7 Ford Fiesta

6.0 /10

FROM numero uno to seventh-best (or, ahem, third-last) is a long way for Ford’s multiple comparo-winning light car to topple. However, in more than one sense, Fiesta the comparo-king and Fiesta the tail-ender are not the same car.

For starters, today’s Thai-built, Astonsnouted Fiesta has been the recipient of some subtle – and not so subtle – de-specification compared with its earlier German-built predecessor.

The obvious stuff includes the less potent 1.5-litre four-cylinder that replaced the decent enough base 1.6, and the stingy deletion of steering-wheel reach adjustment. Then there’s the cheapened plastics in a cabin that was already the Fiesta’s least convincing aspect.

While Ford busied itself making its excellent light car less desirable, the game changed. You only have to witness where the Polo sits in relation to the latest-gen Mazda 2 and Renault Clio to understand the second reason behind Fiesta’s fall – all six cars ahead of it are newer, and four of them are considerably newer.

The Fiesta range includes a ho-hum base model, the impressive turbocharged threecylinder Sport and the sensational (still- German-built) Fiesta ST, so the appeal varies greatly. And in the middle there’s the Fiesta Trend chosen for Megatest duties. Turns out, unfortunately, that it’s the least persuasive of the lot.

So, while we’d own a hot-to-trot ST in a heartbeat, and would happily recommend a turbo-triple Sport, we’d steer anyone considering a Trend into a base Ambiente.

Then at least its price tag is as cheap as its interior. And we’d point anyone considering a base Fiesta at the six cars above it.

But, having tasted the options, we could understand why someone would buy an entry-level Fiesta. It’s far from a bad car and much more appealing than the pair below it in our ranking, as the star rating relativity suggests.

A point worth making here is that our rankings – especially for those cars tied on star ratings (the Swift and Fiesta) – is uncoloured by personal preference, but your buying decision certainly won’t be.

Anyone who values sharp steering and an incisive chassis should know that the Fiesta’s still got it. Feel that faint kickback at the limit? It signposts Ford’s dynamic value set that puts feedback ahead of over-refined numbness. More rounded newcomers like the Clio and Mazda 2 are in the game dynamically, but they can’t match the Ford’s front-end feel and fluidity.

The Fiesta’s twisty-road entertainment value is enough to take the driver’s attention away from the busy, cheaplooking centre console, nasty controls and mismatch of hard, scratchy plastics. Pity about the passengers, though, especially those in the back. “Good toe room” reads the only positive in my notes, which include references to the tight headroom, lack of grab handles or door pockets, sole cupholder and “okay” seat comfort.

Ride quality, somewhat unexpectedly in the context of Fiesta’s chassis talent, is compliant and comfortable.

But the engine, as the spec sheet suggests, is a bit less good than the one it replaced, being short 6kW and 11Nm, as well as a satisfying top-end power delivery and soundtrack. At least the dual-clutch gearbox is polished. It works well in Sport and is best left to its own shift map given the clumsy up/down shift buttons masquerading as a manual mode. Not just unintuitive, they’re slow to respond.

But blame the engine, not the transmission, for Fiesta’s 7.9L/100km economy, which was bettered by most.

In 2015’s light-car class, standout steering and chassis dynamics simply aren’t enough. What was once great is now sensitive to the spec level you choose; the Fiesta only makes sense in base or upper specs if you place a high value on handling.

At least, that’s what I’ll be telling everyone I’ve ever talked into buying one. – JW

FORD FIESTA TREND

$20,210* Engine 1499cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v Power 82kW @ 6300rpm Torque 140Nm @ 4400rpm Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 3969/1722/1469/2489mm Weight 1128kg Cargo capacity 276 litres Tyres Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 185/55R15 86V Economy 7.9L/100km 0-60km/h 5.1sec 0-100km/h 11.3sec 0-400m 18.1sec @ 125.0km/h 80-120km/h 8.8sec 100km/h-0 40.4m 3yr resale 64% . Steering, handling . Cheap and dated cabin * Includes prestige paint ($385)

Fiesta’s twisty-road entertainment value is enough to take the driver’s attention away from its cheap interior

Drinks club

ONLY the nail under the bonnet of the Barina slurps significantly more fuel than Fiesta, which is at the thirstier end of the scale. But that’s countered in small part by the fact the Ford is happy to be fuelled on 91 octane. Across this nine-strong field, the long-held belief that Europeans have more expensive tastes holds true. The Polo, Clio and 208 require pricier 95RON premium as a minimum, which is okay for the VW because it’s the most economical, but means the Peugeot will cost almost as much to fuel as the 91-sucking Barina.