Fiesta now offers a choice of nine trim levels

Fiesta now offers a choice of nine trim levels

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You have to hand it to Ford of Europe's engineers: the Fiesta might use a less than fresh Mazda-based platform, but the new car again sits at the top of its class for driving dynamics. Will that be enough to keep it as the UK's number one model in 2018?

There are some parallels with Ford's smallest German-made model and another big seller in the regional B segment, the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa. Each uses an architecture which started life as something other than its manufacturer's own design and each has been expertly honed into a competitive position going into 2018. Well, the PSA car is feeling a little dated in some areas but a new model is now only two years away and it is a credit to Opel engineers that the Corsa hasn't fallen further behind. After all, the SCCS platform goes all the way back to 2004, which is when we first saw the Tigra TwinTop, a year before the arrival of the Punto, which Fiat still builds.

The little Ford has some very strong competition in the form of a new Polo.

Fast forward to 2018 and the Corsa will likely start to slide down the sales charts, while the Fiesta should rise. The Ford has some very strong competition in the form of a new Polo. For those who scoff and say that it won't be able to unseat the Fiesta in Britain, the car's largest global market, well, the Golf has already done to the Astra and Focus.

B299, the old Fiesta, will have had a ten-year production cycle by the time build ceases at the last plant making it. Don't expect Ford to leave the B479 replacement series on sale for that long. Most likely, it will be around for between five and seven years.

The eighth generation car was revealed to the media during a presentation at Ford Werke's Niehl factory in November last year. The new model entered production there on 17 May. Shown at the event in Cologne were three- and five-door hatchbacks, with an interesting fact being that the body with extra doors is shorter (4,040mm versus 4,065).

Ford's intention to sell the new model at higher transaction prices was obvious when the B562 Ka+ went on sale in 2016. At that time, Ford of Europe quietly dropped the cheapest Fiestas. The new range includes for the first time a crossover, the Active, as well as the hatchbacks. The base trim is Style, then comes Zetec, B&O (Bang & Olufsen) Play Zetec, ST-Line, ST-Line X, Titanium, B&O Play Titanium, Titanium X and for the first time in a Fiesta, Vignale.

Cologne-Niehl is the lead global plant and production is at the moment via a two-shift system.

Cologne-Niehl is again the lead global plant and production there is at the moment via a two-shift system. A third shift might follow, and that likely depends on how the UK market holds up in 2018 and 2019.

The new model will also be made at CSAP (Cuautitlán) and Maraimalai Nagar (Chennai) plants in Mexico and India respectively as well as in Brazil and China. Some sources believe that the car for North America, to be made in Mexico at Cuautitlán, might be a special model. The C484 codename has been mentioned. This could be a crossover rather than a hatchback or sedan. Ford's 2018 model year Fiesta is the old-shape car so US customers likely won't be able to buy a new-generation model for at least another six months. The sedan might have its world debut at the New Delhi show in February but that is yet to be confirmed.

Something else which the Fiesta has in common with the Corsa and new Polo is evolutionary styling. This philosophy works extremely well for Volkswagen, and perhaps the fact that the latest Astra hasn't proved to be too popular might be down to polarising looks. Ford then could well have a big hit on its hands with B479. Numbers obviously include the seventh generation car but the new model is off to a very strong start in the UK, with the Fiesta remaining easily the most popular vehicle over the year to the end of October. Its 83,070 deliveries place it more than 20,000 units ahead of the number two Golf (62,565) and third placed Focus (62,029).

Having driven generation eight on all types of roads and in different weathers, the Fiesta quickly won me over as the best car for an enthusiast shopping in the B segment. Minimal lean into bends, steering which delivers pin-point accuracy and never kicks back, springs and dampers that have been set up by people who really must understand the peculiarities of British roads: these all feature.

The bad news, and alas, there is some, comes in the form of the 100PS EcoBoost engine.

The bad news, and alas, there is some, comes in the form of the 100PS engine which powered the test car. It's a willing unit and that's fortunate as you really need to rev it to get any progress. Zero to 62mph takes 10.5 seconds and yet it feels slower. Top speed is 113mph and CO2 is an excellent 97g/km.

The EC MPG numbers are 52.3mpg for Urban and as many as 78.5 on the Extra Urban cycle. Are these attainable? Um, how do I say this - if you drive in the same way as an uncanny number people who own a Honda Jazz or Ford B-MAX do, then perhaps. For the rest of us who look ahead, around and in our rear-view mirrors, maintaining 60mph in a national speed limit zone rather than the all too often 30mph of the JazMAX brigade, it's going to cost you. The reason the Titanium 1.0 EcoBoost with start-stop and a manual gearbox is able to deliver almost 80mpg in particular conditions has to be down to gearing. I gave up using sixth anywhere but on a motorway as even the lowest ratios are tall.

Sit on the legal 60mph limit of an A road with no central reservation in top gear and you'll soon be needing to shift down to keep progress steady. Worse, in town, this is one of those cars which needs constant shifts between first and second. The other reason is that 170Nm just isn't enough. Like too many other low CO2 small cars, this one won't be super economical in day to day life, as the engine needs a lot of throttle and to stay in low gears. Obey the shift-up light and soon you're becalmed and the engine is straining, begging for a down-change. This does not make for smooth, relaxed, fuel-efficient progress.

So much for the bad news. The good news is that you'll likely see better economy from the 125PS version of this same 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. Maybe even also from the 140PS one. A lot less gear changing and the added torque should mean smoother, less frustrating driving. Perhaps the 120PS 1.5-litre diesel is the engine of choice in the Fiesta. Its 270Nm means it's what I would go for. You've other alternatives too: a 1.1-litre petrol with 70PS or 85PS and 75PS or 85PS versions of the 1.5-litre diesel.

Gone is the tiny dashboard screen and in its place sits a far larger display which could be straight out of most Mazdas.

The interior, which used to be where the old Fiesta's age was most obvious, is now a showcase for all that is great about Ford design, 2017-style. Straight ahead of the driver is bank of crystal clear instruments, each with the brand's usual light blue needles, which look especially cool at night. As you would expect of a German car, there are no fussy details, just minimalist clarity and well positioned controls. Gone is the tiny dashboard screen and in its place sits a far larger display which could be straight out of most Mazdas. Ford's SYNC 3 system, which can be commanded via both voice and touchscreen, is standard fit on Zetec trim and above.

There is one obvious way to tell that the latest car still uses the same Mazda-based platform as the old Fiesta. That car was easily the most prolific European model to have its fuel filler on the side which almost all OEMs based in Asia and the USA default to. Until the ninth generation Fiesta shifts to a fresh, European-engineered architecture, owners of the current car in the UK must remember to pull up on filling station forecourts on the same side as Toyotas, Hyundais, Kias and so on.

B479 doesn't look that different to the old Fiesta, Ford probably believing that by following the Volkswagen example, some of that brand's cachet might rub off. Even with its ongoing sales collapse across Europe, the Polo remains the B hatchback segment's second most successful model. According to JATO data, Polo registrations in Europe crashed by 41 per cent in October to only 13,115 although over the ten months, its total is 240,738. The Clio, with 272,503, is number one, with the Fiesta (216,332) in third place, ahead of the Corsa (205,546) and 208 (203,677).

Staying on top in 2018

Ford has a good chance of a strong 2018 for the Fiesta, with the Clio and 208 both now more than five years old.

Even with deliveries of the new Polo underway as at a few weeks ago and RHD cars about to arrive in dealerships, Ford still has a good chance of seeing a strong 2018 for the Fiesta, especially with the Clio and 208 both now more than five years old.

In Britain, year-to-date Fiesta registrations are now almost double that of those for the segment's number two and three models, the Corsa and Polo. The VW will no doubt soon overtake the Vauxhall thanks to the arrival of the new shape car but don't expect Ford's long-time UK number one vehicle to lose its sales leadership any time soon.

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