The Ford Fiesta has always been popular thanks to its handling, style and design, so Ford was understandably cautious when the time came for an update. With remarkable restraint, it has tweaked the styling here and there, then fitted some crowd-pleasing tech updates, but that's about it. Otherwise, the Fiesta is just as it ever was. The question is, will that be enough to keep it at the head of the compact SUV market?
In the metal
Although this is ostensibly a new Fiesta, Ford really hasn't changed all that much. The basic silhouette is identical, and the company has simply grafted on a new nose, new lights and a handful of other minor updates.
The grille is clearly the most important update, with the new front end featuring a floating Ford logo in the centre. Otherwise, there are some snazzy new LED lights at the front and rear, as well as fresh bumpers, but it's basically the same car as before. The overall look is a little more modern, though, and the Fiesta still looks great. It's arguably the best-looking compact hatchback on the market.
That said, the looks depend somewhat on which version of the Fiesta you choose. The basic Trend models and the more upmarket Titanium and Titanium Vignale versions offer a more classic look, while the ST-Line and ST-Line Vignale models get a slightly sportier image. Then there's the Active model we tested, which comes with a raised ride height and some chunky body cladding. The bodywork looks rugged, but it isn't partnered with any mechanical upgrades, so it's more for show than real off-road capability, but the extra ground clearance will make life easier on uneven surfaces.
The Fiesta's cabin is also more or less unchanged, with much the same design as its predecessor. That's no bad thing, because the Fiesta's cabin is quite smart, and it comes with the Sync3 touchscreen infotainment system, which is far better than the Sync2 units of yesteryear. It's a shame the more up-to-date Sync4 system hasn't been included, but Sync3 is still competitive despite its age.
And now Fiesta customers have the opportunity to pair it with a digital instrument display, which is available in the Vignale versions of the Active, ST-Line and Titanium models. The system isn't quite as clever as the digital display found in modern Volkswagen Group products, but it's an improvement on the dashboards found in most other models in this class.
Aside from that, the vital stats remain as they were, which means you get the same boot volume as the previous Fiesta, with 311 litres of luggage space. That's a little disappointing compared with the Skoda Fabia and SEAT Ibiza, which both have roughly 10 per cent more luggage capacity. The advantage is respectable (albeit not outstanding) rear-seat space but if you need more load room, you can always fold down the back seats to accommodate up to 1,093 litres.
Thankfully, Ford hasn't changed the way in which the Fiesta drives. This car has made its name as the driver's choice in the small hatchback market, and that reputation remains untarnished, even though this Active X version of the Fiesta is perhaps not the finest example of the breed.
Part of the Fiesta's success is down to the engine range that has served it so well for so long. The American company may make a lot of noise about mild-hybrid technology, which gives the Fiesta a little extra economy, but the basic engine range remains as it was before. For the most part, that means you get a choice of small petrol engines with a selection of power outputs on offer.
The entry-level choice is the 1.1-litre, 75hp option that's available solely in conjunction with the basic Trend trim level, but we'd skip that and head straight for one of the 1.0-litre turbocharged EcoBoost engines. You can choose whether you have 100hp or 125hp and mild-hybrid tech, but either should be powerful enough to pull the little Fiesta around. Our 125hp test car offered a more-than-adequate 0-100km/h time of 9.6 seconds.
Of course, speed freaks can go for the ST model, which has made its name as one of the best small hot hatches in the business, but that will get its own review at a later date. And, if truth be told, you don't really need the ST to have fun in the Fiesta. Even the high-riding Active model, with its raised suspension and superfluous body cladding, is entertaining in the corners, turning in instantly and offering bags of grip. Sure, the body leans a bit, but we'd expect lower-slung, sportier ST-Line models to be even more engaging.
And it isn't like Ford has sacrificed comfort to achieve that handling prowess, either. The Fiesta is no Rolls-Royce, and whether Active trim makes the ride firmer or more comfortable remains to be seen, but it smooths out the bumps more successfully than a lot of other small hatchbacks. It's even pretty refined, doing a good job of keeping the wind noise at bay and preventing too much road noise from seeping into the cabin. Given a choice of everything on sale today, it isn't the car you'd turn to first for long-distance motoring, but the Fiesta is wholly capable. It has that big-car feel that was once reserved for the Polo.
What you get for your money
The Fiesta comes in at just over €20,000, which makes it roughly €3,500 cheaper than its arch-rival, the Volkswagen Polo. And that money pays for plenty of equipment. You get LED headlights, a heated windscreen and cruise control as standard, not to mention the eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration technology.
Moving up the range to either the Titanium, Active or ST-Line models adds extra equipment including navigation, more safety kit and keyless engine start, as well as each model's distinctive features. The Active cars get raised suspension and rugged-looking body cladding, while the ST-Line models get sportier styling and stiffer suspension. Each one also gets its own 'X' variant, adding some extra standard equipment including climate control and a digital instrument display.
There's also a €38,456 ST-3 model with extra standard kit and more performance, thanks to its 1.5-litre engine and unique suspension set-up.
The minor changes to the Fiesta have kept it fresh, but there's no great advantage to be had from upgrading to this latest model. And given the Active trim level reduces the Fiesta's handling prowess without adding much extra capability, we'd stick with a lower version of Ford's greatest hit. Because while there may be more impressive all-rounders on the market, the Fiesta is still the hatchback of choice for those who like to drive.