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GAUTENG – Fresher-faced and leaner of frame than its well-regarded predecessor, the new Fiesta has to be exceptionally good to return to its fight with the likes of the Volkswagen Polo. We get behind the wheel of the 1,5 TDCi Trend model to see just how it shapes up...

Design

Ford has labelled the latest car’s aesthetic treatment as an evolution of the outgoing car’s design, but the differences are significant. The most notable change is the adoption of horizontal brakelamp arrangements that break away from the traditionally vertical items each generation has worn before. The array of creases adorning less chunky looking flanks and steeply raked A-pillars lend the latest Fiesta a leaner, more athletic bearing than its forebear, while the slight swell to the bonnet shell and prominent grille still give it a purposeful appearance.

Markedly improved interior

According to the folks at Ford, great lengths were taken to address what was seen as the previous car’s weakest point; the cabin. The fiddly, button-studded centre console array for the infotainment system has made way for a cleaner arrangement that’s centred round a large touchscreen interface and integrates the company’s Sync 3 technology, accommodating smartphone functionality such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

More solid, tastefully patinaed plastics – some sporting slush-moulded elements – adorn the cabin, and the driving position, although quite high-sited, affords a good view of the road. Ford has addressed the previous car’s limited rear legroom by utilising thinner front seatbacks, and while it’s still fairly cosy back there, it is at least capable of accommodating a brace of adult occupants.

On the road

The first thing you’ll notice with the diesel model is just how quiet the 1,5-litre powerplant is – not just "a distant rumble" sort of quiet, but a smoothness and lack of vibration that could have you double-checking the redline on the rev counter. But while it’s impressively refined, it’s no hard hitter. Peak power stands at a modest 63 kW and the maximum torque, although available at a low 1 750 r/min, is still just 175 N.m. Thankfully, the new Fiesta isn’t a portly thing and the gearshift is precise and snappy – you just need a good run-up and careful judgment when overtaking to hold your momentum.

There’s a hard-to-define "chunkiness" about the driving feel exhibited by almost all of Ford’s cars and that pleasing trait has come through to the new Fiesta largely intact. The steering, although light, is direct and has just enough feel to prove engaging. It’s difficult to say just how the car acquits itself dynamically, as our Gauteng launch route largely comprised arrow-straight B roads and highway stretches.

Still, the few bends and one narrowly avoided pothole we did encounter suggest that the chassis is still a supple one, and combines with a well-tuned suspension setup that served up a pliant ride on the mixture of road surfaces on our drive. On the highway, it feels planted and assured, while its ability to soak up a good deal of road noise makes it a pleasant long-distance companion.

Value

Ford has done away with its fairly Spartan Ambiente specification, now making the Trend its entry point into Fiesta territory. It’s a move that’s likely been introduced to ensure that Fiesta doesn’t tread on the toes of its more budget-conscious Figo cousin and factors in more standard specification in a bid to compete with the similarly priced Volkswagen Polo.

To this end, the Trend model is quite generously equipped. Features such as 16-inch alloy wheels, reverse parking sensors, the aforementioned Bluetooth and smartphone-enabled Sync 3 touchscreen infotainment system, and a comprehensive suite of safety features that includes six airbags, traction control and hill start assist are among the standard items. A four-year/60 000 km service plan, backed up with a 120 000 km warranty spanning the same timeframe, rounds off what’s a fairly competitive offering. In terms of pricing, it's a little difficult to line this particular Fiesta up with segment rivals such as the VW Polo, Opel Corsa, Kia Rio, Renault Clio et al, as it's pretty much the only diesel choice in its segment. At R292 500, this particular model is priced in a similar ballpark to the petrol-engined Polo 1,0 TSI Highline model, but even then the German car still doesn't come with as much standard kit as the Ford and its service plan covers 45 000 km against the Fiesta's 60 000 km item.

Overall

Given the quality and capability of its most prominent rival, the Polo, it’s fair to say that the Fiesta has its work cut out. Thankfully, it’s not just trading on strong standard specification, but serves up a refined and engaging drive to boot. Hopefully this, along with its more rakish design, will give it just enough ammunition in what’s going to be a tough fight ahead...

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