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Its 47-year tenure as a new car might be over, but the icon lives on as a cheap, fun used buy

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The astonishing success of the seventh generation Ford Fiesta was based on two convergent facts.

First, the sixth generation of Fiesta was good enough to lead the class from the moment of its introduction in 2008; second that introduction coincided with global economic meltdown forcing mass downsizing in the European car market. 

Some Ford executives referred to this Fiesta’s rollout as Ford’s most significant car since the Model T

Suddenly people who’d never even considered a shopping car found themselves eye to eye with the Ford Fiesta. And perhaps to their surprise, they liked what they saw.

At its launch in 2008, the seventh generation was as distinctive as the previous version was not. It was a genuinely handsome car, but like most modern Fords, ubiquity softened the impact of its design. 

It was given a nose job in 2013 as part of a number of visual tweaks, and new engines were introduced to ensure it continued to cut a dash. But while the success of the huge trapedozial grille treatment has been widely debated, the addition of the three-cylinder 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine was roundly praised.

Predictably for a car that was the UK’s then top seller, the range is vast, overlapping the smaller Ford Ka at the bottom and the larger Ford Focus at the top.

Aside from the three-pot Ecoboost engine in two power outputs, powerplants included a naturally aspirated 1.0-, 1.25-, 1.6- and turbocharged 1.6-litre petrols and a single 1.5-litre diesel engine in two guises. Trim levels were the familiar: Zetec, ST-Line, Titanium, Titanium X and a couple of hot ST models, most of which are available in three and five-door models. There are also the low-CO2 Econetic models to look out for.

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Perhaps the Fiesta’s biggest trump card was its big-car feel. At its 2007 launch, no other cooking supermini felt as solid or grown up, and its ride shamed cars from a class or two above. Handling offered a verve that even some hot hatches failed to match.

Years on from the car’s original launch, can it still match the best of the used supermini class?

Ford Fiesta 2008-2017 common problems

Engine: We go into more detail about the engine in ‘Also worth knowing’, but for the moment be content if the one you’re looking at has enjoyed regular oil and filter and coolant changes. The timing belt should be changed every 10 years or 150,000 miles but, ideally, more frequently. You buy an Ecoboost for its gutsy pulling power, smooth running and quiet cruising, so if it feels like the ancient and asthmatic 1.25 elsewhere in the range, it’s got a problem.

Transmission: The gearlever feels spindly but shifts should be light and precise. If it graunches into first, expect expensive trouble ahead. Move briskly off in second and check for clutch slip.

Suspension: This generation of Fiesta has an average reliability rating and its suspension is the biggest source of trouble. A recent MOT will reveal most current problems – bushes, springs and shocks being common advisories. Parts are reasonably cheap, though. 

Brakes: Fiestas quickly fall into the hands of those unable to afford maintenance so don’t be too surprised by deeply lipped front discs, paper-thin pads and zero evidence of biennial brake fluid changes.

Interior: Check for dashboard warning lights and the operation of every last knob and button. Ensure the carpets, especially in the front footwells, aren’t damp. Water can get in through worn door seals so inspect these, too. Make sure the parcel shelf is present.

Body: A self-respecting dealer will have most casual dents, scratches and kerbed wheels repaired; otherwise, you’ll be lucky to find a Fiesta that isn’t marked. Scrutinise panel gaps and check for overspray and ‘orange peel’. Cross-check the stamped VIN number with that shown on the V5.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Ford Fiesta rear end

You need conduct no in depth evaluation to know one area in which the Ford Fiesta continues to rule the class. Sensing that a car’s appearance was as important to a Fiesta buyer as a Ferrari buyer, Ford’s original shape for the Fiesta reset the template for small car style more convincingly than any car since the Peugeot 205 in 1983. 

Cute, wedgy and combining perfect proportions with effortlessly fluent detailing it would have sold on looks alone. The seventh generation left its essential prettiness unchanged, but added a hitherto unprecedented sense of purpose to the Fiesta ranges.

For all its purpose, the Aston-esque grille needs large wheels as a foil

Beneath that skin lies a skeleton of no great apparent innovation. Its steel platform was shared with the Mazda 2 and adapted for the Ford B-Max and features a conventional strut type front suspension and the torsion beam rear axle layout preferred not only by Ford but every other major competitor for its efficient packaging and, of course, cheapness of manufacture. Both three and five door versions are available.

Where it gets a little bewildering is when trying to choose between powerplants. Ford made much of the abilities of its award-winning three cylinder 1.0-litre petrol engine, so much so that three different variants were offered, one that breathes air at atmospheric pressure and produces 79bhp and two with turbos producing 98 and 123bhp respectively. 

But that’s not where the Fiesta range started: entry level ‘Zetec’ models are powered by a 1.25-litre four cylinder engine with 81bhp. So yes, a 1.25-litre Fiesta with 81bhp and four cylinders does indeed cost less than one with 1.0-litre, 80bhp and three cylinders.

Then at the top of the range you’ll find the 179bhp Fiesta ST hot hatch which doesn’t actually produce 179bhp at all, but about 194bhp, while 197bhp the recent addition of the ST200 which technically produces around 212bhp – the discrepancy being that under European regs power produces by a temporary overboost facility was not allowed to be counted.

The good news is that the diesel line up was far more simple. There is one: a 1.5-litre motor with 94bhp. An Econetic version of this engine with a CO2 figure of just 82g/km is available.

INTERIOR

Ford Fiesta dashboard

What matters more in the class in which the Ford Fiesta sat - perception or reality? Would you prefer a dull interior crafted from the highest quality materials or would you like a car that wows you and your friends every time you open the door. And will continue to do so as long as you don’t look too closely at how it’s put together?

For most the answer would be somewhere between the two and, at this price, a compromise is inevitable; but Ford has undoubtedly staked its tent in the latter camp.

We have come to expect fine ergonomics from Ford

Even now the interior design of the Fiesta still looks fresh and, impressively, you can say as much about the poverty spec models as the poshed-up versions. There’s barely a straight line or vertical surface to be seen – it’s all interesting curves and swoops.

That word ‘seem’ is used with reason: what you don’t want to do is spend too much time prodding around the inside of the Fiesta because you’ll find that while some materials are as good as they look, and the dash top is a good example, others are not. Those silvery metal finishes are in fact anything but while the moment you look below the driver’s natural eye line, the plastics are chiefly hard, coarse and cheap.

The cabin causes some ergonomic issues too. Though the centre stack looks stylishly and thoughtfully arranged, it’s harder than it should be to correlate its functions to those displayed on the small LCD display above.

There are several trim levels to choose from, with the entry-level Zetec models equipped with 15in alloys, DAB radio, a 4.2in screen infotainment system, heated front windscreen, air conditioning and hill start assist. There was also the Zetec Colour Editions which were predominantly a Candy Blue Fiesta with a white roof and vice versa.

The mid-range ST-Line was the last addition to the range, replacing the Zetec S models and for the first time appearing on five door versions of the Fiesta too. Key highlights included an ST-styled bodykit, sports suspension, pedals and a large rear spoiler, while the Titanium models added more luxury equipment to the supermini, including climate control, cruise control, lumbar support, velour floor mats and a Sony DAB stereo.

The range-topping Titanium X models received mainly safety features such as a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, and keyless entry and start. The sportier ST models were broken up into four trims too - ST-1, ST-2, ST-3 and ST200.

The entry-level trim got the full ST treatment including Recaro seats and 17in alloys, while the ST-3 was the only 178bhp model to feature sat-nav, cruise control, auto wipers and lights and climate control as standard. The ST200 was the only model available with the 197bhp 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine and came with a bespoke paint job, Recaro seats and 17in alloy wheels.

In other perhaps more fundamental areas however the quality of the underlying engineering continues to shine through, even to this day. The driving position is superb and aided not only by a height adjustable seat but a steering wheel that moves not only up and down but in and out as well, a function still not as common in this class as you might think. The dials are easily read too though some may quarrel with the design of their calibrations.

However if you want space on this platform, better buy yourself a second-hand B-Max. You may be able to buy a Fiesta with rear doors but that doesn’t mean those who’ll use them are going to be thanking you any time soon.

The Fiesta is actually quite compromised in the rear in terms of both leg and headroom even by the modest standards of the class, though the boot is large enough for most purposes for which such a car will be routinely used.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Ford Fiesta front quarter

For all the bewildering powerplant options facing the Ford Fiesta buyer at the time, one fundamental truth still shines through: unless you’re fortunate enough to be the market for a Ford Fiesta ST, for almost all people almost all of the time, the 1.0-litre three cylinder motor offers all the engine you’re ever going to need. 

In whichever guise you choose, this is a quite remarkable little unit and if you could see for yourself how much smoother, quieter and responsive it is than the 1.25-litre four cylinder engine, you’d see why we could not recommend too highly finding the extra money for the smaller engine. It is a car changer, simple as that.

The 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine renders virtually every other powerplant redundant

Of the three specifications available, we reckon the middle 98bhp version is the best value. It offers the preferable blend of talents for the money as you could get it in Zetec trim while you need to buy an ST-Line before you can get access to the 123bhp or 138bhp engine which behaves no differently unless you nail the throttle to the firewall. If you do though you’ll see the top speed rise from 112mph to 122mph and 125mph respectively, which is almost tepid hatch performance.

The diesel is a good engine too but you have to ask whether the savings in fuel over the already exceptionally frugal 1.0-litre engine is worth putting up with the inevitable diesel rattle.

All Fiestas of this generation, save the ST and the 1.6-litre, auto (both of which have six speed transmissions) transferred their power through an engagingly slick five speed gearbox. The only black mark is the conspicuously high intermediate gear ratios chosen, almost as if Ford had elected to prioritise its claimed fuel consumption and CO2 figures at the expense of engine flexibility for the driver. 

RIDE & HANDLING

Ford Fiesta side profile

Nothing could touch the Ford Fiesta in this area when it was new and now, several years on, nothing has come along in the interim to give us cause to modify that view. Despite the apparent similarity of the Fiesta chassis to all those in the class around it, for these purposes it might as well be in a class of its own.

Certainly if driving pleasure makes it anywhere near the top of your priority list, you shouldn’t be looking at anything else before first driving a Fiesta and finding out where the standard is set.

There is a verve to its road demeanour that no other cooking supermini in this class possesses

Really when you consider the hurdles it faces - its meat ‘n’ two veg rear axle design, the need to keep development costs under control and dimensions not conducive to promoting ride quality -  the fact Ford was able not only to make it drive properly but remain comfortable is little short of remarkable.

Unsurprisingly the 1.0-litre cars handled best (Fiesta ST aside), not just because they are relatively light but because that lightness keeps weight off the front wheels. The Fiesta never feels anything less than on its toes and ready to play. Its electric steering has much improved over the years and does a passable impression of offering decent feedback while proving accurate, positive and quick geared.

The chassis itself offers outstanding body control as well a useful and entertaining penchant for altering its line through a corner according to how hard you push the throttle. Like all the best Fords, the Fiesta does not require you to splurge on the most expensive versions before it’ll keep you entertained. In the Fiesta ranges, enjoyment has become entirely and impressively democratised.

Meanwhile your progress will be smoother than you might imagine possible from a car capable of such feats of agility. It’s been done by springing the car quite softly (made possible by the 1045kg kerb weight of a base 1.0-litre car), but controlling body movements with the damping control you don’t expect to find in a car in this class.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Ford Fiesta

With superminis like the Ford Fiesta, profit margins are so tight and the competition so fierce that you’ll struggle to find a car that is either woefully overpriced or an outright bargain. Legions of brand managers throughout Europe pore over spec sheets to ensure it is so. 

Sure enough, all the Fiesta models are priced to be in the ballpark of obvious rivals such as the Hyundai i20, Peugeot 208 and Vauxhall Corsa.

If the Ford looks a tad expensive, then taking discounts into account makes it a much more appealing proposition

The range of standard equipment is fair and the options are reasonable. However, Far Eastern rivals do tended to come with more kit as standard, and in many cases with longer warranties. 

Experience with various versions of the 1.0-litre Ford Fiesta showed that they often struggled to match the lofty fuel consumption claims made for them by Ford, and by a perhaps bigger margin than you’d normally allow for most cars.

Partly this is because it’s actually very difficult not to drive them rather more enthusiastically than you might any other common or garden tin box, but there’s no doubt you need to treat the figures with an even larger pinch of salt than usual.

If you want proof the fact that whichever output you choose, whether turbo or not, all 1.0-litre Fiestas apparently do 65.7mpg seems to provide it. Expect something in the mid 40s from the turbos and early 50s for the non turbo.

Diesel power will of course provide many extra miles for your gallon. Impressive as they are, diesels really only works for higher-mileage drivers, or those taking advantage of congestion charge exemption. It’s also worth remembering that the 1.25-litre engine is only available in Zetec-spec.

VERDICT

4 star Ford Fiesta

Some cars are like Roman Candles, shining so bright they obscure all around them until they burn out as their faults are uncovered and their position at the top of the class removed as quickly as it was acquired.

The Ford Fiesta arrived that way but still shows no sign of fizzling out, even now.

The Fiesta is at least above average at everything it does

Indeed the fact it remains so apparently indomitable despite rivals as capable as the Renault Clio and Peugeot 208 stands as a stark testament not only to its talents, but their enduring nature.

At the time, it was dynamically without an equal. It’s a car that’s crying out for an engine to do the chassis justice. That’s not to say the Fiesta isn't fun; ignoring the 1.25 engine, any other choice will allow you to drive with a smile on your face thanks to the quick-witted steering and fluid handling.

The Econetic, for an eco-biased supermini, made a great case for itself, too. It blends strong economy, low emissions and strong handling in an impressive and tempting package.

So, no the Fiesta wasn't perfect, not even close in fact, but if you’re one of many thousands of people who through economic gloom or just common sense find the idea of downsizing persuasive but fear the reality, there’s nothing we know more likely than a Fiesta to put a smile back on your face.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Ford Fiesta 2008-2017 First drives