Tuesday 24 April 2018

Fiesta is at its best when served as a simple dish

Excellent drive but watch out for price

Ford Fiesta
Ford Fiesta
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

We stopped for lunch high up in the Italian Alps last week. It was 21 degrees. We sat in the shade. I had lasagne. It looked like a simple, large, round omelette. Simplicity itself. It was gorgeous. So was the cheese and the slice of cake I simply had to sneak for accompaniment with a cup of tea. All simple. No frills. The food came first. I think there's too much fuss with adornments on some of the TV shows.

I think that has become the case with some cars, too. I understand and agree to a great extent that people want their connectivity and creature comforts. I'd be the first to complain in the absence of either, I can tell you.

But I think there is a balance: one where the car itself gets a chance to be sampled, too. I'll be frank. Some automakers substitute a lot of frippery for real engineering progress. And they do well because most people don't 'drive to drive', as it were. They drive to get somewhere. All perfectly logical.

But is there anything to beat the feeling of driving a well put together car? I'm not talking beastly performance. I'm talking 'well-engineered car' from any class or segment.

There is still something magical about man's ability to make something that can move you - in more ways than one. Or am I raving? Are we seeing the demise of driving in the lead-in to cars that drive themselves?

All of this brings me to this week's motor, the new Ford Fiesta, which I found to be one of those cars that remain excellent to drive.

It is easy to overlook that, however, with the emphasis they're placing on all sorts of trim and bling. Having all sorts in your car means money. I mean my Fiesta on test costs €22,000. Really?

I think danger lurks in this PCP era. The emphasis can shift quickly from price to size of monthly repayment. What's another €15 a month for the super-duper version with the heated steering wheel (sweet God, a heated steering wheel in a supermini)?

I'm not being Scrooge-like here ('oh! yes you are') nor am I trying to be smart (!), but if our mortgage, ESB or fuel bills went up €15/month you'd be giving out like hell.

In fairness, the Fiesta is being pushed upmarket because there is a perfectly good, functional KA+ small car below it. So to keep the two apart, the Fiesta has had to grow in many ways - including price.

I've said before that what looks like a small €200 increase (to €16,550 for the 3dr) isn't really the story. The major seller is the 5dr and, at €17,150, it's a pricey enough start.

Ford counter that by - you guessed it - pointing to equipment and technology levels. Whatever the argument, the fact is, there is a question of price. I'm not picking on the Fiesta. I think you should be mindful of it in whatever car you're thinking of buying. Don't fall into the trap of saying, "Ah, sure it's only a few euro more a month."

Despite all that, I still think this new Fiesta is a great little car. It's big, strong, roomy, smart-looking and the 1.1-litre petrol engine/5spd gearbox powered a crisp drive that, for old-fashioned me anyway, makes it something of a benchmark.

I liked the seats, the driving position, the intelligent way information and entertainment buttons and on-screen symbols make it near idiot-proof. It was a joy around town with excellent visibility out back for those awkward reversing manoeuvres. And we simply skimmed back in it from a late Saturday visit to friends in the midlands.

At the same time, I think it has to be as good as it is because rivals are immensely strong now - including the recently-tested SEAT Ibiza and the imminent, much-lauded, new Volkswagen Polo.

Just watch for road noise with certain tyres on the Fiesta. My most recent test car was grand in that respect, but one I drove some time back made horrific noise over rough patches of motorway. So give yourself a good pre-purchase test drive.

Other, little things, jarred too. The switch-gear for rear wipers and lights had a cheap, plastic feel and hollow sound to them. A tiny whinge? Yes, until you notice it every time you drive.

A bit like the extra few euro you think you'll never miss: everything catches up in time.

Would I buy it? From a clinical assessment of what it has and does, yes I would. But I would make a point of going for the second-lowest trim. I don't need a lot of the stuff (admirable and all as it is) they have, and charge for, on higher trim. It's a car that I've found over three series of testing now, to be best, like good food, when it's simple and straightforward. And the 'extra few euro' are as well in my pocket as Ford's.

Related: Use our calculator to estimate your car loan repayments

FACTS & FIGURES

Ford Fiesta 1.1-litre 85PS 5spd petrol 5dr; 101g/km, road tax €190, 4.4/100km.

Titanium trim on test car includes: 15ins alloys, LED daytime running lights, front fogs/cornering lights, SYNC 3 DAB radio/6.5ins touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto. Options include: Drive assistance pack (pre-collision assistance, distance indication/distance alert, adaptive cruise control), 16ins alloys, Comfort Pack (heated front seats/steering wheel), B&O premium sound/nav system (8ins touchscreen, 10 speakers), air con.

Prices from €16,550; Titanium model tested from €18,950. With options €22,115.

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