A very pleasant surprise from Ford.
Although the reviews raved (and still do) about how good the current-gen Fiesta is, I expected a lot, but was pleasantly surprised to see just how accomplished it really is in everyday use.
Handling and road-feel are absolutely epic - my car is bottom-spec 1.25 Duratec, and its chassis literally has all the manners of a late 90s proper hot-hatch, if not even more to offer (and this is on skinny 14-inch eco-tyres (!)). Of course, this comes at the slight expense of the low-speed (city) ride being a bit hard, although nothing too 'crashy' to complain about. At highway speeds though, the ride becomes a lot more compliant, and it's a genuine pleasure to drive.
The chassis seems to have a particularly "sweet spot" between 125-130 kph, where it just settles in a very comfortable ride, with the cornering and straightline-tracking precision being unbelievable for such a budget, "small"-category car.
Steering feel is far from "meaty", although when compared to most today-era cars, it is actually a class above most other small cars with their usually 100% lifeless, artificial steering feels. The steering wheel itself is a very thoughtful and pleasant item, and the overall precision of the steering is very satisfying, as even under high cornering loads and high speeds, the steering-rack seems to be very firmly located, and there is never a feeling of the steering "suffering" from massive cornering loads or bumps. It is even fairly well isolated from big road bumps, which is remarkable for such a cheap car.
The front seats are nothing to write home about, but after 5,000 km spent with the car (some longer trips too), they seem to be really old-school-Ford, hard and properly angled, so they offer good support if not "first-seating" comfort. When the back of the seat is properly angled, they offer pretty decent side support as well.
Seating position is almost 100% spot-on, which is another enormous achievement for Ford in this, usually compromised segment of budget-minded cars. One of the secrets to this is that the forward "depth" of the cabin is somehow very generous, making you feel that even if your legs are very, very long; you slide "into" the front part of the car, almost as if it was a rear-engined car (this is probably some very clever CAD-engineering that went into the packaging of the engine/gearbox/firewall of the car). Truly great stuff from an ergonomics/car design aspect.
The fit and finish of the interior is a bit confusing, as on the dash itself it is absolutely top-notch and plush (feeling expensive), whereas the door cards are very rough, hard plastic (probably excellent in the long-term as it will not look/feel soiled/scratched after 2-3 years of use) - still, the very design of the door-cards is at least also thoughtful and not THAT dull.
There are no squeals or clunks from any part of the interior, even under very bad road conditions, which is again a testimony to the overall level of engineering / build quality that actually goes into every single Fiesta.
The gearbox is very precise, with an easy slotting of the gears, without feeling 'slack' or too 'easy-into-gear', and the synchros seem to allow even for some enthusiastic driving. The gearshift mechanism itself is probably a result of an entire team of people working only on it for several years - it's THAT good. Pity that Ford used a relatively scratch-prone gear-knob finish (a little too 'plasticky', but good nevertheless).
Clutch action is very smooth and there is decent feel for the clutch-grabbing-point, although the biting point is a bit overly 'extended' (this is actually excellent for less experienced drivers/beginners, whereas for the more experienced manual-shifter-experts it can be a bit annoying at times). Nevertheless, the clutch/gearbox system, together as a whole, perform in real harmony and contribute a lot to the overall feelgood-factor that this car obviously radiates when driving it.
Legroom at the rear, if not spectacular, is really plentiful for such a small car (I'd say 'small', as length-wise and wheelbase-wise, it is definitely not THAT small, and it is easily longer than some generations of Escorts, for example). So it is a comfortable car for 4 adults travelling medium distances, and a VERY comfortable car for 2 adults + 2-3 kids. The rear bench (as opposed to many modern cars nowadays) did not feel a 'victim' to compromised car packaging/design, but is rather cleverly angled/positioned so as to enable almost proper seating, even for adults (again I was truly surprised with this, as it is a B-segment car, after all).
The 1.25 Duratec seems to be carefully geared (especially in 1st and 2nd gear), so as to enable the car to have a sprightly acceleration when needed. However, its power is only just enough, as with more than 2 passengers in the car, the car's weight already becomes a bit of a 'struggle' for this otherwise very willing engine.
Its sound 'culisse' is very rich as well, as when you need a smooth cruise or easy driving around, it is fantastically docile, smooth and 'cushy', yet when provoked, it is not your average 'silky-boring-smooth' modern 4-cylinder engine, but instead has a certain 'zest' to its sound / vibe, reminding you almost of some Italian engines of yore... The exhaust note is almost sporty, compared to most other cars of its category out there.
The powerband is somewhat confusing - namely, it has sufficient 'pull' from 1800 - 2500 RPM, making it somewhat deep-chested on first glance, whereas in reality it is somewhat 'hollow' again from 2500 - 4000 RPM, making progress somewhat of a 'rubber-band' affair, and above 4-4.5k RPM it starts to finally show that there are some 80 HP actually available. If you keep it on the boil, (for which the 3rd and 4th gear are, unfortunately, somewhat wide-apart), it offers really sprightly and 'lively' progress. However, the 'hole' between 2 and 4k RPM really shows the unavoidable conceptual struggle of 1.25 litre capacity and the circa 1-ton chassis.
However, if one installed this very engine into an old-school, 800 kg Mk3 Fiesta, it would be unbelievably torquey engine nevertheless, with the powerband much more useful (I'm saying this only to underline that the 1.25 Duratec engine is actually pretty advanced for what it is - it is just Ford's decision / EU emission rules, to use this engine capacity in a relatively heavy car as the new Fiesta, coupled with a relatively confusing gear-ratios selection).
Nevertheless, unless fully loaded, this peculiar engine's characteristics will not spoil the fun with this gem of a car. Of course, a proper close-ratio gearbox would make this car almost a full-proper warm-hatch (powertrain-wise, as chassis-wise, it almost resembles a hot-hatch - in pure stock "eco-tyred" form, which is in itself an automotive event for any enthusiastic drivers out there, looking for an affordable, economic car).
What annoys me:
-- The above-described engine characteristic makes it TOTALLY impossible for the driver to use any power from the engine, without impairing the fuel consumption - so in reality, the 1.25 Fiesta is either a car that you must drive very 'gently', floating on the torque-wave between 1800 and 2500 RPM, and obtaining rather decent fuel economy - or, if you need to feel the nice raspy sound of that engine and drive in just a bit more spirited manner, the fuel consumption rises exponentially, and it sips fuel improperly for such a 'small' car. Therefore, you either adopt a very sedate driving style, or go "full-fat" and explore the full powerband, as the Fiesta is "ON/OFF" in terms of fuel-consumption, so a mid-way approach is of no use - it either saves fuel, or DRINKS lots of it, so you end up either thrashing it, or saving fuel with very light-footed, almost frustrating driving. And this is not really my cup of tea when it comes to small, 'economy-minded' cars, where ideally I'd like more linearity from what I use from the car and what I pay for (in fuel).
Apparently, the Fiesta with the new 0.9 Eco-Boost engine would be a somewhat better choice in this regard, although I personally haven't driven one yet.
Apart from this non-linear fuel-consumption behaviour though, the 1.25 Duratec is indeed a gem of a modern engine, and clear proof that modern engines do not necessarily have to be devoid of character & feelgood engine 'aural response'. Hell, even its throttle response is nice and crisp, and where else do you get this in a bottom-of-the-range, baseline engined 'city car'?
A really nice job by Ford (and Yamaha, as the core design of this engine, some 10+ years ago, was signed by the Japanese - FUJI heavy industries (Yamaha)).
- The front shock-absorbers seem to be somewhat under-damped, especially in very hot weather (it might be connected to the OE-level of first-fitment quality of the shocks itself), making the ride over harsh road imperfections somewhat 'edgy' - but only in very hot weather.
- Strange NVH-issues when turning the steering close to the full-lock positions (the car was checked, everything is fine), making some minor 'noises' and creating a feeling of unease when parking (again, as the overall NVH-package is so refined, this might be a 'placebo'-effect of inevitably hearing/feeling some sounds/vibes, which would be (if the interior had been less 'cushy') totally unnoticed by the driver (the interior might actually be too good, so maybe it's just such minor things that tend to be noticed in contrast).
- Gearbox bearings are somewhat 'loud' when the car is cold (5 minutes after startup), but it disappears once the car is slightly warmed-up - again, with the Duratec engine being so refined and 'cushy' at idle, it might be that the gearbox sounds are slightly more noticeable - I can only laugh thinking that I'd NEVER EVER be able to hear that slight gearbox sound if it was an old-school Ford (Endura) engine in the front :-).
- Brakes, whilst being excellent in power & reaction time (and even pedal hardness is fully OK), are definitely not the best when it comes to pedal-feel, and can be sometimes too grabby even for an experienced, advanced driver, with a very developed right-foot sensitivity. But it's only a minor niggle in a car costing sub 10K Euro (new).
What puzzles me, is that I'm still struggling to find an aspect of this car which is compromised or faultily designed. It is one of those car models that will definitely be impossible to better (once it is replaced), as even if it becomes better, some aspects of its incredible 'overall roundedness' as a package will NEVER be bested I guess, nor by Ford itself, neither by anyone out there (at this price-levels, that is)).
A truly outstanding product.
As regards reliability, it is still a new car, so it's too early to talk, but if it proves reliable, it will be a pure revelation, and it seems that all the raving reviews are not just "hype" - this is THE car if you don't want to spend a fortune on one, and if you MUST have a car that offers a tactile feedback and driver satisfaction of a car costing 3-4 times more (it feels, in some driver-feedback aspects, almost like a BMW, for sub 10K Euro).