REVIEW DATE: 05 Sep 2008
Ford's Zetec-S Fiesta looks to capitalise on the sharp dynamics of the standard car. Steve Walker reports.
The market is constantly edging forward but at the moment and for the foreseeable future, it's probably safe to assume that around 200bhp is the requisite amount of power for a proper thoroughbred hot hatch. With 150bhp, a supermini is in warm hatch territory but where does that leave the 119bhp Ford Fiesta Zetec S? Ford is relying on this model to come up trumps against the zillions of other sporty flavoured superminis on the market but in terms of outright grunt, it looks a little underdone. Surely there's more to the Blue Oval's offering than that.
This is Ford we're talking about and the marque didn't conjure its reputation for great fast small cars out of thin air. The Zetec-S brand may only trail-in a creditable third behind Ford's ST and the fabled RS model designations in the potency stakes but bronze medals in that glittering company are definitely keepers. There's no doubt that the power the Zetec-S is generating places it alongside some pretty mediocre supermini fare but this is a car that prioritises guile over brute force.
The petrol engine responsible for the power supply in the Fiesta Zetec-S is a clever 1.6-litre variable valve timing unit called the 1.6 Ti-VCT. It manages without the assistance of a turbocharger despite its suggestive T-studded title. Peak power hits at 4,000rpm but there's quite a bit going on from around 2,500rpm helping make flexibility a strong suit. The engine responds sharply to tweaks of the throttle and should you give it everything, the 0-60mph sprint is over and done with in 9.9s.
The Zetec-S never feels massively fast in a straight line but even a brief stint in it should be enough to dispel the idea that power is the major determiner of fun in a small hatch. Flowing down a twisty road on its sports suspension, the Zetec-S Fiesta works a treat. The variable power-assisted steering weights up with speed, instilling confidence, the car a model of pert agility. It takes some quite boneheaded driving to unsettle it at which point, a sensible amount of wheel slippage is allowed before the stability control safety net is unfurled.
"There are plenty of more powerful superminis than the Fiesta Zetec-S but those that are more enjoyable to drive are a rare breed indeed."
The Zetec-S never feels less than safe and predictable, the power is deployed without a hint of fuss and grip is plentiful. When you're not in fun mode, the ride isn't too firm and the suspension copes very well with surface blips as well as undulations and peculiar cambers. The 1.6-litre engine is loud at motorway cruising speeds but general refinement is not a problem. At low speeds, the steering becomes super light allowing you to twirl through tight turns, the engine profile is even changed making it more difficult to stall the car. Rear visibility in this three door-only model is hampered by the thick C pillars and rising belt line but most will happily crane their necks a little in the knowledge that passers by will be doing likewise in a bid to take in the car's dynamic styling.
The Fiesta is quite a dramatic thing to clap eyes on. Ford's 'Kinetic' design themes as seen on the Mondeo, S-MAX, Focus and others are put to work again but the signature features seem to gain cohesion in closer proximity on a smaller car. The eye is led along the creases, across the cutaway surfaces and the multi-angular effect is highly dynamic in total. That's just the basic design. The Zetec-S model tags on a substantial rear spoiler, a body kit and 16" alloy wheels but the result is well integrated and doesn't prove too intrusive on the essential look of the car. The interior reprises the edgy and angular themes of the outside, the fascia contrasting soft-touch materials with hard silvery plastics. The car feels modern and is very nicely executed in terms of quality with a pronounced modern feel.
Living with a Fiesta Zetec-S is likely to call for fewer compromises than you'd imagine with a small sporty hatch. In profile a striking wedge shape is revealed with the lower edge of the side windows lifting towards the rear as the roofline falls away. This doesn't bode well for the rear seat passengers in the three-door car but the Fiesta surprises with decent legroom and headroom that's manageable even for a six-footer. The windows are small and set high up so light isn't abundant in the back but the shopping bags, coats and road atlases that owners will store there most of the time won't be overly worried.
The front seats are the place to be and particularly the driver's one which has an unusually wide range of adjustment through which a great driving position can be obtained by almost anyone. The controls look futuristic but are remarkably easy to grasp with a sensible distance kept between the ventilation buttons and those that govern the entertainment system.
The Zetec-S trim level resides in the upper echalons of the Fiesta range and comes with a nice package of equipment thrown in. You get the usual air-conditioning, entertainment system trip computer plus some unexpected ones like the remote ignition and entry system, the quickclear heated windscreen and a perimeter alarm. The trim level is offered in three-door form only with a choice of the 1.6-litre petrol engine or an 94bhp diesel of the same size.
The entertainment system is particularly noteworthy featuring a USB input and a feature that will access the music on your player or USB device and display it in a menu on the car's central screen ready to play. Being as easy to operate as a pay phone used to be held up as the gold standard for a vehicle control interface but Ford prides itself on the Fiesta being as simple as a mobile phone. The various audio and telephony controls are designed to mimic the operation of a mobile phone's menu systems which are second nature to the twentysomthing target market for the car. They work well enough with practice but if you still can't send a text, this may not be the vehicle for you.
The up side of any perceived lack of power in the 1.6-litre petrol Fiesta Zetec-S is economy that will out-muscle the majority of sporty superminis. 47mpg is very good going for a model that serves up fun of this magnitude as are 139g/km emissions. This Mk 6 version of the Fiesta is actually 40kg lighter than the Mk 5 and that weight saving along with the advanced engine technology has a big impact on fuel consumption.
There are plenty of more powerful superminis than the Fiesta Zetec-S but those that are more enjoyable to drive are a rare breed indeed. There's no doubt that the Fiesta's chassis rigidity and poise on the road will see it thrive in more power-packed forms but let's not get greedy. Ford is content to let other manufacturers cling to their superior bhp ratings. When the battle moves from the technical spec sheet to the tarmac, the Fiesta will be quick to claim the upper hand.
As a package of looks, handling and practicality, there's little to touch the 1.6-litre Zetec-S Fiesta at this price. There will always be those who want more power but Ford has struck a nice balance between pace and affordability in this mainstream sporty supermini.
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