Fiesta is available in Britain with 1.0-, 1.2- and 1.6-litre petrol engines plus 1.5- and 1.6-litre diesels

Fiesta is available in Britain with 1.0-, 1.2- and 1.6-litre petrol engines plus 1.5- and 1.6-litre diesels

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We all know the Fiesta has been the nation's best seller for, well, forever. But who knew that until recently, you couldn't have an automatic gearbox with the best selling 1.0 EcoBoost engine?

It says a lot for Ford of Europe that it has reacted fairly quickly to changing buyer preferences, particularly as Britain is the Fiesta’s largest market. So with research here showing customers want the option of a low-cost, low CO2 automatic, Ford is wise to accommodate that preference. The new gearbox isn’t a traditional torque converter automatic but rather a dual-clutch transmission so in theory, there’s less power drain and therefore decent fuel economy.

The dual clutch transmission is branded as a ‘Powershift’. Ford quotes the same 100PS (74kW), 170Nm of torque and zero to 62mph time of 11.2 seconds for both five-speed manual and Powershift Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost. CO2 is slightly worse with the Powershift: 114g/km versus 99g/km but you would expect that, for a variety of reasons, one of which is a 10kg weight penalty for the Powershift. How about fuel economy? It’s a similar story with the Combined averages being 57.7mpg for the Powershift and 65.7mpg for the manual.

The gearshift is very smooth around town and you can almost believe it’s a fully automatic operation at work under the bonnet but then occasionally there will be a thunk in the style of the older DSG gearboxes in Volkswagen Group cars. I had a SEAT Ibiza which did this and it didn’t feel very reassuring, but the Fiesta is nowhere near as bad. It mostly happened at higher speeds.

The British market is also the reason why Ford has been cranking up Fiesta production at the Niehl (Cologne) plant. This is the sole production site for all of Europe, though prior to the introduction of the current, facelifted car, Valencia also contributed smaller volumes. Output at Niehl has risen to 1,850 cars per day since the start of 2014. That’s up 200 units per day, with the plant having added six extra weekend shifts since February.

The Fiesta was the best-selling B segment model in what JATO Dynamics defines as Europe last year. Its volume of 292,640 was a four percent dip compared to 2012. Not a bad performance at all, considering the way the major markets, the UK apart, slid, and the fact that the current car, launched in 2008, would therefore be expected to be past its best years.

The SMMT is yet to release registrations for April as I type this [updated below] but during the first quarter, the car was naturally the UK’s number one. Another 760 sales and the Fiesta would have hit the 40,000 mark. We all know March was a monster month (only 2,140 units short of the March 2004 record) but even so, imagine that 25,753 units of this car were sold. That’s 8,893 more than the number two placed Focus.

It’s long been established that the Fiesta remains the car to beat but when you haven’t driven one in a while, it’s OK to ask why. The standard in this class is sky high, with many good if not great cars such as the Kia Rio, Honda Jazz, Nissan March, Suzuki Swift, and ancient Fiat Punto being overlooked by the majority of buyers - that the eight-year old Corsa still sells as well as it does speaks volumes for the strength of Vauxhall’s encouragements to its dealer network.

These things vary from person to person but I would think that most would agree that the Fiesta is one of the best lookers in its size class. The mid-life facelift improved things too - the addition of some mock-chrome here and there and a few subtle tweaks to the front and rear ends brought the car up to date, not that it had really even fallen behind.

The interior also came in for attention during late 2012, with the main update centring on infotainment. Ford calls this SYNC and as you’d expect, you can make and receive hands-free calls, have your texts read out, stream your phone’s music via Bluetooth, plus Emergency Assistance will send for help if you have a collision in any one of 30 European countries.

The test car, which was priced at GBP17,040, came with GBP1,845 of options and accessories. This extended to metallic paint, Active City Stop, 16” alloys, a Navi system with DAB and the aforementioned SYNC, a head restraint for the middle back seat, and something called City Pack which bundles rear parking sensors with electrically folding mirrors. Standard equipment in your GBP15,195 Fiesta Zetec 1.0 EcoBoost Powershift consists of 15” alloys, A/C, ambient lighting, hill start assist, headlights courtesy delay, heated mirrors, the superb Quickclear heated windscreen, MyKEY (lets you limit the maximum speed and music volume if you suspect your kids are hoons), and a radio/CD player with MP3.

Something which disappointed me was the small size of the navi screen. It was also illogically set up and took too long to accept destinations at first, though I did get used to it - plus it was GBP500 so though pricey compared to a Garmin, that’s not too bad considering what some rivals charge. Boot space is very good if not quite as generous as some in the class but the available headroom and legroom, even in the rear, is really very good.

I wouldn’t expect too much more development of the current model, with a new one due for launch in Europe and elsewhere in 2015. Will B479 be manufactured in Germany? Probably, but if the decision to shift locations has been made, Ford is doing well to keep it secret.

Outside Europe, the next model should continue to be built in China and Brazil but might not be produced at the CSAP (Cuautitlán) and Maraimalai Nagar (Chennai) plants in Mexico and India respectively. Instead, cars for North America, the subcontinent and markets supplied by the latter may instead instead be sourced from an expanded Rayong plant in Thailand. This is not official information, but what I have been hearing.

Overall, it’s no surprise that the Fiesta continues to sell so strongly, the new Powershift being a very handy addition to the range. My one request to Ford of Europe’s product planners for this or the next generation car would be to make this gearbox available with a diesel engine - the newer 1.5 would be ideal.

7 May update: With a total of 10,250 registrations, up 26.8% compared to April 2013, the Fiesta was the UK's best seller last month - 4,948 sales and 2.8 percentage points of market share ahead of its nearest non-Ford rival.  For the year to date, Fiesta sales are up 16.7% at 49,490, compared with the same period in 2013.