The all-new 2008 Ford Fiesta is a big deal for Ford. It’s one of its most popular cars, which over six generations has sold more than 12 million vehicles. Last year saw more than 100,000 sold in the UK alone.

And it’s with a new-found confidence that Ford has launched the new Fiesta. Its ‘Kinetic Design’ styling has struck a chord with Brit buyers, and its products are built to a level of quality to rival the Germans.

We sent Stuart Milne to Siena in Italy to put the all-new Ford Fiesta through its paces.

The name Ford Fiesta means a lot to many people. There are few who, since the late 1970s, have not learned to drive in one, owned one or at least been a passenger in one. It is one of the very few affordable cars currently built to reach the status of an icon.

With the stakes this high, Ford had to pull out all the stops to ensure it stays ahead of the pack, and with its sleek new bodywork, it certainly cuts a dash on the street.

It’s based heavily on the Verve concept which has travelled Europe’s motor shows over the past couple of years and follows Ford’s Kinetic Design ‘language’, bringing it in line with the stylish Ford Mondeo and recently facelifted Ford Focus. Ford’s research claims the Verve concept was the most photographed car at 2007’s Frankfurt motor show.

The new Ford Fiesta wears the Blue Oval’s new bold, corporate face, with its signature lower grille, chrome accents and long, sweeping headlamps. It’s largely unchanged from the concept car, save for a pedestrian-protecting bar across the grille onto which the numberplate is mounted. The clamshell bonnet helps raise the bodywork away from the solid engine, protecting pedestrians further, while the shut lines at the front and headlights also help this important factor.

The sides feature bulging wheelarches and a crease which stretches from the lower front grille, across the front wings, across the wheelarches and along to the back lights.

The sweeping windscreen and roofline runs down to a concave bootlid, framed by a pair of tall taillights. The car is 25mm higher than the rakish Verve, although its 3mm lower than the outgoing model; and car designers are adamant that 3mm makes a huge difference to the look of the car.

Ford has done an excellent job of the looks, and seeing it alongside the previous-generation model shows just how striking the design is.

High-quality interior

This stylish nature is echoed in the cabin, which is built using the tactile materials and craftsmanship befitting a car twice the price. Making comparisons to Audi is high praise for a £9,000 Ford, but the Fiesta has the kind of flair most German manufacturers cannot match.

Ford says the centre console was inspired by a mobile phone, and it’s not hard to see why. The screen at the top – which provides information on audio and climate controls, unless the full colour ‘Human Machine’ Interface is fitted – gives way to a series of clearly labelled buttons. Under this is a circular arrangement of buttons for the heating controls.

The Zetec S model we drove had a pair of wonderfully comfortable front seats, with plenty of head and legroom; indeed Ford says it has more front legroom than any other car in its class. The rear occupants are served well, with plenty of space for a 5’10” adult behind an average-sized driver.

The boot measures 295-litres, which is the largest of any Fiesta yet, while Ford claims best in class storage in the front doors, with enough space to carry a 1.5-litre bottle or a road atlas. Although general space is good, there are few places to store mobile phones or sunglasses cases without them sliding around.

Behind the wheel, visibility is good, and thin windscreen pillars which don’t obstruct the view of other vehicles when pulling out of side turnings. In fact, the only complaint we had was a very upright steering wheel, which we found a little uncomfortable.

However, other drivers of different heights and seating positions reported no problems here.

View images of the new 2008 Ford Fiesta

Direct and involving steering

On the move, there are even fewer complaints. The new Ford Fiesta is a superb driver’s car, with perfectly weighted steering, offering an excellent compromise between the lightness needed for tight urban manoeuvres and the weighty steering which helps offer feedback at speed.

Underpinning this direct and delicate steering is a good chassis which feels well-balanced.

Ford has done itself no harm by shedding 40kgs from the car’s weight, and that’s despite adding an extra 10kgs in safety features and sound deadening.

This sound deadening means that even over rough surfaces, the cabin remains as quiet as the very best in its class. And the ride is very good too. The Fiesta soaked up the worst of the undulations on bumpy road and remained smooth at all other times.

Critics have claimed the Fiesta is a Mazda 2 underneath, and is simply a badge-engineering exercise. But Ford has been quick to point out that only around 50 per cent of parts are shared between the two cars, and most of those are found in the engine. The main part of the chassis, while common to both, has been tweaked to give both cars a different character.

And amazingly, the Fiesta edges the Mazda 2 – which is the current World Car of the Year – in all-round appeal.

Punchy engines

We tested the 1.6-litre petrol engine, and found it eager to rev and was tractable enough to cope with second gear starts. Only climbing some of the steeper hills around Siena did the 120bhp engine start to lose its edge.

The powerplant will accelerate the Ford Fiesta Zetec S to 62mph in 9.9 seconds, before reaching a top speed of 120mph.

A range of other petrol engines will be available from launch, including a 1.25 and 1.4 developing between 60 and 96PS, with the option of an automatic gearbox with the 1.4 after the car’s launch.

The diesel line-up comprises of a 68PS 1.4TDCi and a 90PS 1.6TDCi. The latter will also be available in a green guise when installed in the Ford Fiesta Econetic.

This model has the lowest CO2 emissions of any mass-produced car currently on sale in Britain, emitting just 98g/km.
In fact, Ford claims the engines in the new Fiesta range could save a massive 11,000 tonnes of CO2 compared with the previous model.

Five star EuroNCAP rating expected

The new Ford Fiesta hasn’t been put through the EuroNCAP crash test programme yet, but the company is confident of a full five star rating. Ford says the new Fiesta is 10 per cent stiffer than the previous car, and is loaded with safety kit. Up to seven airbags are available, including the first use of a driver’s knee ‘bag in a small car.

It’s well equipped from a comfort point of view too. Ford are quick to point out it features an array of ‘big car’ features. Electric mirrors are standard across the range, as is a CD player and central locking. Step up from the entry-level Studio to the Style (which around a quarter of buyers are expected to do), and the Fiesta packs body-coloured trim, electric windows and remote central locking. The Style + adds Ford’s clever Quickclear heated windscreen.

The most popular model in the range is predicted to be the Zetec, which comes with 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, leather steering wheel, chrome bits and Ford’s aesthetic lighting, which is a strip of ambient lighting along the passenger side of the dash.

Step up to the racy Fiesta Zetec S, which we tested, and 16-inch alloys, sports suspension and front and rear spoilers come as standard. The rear spoiler is big enough to please young, image-conscious drivers, but not so big to be an eyesore. Sadly for petrolheads, no hot Fiesta ST is planned for the new model.

The range-topping Titanium – the Ghia model has now been dropped – adds climate control, tinted glass, cruise control, automatic headlamps, and power folding mirrors.

Memory stick audio

Other stand-out features available include a start button and a USB socket into which can be connected a cheap memory stick loaded with MP3 tracks. These can then be searched via the car’s standard audio controls from the steering wheel, and avoids the security issues of carrying an expensive iPod in the car. Ford’s EasyFuel system is also fitted, which makes it impossible to fill up with the wrong fuel.

The all-new Ford Fiesta looks to be a good choice when it comes to running costs. The 1.25 Studio model boasts a 1E insurance rating – the lowest ever for a Fiesta, while used values are expected to be around eight per cent higher which should make the same model worth around £1,000 more after three years/36,000 miles.

Ford says the Fiesta will go on sale in October, with the green Econetic model following at the end of 2008. An automatic version will be available with the 1.4-litre petrol engine early in 2009.

And frankly that’s too long to wait. In the Fiesta, Ford has a new class leader, offering more style, comfort and driving dynamics. Couple that with low running costs, and it’s hard to see why the Fiesta won’t be around for another three decades.

Key facts

Model tested: Ford Fiesta 1.6 120 Zetec S 3dr
On the road price: £12,595
Price range: £8.995 – £13,695
Date tested: August 2008.
Road tester: Stuart Milne