It's one of the top-ten-selling vehicles in the country and it's one of the most important new cars of this year, or any year for that matter - it's the all-new Ford Fiesta, now into its seventh generation. Here we test drive the top-power diesel model and come away deeply impressed, although there are one or two questions left hanging in the air that we'll have to answer with a longer drive back in Ireland...
In the Metal:
The new Ford Fiesta is at once both an evolution of what went before, certainly at the front, and yet considerably different at the back, where wide light clusters replace the slim upright units of the old car. The overall effect of the Ford's aesthetic is pleasingly smooth and urbane, and it's a handsome enough thing, without being particularly visually daring. Watch out for some unusual colours in the palette, too, which don't exactly do the Ford great favours.
However, the interior takes a quantum leap forward in quality, and the old car's cabin was hardly rubbish. You can easily see where Ford has prioritised R&D spend, because the car now has an attractive eight-inch 'floating' screen for its improved SYNC 3 infotainment and navigation system (without nav, it's reduced to 6.5 inches), while the feel of the fixtures and fittings is very nice. OK, there are one or two plastics that leave something to be desired and one of our test cars had extremely loose and flimsy A-pillar covers, but in general the interior is a lovely place to be.
It's spacious too, with generous accommodation in the back and a good-sized boot at the back. Ford is also calling it the 'most technologically advanced small car on sale in Europe', with 15 driver assist technologies available in total and further toys like a Bang & Olufsen 675-watt, ten-speaker stereo system on the menu.
This is a tricky one. Ford talks about the new Fiesta being even more engaging and capable than its predecessor, which was a corking little thing to steer, even if it wasn't the storming ST model. This all sounds good. However, the very presence of the Ka+ in Ford's line-up means the company is pushing the Fiesta upmarket and that surely means the car it would have benchmarked is the Volkswagen Polo - which places classy refinement ahead of driver thrills. And we've just got the sneaking suspicion that Ford has done precisely the same thing for the Fiesta.
There's no doubting it's still good to drive. It has masses of front-end grip and a seemingly limitless resistance to understeer; you have to be really, really stupid with it to get the front end to wash out. On a connected note, lifting off quickly on the throttle will get the back moving nicely, so it's not like the Ford has a potato of a chassis.
Yet it never feels quite as vivacious as we expect of a Fiesta. The steering is weighty and direct, though actually a little too direct, if we're honest, as it can feel hyperactive at times and there's a very odd self-centring effect to it as well. Body roll is reasonably well controlled on all models, although it was more noticeable on the 16-inch wheels of this Titanium diesel, and yet all the cars still felt a bit too softly sprung for full-on cornering wildness.
And then, in contradictory fashion, there are other things that speak volumes about the importance Ford places on driving pleasure. Like pedals that are ideally placed for heel-and-toe. Strong brakes. A slick, six-speed manual gearbox on this diesel, which has a positive throw and is mated to a nicely judged clutch. It's therefore hard to pin the Fiesta down as being a definitive step up in terms of handling dynamics compared to the old car, because some things are clearly better and other things feel a little less involving.
One pay-off of all of this, though, is superb refinement. The new, 120hp 1.5-litre diesel engine is a glorious thing, silky smooth, torquey and happy to rev out without vibrating noticeably or becoming coarse of voice, while the primary ride quality is magnificent for this class of car. Add in excellent suppression of tyre and wind noises and the Fiesta suddenly feels a far more grown-up machine than it ever has done. It feels, in fact, every bit as plush and luxurious as that Polo we mentioned earlier.
Despite all of this, though, we got out of the Fiesta thinking it feels a quality bit of kit, but we didn't get out of it grinning from ear to ear. Is that a major offence for a dynamically well-rated model from a company known for knocking out stunning chassis set-ups over the years? Possibly. But we're still hopeful the forthcoming ST will be a belter, because there's a lot to commend here.
What you get for your Money:
Prices start at €16,550 for the Fiesta line-up. Three engines will be offered initially, this 1.5-litre diesel (only listed in 85hp guise for now on the Ford Ireland website), a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol unit making 100hp and a 1.1-litre entry-level petrol option in 70- and 85hp states of tune. Titanium spec cars like this will have 15-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, SYNC 3 with DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and handbrake, air conditioning and more.
The new Ford Fiesta is going to be competing right at the top of the B-segment supermini class, because it has moved on significantly from its predecessor in a number of ways, this being nowhere more evident than in its excellent interior and via the exalted levels of refinement. It's also an involving car to steer, but we just have the nagging doubt that it's not quite as peppy in this regard as it could have been, the car's focus on being cultured perhaps dulling its ultimate chassis sparkle ever so slightly. Nevertheless, we're keen to try more of the Fiesta line-up in the months to come, on roads back here at home, and we're even more desperate to get behind the wheel of the 200hp ST that's due to land in 2018. The Fiesta is another sterling effort, as ever, from Ford - and it's a potential winner of outright class honours once we've put it up against key rivals in group tests.