Were it to wear a large safety-pin through its grille, Ford’s growingly popular crossover model could not be less of a disruptive vehicle than it is and Iain Robertson is delighted to drive finally this largely derivative motorcar.
Almost three years ago, Ford grasped an automotive nettle and, with access to a much-reduced development budget, managed to create a thoroughly revamped range of Fiestas. Analyse the situation and you start to appreciate the task that was undertaken. When any product that is regarded as a best-seller seems to have reached that stage in its life, when it really cannot progress any further, incorporating an ‘additive’, tweaking its package and enhancing the proposition are all going to be positive developments, whether for toothpaste, or transport.
In the automotive scene, six (occasionally up to eight) years is regarded as an optimum lifespan for most motorcars, with half-life alterations planned into the programme at the three-to-four years period. However, Ford Motor Company, for much of the past 20 years, has been experiencing intense pains, some of which have been related to its total waste of resources during the acquisition-hungry era of the 1990s. It employed a whole run of senior personnel that knew primarily how to spend like water through a sieve but also to earn more from the corporation than any of their forebears. In the process, it forgot Henry Ford’s arrogant but everyman approach.
My confession is that I have not lived with any Fiesta in the past few years, which is a sin, because the current Fiesta is no less than a star turn. In fact, it warrants its ‘No.1’ status in the UK by being impeccably well-built, supremely well-detailed and, in Active 1.0-litre form, complete with B&O hi-fi and Ford’s twin-clutch, automated Powershift transmission, an exquisite car in which to drive shaken but arrive only lightly stirred.
By way of confirmation, the Active crossover model that has been mine for the past few days features a few shades of grey both externally and internally, accentuated by slivers of gold trim, natty seat covers and a knowing nod to the ‘Blue Oval’ with its blue dial pointers and blue-hued touch-screen at the top of the well-ordered centre stack. The design weight of every element has been considered judiciously and the Fiesta Active comes across as a cheerful, gently restrained but immensely impressive compact hatchback. Its popularity is underscored and almost underplayed. Of course, it is a prime example of ‘pattern-marketing’. While the industry has gone SUV daft, the SUV ‘lite’ brigade (aka: crossover) is on the march, filling niches that scarcely anybody knew existed. However, factor-in below-bumper skid-guards fore and aft, tack on some skinny wheel-arch protection and hike up the suspension a wee bit and, ‘Bingo!’, you arrive at an Active variant.
Powered by the 97bhp version of Ford’s much-vaunted but notably unreliable 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, EcoBoost petrol-turbo engine, its performance is better than adequate. Betraying no offbeat three-pot signals, refinement is at the head of its list of competences, a factor enhanced by the application of the six-speed self-shifter, which also features conveniently neat up-and-down paddles behind the cross-spokes of the steering wheel. It is enough to whisk the Active to 60mph in a shade more than 11.0s, onwards to a maximum speed of 114mph, thanks mostly to leggy gearing (almost 30mph/1,000rpm in top gear). However, it can return up to 57mpg, if you do not push too hard (38.9mpg was my average for the week, which was not a measure of ‘hard-charging’ but rather its notoriously poor fuel consumption), supplemented by 113g/km CO2 that equates to a £170 fee for first year (£140 subsequently) road tax. You might be better to opt for the 122bhp version of this same engine, for business use, which is actually more efficient overall.
The multi-adjustable driving position, both steering column and seat work through an enormous manual range, enables an extensive range of occupants to fit the car and it is an exceedingly comfortable place to reside, with first-rate support provided by the decent bolstering and supportive padding. However, place two six-footers in the front chairs and the space in the rear becomes seriously compromised. While not as cramped as some rivals, it is a small car after all, at least the 60:40-split rears fold forwards to increase the capacity of the 292-litre boot to almost 1,100-litres. Easy access to all areas is helped by well-judged apertures and there is good in-cabin storage too.
The reassuringly solid ‘thunk’ of the doors and the Fiesta Active’s engaging and superior cabin ergonomics, supported by a strong sense of belonging on our mixed bag of road surfaces, are what makes this Ford a compelling choice. This is no ‘showroom’ beauty, in the style of Fords past; it rides incredibly well, changes direction eagerly and feels every inch a top-drawer model, with disarming high-quality oozing from every pore. While I regarded the regular Fiesta as being rather special, after testing it a couple of years ago, the Active variant has taken the game up a notch. Soft-touch surfaces abound within the car and even the pseudo ‘carbon-fibre’ insert in the attractive dashboard trim looks convincingly realistic.
However, it is not perfect, as its directional stability can be hampered by the merest whiff of a crosswind and pressing-on a bit reveals a ‘toppy’ nature to its dynamic envelope. Do not misunderstand, the Fiesta Active is stable and safe enough but it possesses an edge, at which it is not entirely happy. It is far better at lower speeds. The all-LED headlamp array provides good range on full-beam but lacks definition and depth of intensity on low-beam, which is typical of the type; I prefer bi-Xenon personally and Vauxhall’s Intellilux lamps remain the class of the field. Yet, lulled by its Bang & Olufsen stereo system and cosseted within its cockpit, I struggle to discern a better all-round daily driver, regardless of its slightly scary price tag for a 1.0-litre hatchback (well over £22,000 as tested).
It is easily the best Fiesta that I have ever driven, the Active variant plays to its crossover strengths with aplomb. I can comprehend fully its popularity through its comprehensive specification and dependable build quality, and I believe it to be a most charming addition to Ford’s model line-up.