When it was launched, version six on the Ford Fiesta theme probably represented the biggest single advance in the history of a model line that extended back more than a quarter of a century. Although there was nothing wrong with the driving characteristics of its predecessor, Ford felt that the market had overtaken it in terms of interior space and set about redesigning the Fiesta to offer class leading versatility. Used cars are now beginning to appear and they represent decent value for money.

Although the fifth generation Fiesta was held up as a byword for handling excellence, it was in fact little more than a heavily facelifted version of the fourth generation car which debuted way back in 1995. Seven years is a long time in the dynamic supermini sector and rivals like the SEAT Ibiza, the VW Polo and the Skoda Fabia had very much overtaken the Fiesta in terms of utility and modernity. Something certainly needed to be done and Ford took a radical approach, designing a Fiesta that notched back the sporting focus a little but which offered a good deal more rear seat space and luggage utility. Five door cars appeared first, hitting the market in April 2002 with three-door models appearing in August of the same year. A Fusion spin off model with chunkier styling and an elevated chassis followed shortly thereafter but this is to all intents and purposes a separate line. Ford suffered a capacity problem with their 1.3-litre engine in early 2003 and started fitting UK Fiestas with 1.25-litre powerplants as seen in the Fiesta Mk 4. It was only when the specifications were put back to back that many noticed the ‘old’ unit was a good deal more impressive than the 1.3-litre engine and more fun to boot. Towards the end of 2004, the 150bhp ST derivative arrived and a 1.6-litre TDCi engine was added to the diesel range. The design is everything a modern Supermini should be – as you’d expect, given that Ford had plenty of time to examine the competition during this car’s lengthy development. The first thing we should talk about is space. Rival offerings with Tardis-like interior dimensions had rendered the previous generation Fiesta a touch quaint, and nowhere was this more evident than in rear seat room. Economy class on an Aeroflot internal flight sprung to mind when snugly ensconced in the back of the little Ford. That’s no longer the case of course. With this latest Fiesta, Ford have consciously made it a significantly larger car. In fact it’s 87mm longer, 50mm wider and 100mm taller in five-door guise. Even the three-door version makes the old model seem like one of those tiny citycars. You might assume all this to mean that it’s now no longer as easy to park or as simple to thread through city streets. You might think that, but you’d be wrong, thanks largely to the glassy bodyshell which does an excellent job in disguising the extra bulk. Whether the current car is better looking than its predecessor is a matter for debate. Whereas the front end cribs its styling cues from the larger Focus Family Hatchback, the rear end divides opinion, looking like a bevelled and chamfered Vauxhall Corsa. It’s no great beauty, that’s for sure, but it’s undeniably effective in achieving that goal of providing superior internal accommodation. Drop into the driver’s seat and you’ll be greeted with a dashboard that adopts many of the quality conventions of the Mondeo range, and that’s good news. For those who enjoy tracing the lineage of the design, the Mondeo’s interior designer was poached from Volkswagen – and it shows. Mind you, it’s easy to see where cost has been excised from the Fiesta, competing as it does in a class where margins are utterly cut throat. Some of the fascia plastics feel somewhat hard and nasty and anti lock brakes are an extra cost option across most of the range. Cleverly however, Ford have appreciated that the bits of the cars we physically touch most often lend the strongest impression of quality, and to this end have wisely fitted leather-trimmed steering wheels and tactile gear shifters. Another example of intelligent design comes in the shape of rear head restraints that are deliberately uncomfortable when not slid up into their deployed position. This encourages rear seat occupants to utilise them properly but gets around the issue of encumbered rear vision when rear head restraints are traditionally fitted. Equipment levels are reasonable, spread across Finesse, LX, Zetec and Ghia trim levels. All Fiestas get intelligent windscreen wipers, a CD stereo, central locking and Ford’s ‘Intelligent Protection System’. Market and finance also looks good with low day-to-day running costs and a healthy projected residual value. A Durashift EST sequential manual transmission is also available as an option on the 1.4 16v.

The Fiesta had a slightly slow start in terms of sales, many customers not quite ready for the revolution that Ford wrought upon it. The entry-level 1.3-litre five-door cars start at £6,000 in Finesse trim or 6,400 for an LX version, both on an 02 number plate. The punchier 1.4-litre cars are well worth tracking down, air-conditioned Zetec versions currently retailing at £7,200 – again on the 02 plate – with similar vintage LX models fetching similar money and plush Ghias still commanding £7,500. 1.6-litre Ghia models fetch £7,500 but these were outsold by the 1.4-litre TDCi diesel cars. The Finesse is priced at £6,600, with air conditioned Zetec and LX models pitched at around £7,500. Three door models are still finding their feet on the used market, although many buyers looking for a sporty option were initially disappointed, preferring to either buy something different or hold out until the much-vaunted Fiesta ST150 made an appearance. Insurance for the fifth generation Fiesta reflects its high safety and security provision and generally low cost of repair, ranging from Group 2 to Group 7. Being so new, there’s little to report. Make sure your prospective purchase has been properly serviced and that the tyres are in decent shape. Otherwise check for the usual kiddie damage and parking scrapes. Engines are, on the whole, reliable, but watch for the usual signs of wear and signs of hard fleet or company use such as worn carpets or beaten up trim. The sixth generation Fiesta saw this product line maturing into viable all-round family transport. The national love affair with the Fiesta at first wavered when the radical design was unveiled, but sales figures now show an encouraging level of uptake. The best used buys are probably the early 1.4-litre TDCi diesels, but whichever model you opt for it’s hard to make a wrong move.

(approx based on a Fiesta 1.4 Zetec) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly and an alternator will both be around £75. Front brake pads are around £30 a set and the rears £20, a replacement headlamp is close to £50 and a manual door mirror should be in the region of £50. A full exhaust is about £120 and a catalyst is about £220. A starter motor around is around £110, front wing is around £90, a windscreen about £70.

Three petrol engines are offered, a 75bhp 1.25-litre powerplant, a 16-valve 79bhp 1.4 that looks set to be the most popular and a range-topping 1.6-litre 16-valve that’s good for 99bhp. You’ll also find 1.3-litre models on quite a few used forecourts. For those looking to squeeze a few more miles from their gallon, a latest-generation 1.4-litre TDCi common-rail diesel unit is offered. With 67bhp on tap, it’s no tarmac scorcher, but its 118lb/ft of torque guarantees a relaxed drive. Although Ford have concentrated on improving cabin space, they haven’t rested on their laurels when it comes to driving dynamics. Granted, the recipe doesn’t at first appear promising, this high-sided car wearing a relatively state-of-the-ark twist-beam rear axle powered by a series of engines with modest power figures. Where is the independent control blade suspension that the Focus wears? Where are the trick driver aids? Scythed by the bean counters is the answer, although few will miss them after a drive in the Fiesta. Economy isn’t a major plus with any of the petrol engines as all have to be worked hard to maintain a decent lick, but the diesel unit is competent in this respect, returning 53.3mpg. Yes, the Ford Fiesta is a far more competent handler than its impressive predecessor and that should be praise enough for most. As a result, its handling is elevated to a position above and beyond any existing supermini, whilst its ride and refinement are comparable with the class best – cars like the Volkswagen Polo and Skoda Fabia. The steering was obviously engineered by somebody who understands the needs of keen drivers, being nicely weighted and rich in feedback without becoming a wearing distraction. The Fiesta shrugs off mid-corner bumps well and has a genuine big car feel. If there’s one complaint however, it’s that the Fiesta may almost be too clever for its own good, for it’s true that some of the verve and pizzazz of the old car’s handling has been smoothed out. In making the car more competent, a little of the fun factor has been excised.

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