Car Reviews First Drives

2018 Ford Fiesta European-Spec Review: Solid Improvements Tantalize Us

One of the best subcompacts available. If it were available

One of the best subcompacts available. If it were available

What’s happening to One Ford? (You know, Ford’s corporate re-engineering scheme launched a decade ago.) It was meant, inter alia, to save costs and make better cars by doing one vehicle for each segment and selling them globally. After the Fiesta, we got a worldwide Focus, Fusion, Edge, Escape and more. OK, they didn’t all wear the same badges as they rolled out across the oceans, but they were pretty much the same cars.

But here is Europe’s new Fiesta. Will it land here soon? Suddenly everyone at Ford comes over all taciturn. An engineer quietly told Motor Trend there’s no technical issue with its going global, but the PR department’s lips are sealed. We asked the question and got an answer to a different question. “We are introducing the new Fiesta in Europe and Middle East and Africa at this time and will have more to say about other markets at a later date. Fiesta remains an important part of our lineup.”

So will the current Fiesta be replaced by this new one here, too? Right now it’s built in Mexico for U.S. sale. Could the POTUS have tweeted it out of existence? Or has Ford decided to shave small-car costs by skipping a generation in the U.S.? It pulled that cheap trick before, with the Focus in 2004 when Europe got a new car, but North America was palmed off with a face-lift.

Just in case these two conspiratorial speculations are wrong and the new Fiesta will come here, we tried out the Euro-market version. Or if it doesn’t come here, take a read and file it under forbidden fruit. Because as baby cars go, it’s pretty fruity.

Its basic proportions resemble the current car. The initial plan was to update the sheetmetal and fix up the over-designed but cheap-feeling dashboard plus add some driver-assist tech. The original platform was to have been retained.

But in the end there was a whole lot of mission creep, and very few parts except the three-cylinder engine have lived on unaltered.

For instance, they installed new seats derived from Focus items, with a wider range of adjustment, which meant the whole floor pressing was changed. The front track was widened by more than an inch, achieved by new control arms. So they felt they might as well take advantage by doing new uprights, new struts and top mounts, etc. They wanted more lateral stiffness in the rear suspension, so they built a whole new torsion beam. The wheels are bigger, and the brakes are stronger. The manual transmission is a new six-speed. “We had an argument with the finance people at every stage,” shrugged an engineer while describing the changes.

Meanwhile, back to the changes they planned at the start. Design was led by Ford of Europe director Joel Piaskowski, who’s soon to return to Dearborn, Michigan, to run car and crossover design. The Fiesta has fewer creases than before but fuller curves in the surfaces. All exterior panels are new. The clearest change is at the rear, where horizontal lamp clusters replace the old vertical ones.

Additional driver aids include adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking—which spots pedestrians as well as vehicles—lane keeping assist, road-sign detection, blind-spot detection, and cross-traffic alert. For a mainstream small car, that’s pretty comprehensive even if it is mostly optional rather than standard.

The new cabin ditches the angular design of the old one, gets a bigger instrument binnacle, and has a touchscreen mounted in tablet format. It’s the first time the Euro-Fiesta has had full Sync 3, though the U.S. has had it for a while. It works well. In many models it’s paired up with an audio system branded B&O Play. Proper adjustable items replace the old coin-flap vents, and the HVAC controls are less toylike. But the quality of some cabin plastics, especially the horrid door pulls, still leaves room for improvement.

The wheelbase has grown negligibly, so improvements in the Fiesta’s class-mediocre rear seat and trunk space are similarly modest, mainly brought about by no-brainers such as strategically thinning the seat cushions.

We sampled the 138-hp version of the 1.0-liter engine. Its peak torque differs little from the 123-hp one currently sold in the U.S., so its behavior is similar but with a greater keenness to chase the 6,600-rpm cutout. It vibrates distinctively though not annoyingly in the mid-revs.

The new six-speed transmission shifts slickly, and unlike many small-car trannies it doesn’t feel like it’s been over-geared to meet economy tests. It’s interesting to note that the auto version switches from a DCT to a six-speed torque converter.

On summer tires, the new version finds remarkable grip through corners and maintains its cornering balance gamely. So you just pile it into curves with increasing abandon. Sure, that implies there isn’t the throttle-adjustability of the current ST, but remember this is the shopping edition. It’s 160 inches of proof that driving a slow car flat-out can be more fun than driving a fast car slowly. It’s precise and progressive, and it manages reasonable feedback as you try to rub the writing off the tires’ sidewalls.

It’s true the damping can eventually let slip on difficult cresting surfaces. But there’s an answer to that. An ST-Line package has better dampers as well as stiffer springs and anti-sway measures, so it keeps itself under tighter control.

Neither car has a pillowy ride, but they take away sharp edges from the surface, and their suspensions feed up little noise to the cabin. In fact, the Fiesta’s overall refinement remains a strong asset. It’s not just about muffling any acoustic intrusion from suspension, wind, and engine. It’s also about the slick and well-engineered feeling of all the controls.

The Fiesta was never a space-optimized small car. In the face of new generations of the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa Note, that’s clearer than ever. But if you don’t need to carry four U.S.-spec adult males or two bicycles, it’s a great use of fuel and urban road space. And when you get it out of the urban confines to canyons or highways, it excels.

It’s not transformative because it had no need to be. But it’s a solid update, and Americans would have the right to feel pissed if denied it.

View photos of the 2018 Ford Fiesta Euro-Spec Titanium here:

View photos of the 2018 Ford Fiesta Euro-Spec Vignale here: