and mountain road drive on launch demonstrated its all-encompassing abilities. It may only have a 59bhp engine but it pulls away sharply and reaches cruising speed without fuss. And the driving experience was not markedly different from the 1.6i. The three-second 0-62mph difference is barely an issue when you're negotiating busy urban streets or motorways. Internally, everything is perfect. Fiddle to your heart's content with the nobs and buttons and there is no hint that anything will have failed in three years/60,000 miles' time.