Ford’s just unveiled the brand new Fiesta, the latest edition to the legendary supermini, and it's no budget slouch either. Ford’s packed the new Fiesta with more tech than you can shake an affordable stick at, and it's made it look like a baby Aston from the front too, while spitting out a full-blooded ST in the process.
I got a chance to drive the new Fiesta this weekend, and the first thing you notice about it is that Aston-esque grill up the front end. Ford used to own Aston, but it's a surprise to see something that looks quite so DBS-like on a supermini. It's certainly good looking from the front, even if the back is a tad less exotic. Apparently the new grill and shape isn't just about looks either, as Ford's managed to reduce the Fiesta's drag co-efficient to just 0.328, meaning it cuts through the air a lot better. Combined with a plethora of eco-engines, auto-start-stop when idle, and smart regenerative charging of the car's battery, the Fiesta's even greener for the planet and your wallet.
With the Fiesta, Ford's finally brought its innovative and possibly useful Ford Sync to a car you might actually be able to afford to buy in the UK. OK, the new Focus has it, and the B-Max has had it for a little while now, but who really wants a mini-MPV? For those who don't keep up with in-car tech, Sync is Ford's smart car interface and device integration tech, created in partnership with Microsoft. Now, I know what you're thinking -- hell no, I don't want Microsoft anywhere near my car; imagine if it performed an illegal operation in the middle of the bloody M1 -- but don't fret, Microsoft's not got its hooks into anything other than the in-car entertainment system here; a hardware firewall takes care of that.
Essentially, Sync allows you to hook up your phone or media device via USB or Bluetooth and control it all with your voice. It'll make calls by pulling down your address book; read texts, including support for a sampling of text speak and smileys, and browse your music by just shouting at your car. It's not natural language speech recognition, such as the likes of Siri or Google Voice assistant, but in practice it's pretty accurate. It managed to decipher what we were saying, even when we spoke to it in a pretend drunken slur, so rest assured if you've had a few too many you can still blare out the right tunes in your new Fiesta, even if you can't actually drive it. Ford reckons that it's reduced the time it takes to switch tracks or artists down to just 1.8 seconds, so it's quicker, and a heck of a lot safer, than trying to change the track on your phone while driving.
A big advantage Sync has over attempting to use Siri or its ilk in the car, is that it doesn't require a data connection to work, which is a real bonus. It currently supports most modern smartphones, with 290 tested and working, including Android, BlackBery, iOS, Windows Phone, and even Symbian, for what it's worth. Ford and Microsoft are continuing to develop Sync too, which is updatable via flash drive, and will soon support control of third-party apps on both Android and iOS. In our testing, Spotify worked fine with the current iteration of Sync, although only commands like next track, pause and play were valid.
That's not all the tech Ford's shoe-horned into the Fiesta for this generation, it's got Ford's personalised 'MyKey' driving setup, as well as 'Active City Stop' to correct your horrendous, no-look driving.
MyKey allows you to program particular keys with certain driving setups. Say you want your driving experience to always be as fast, responsive, and uninhibited as possible, but you want your car-borrowing little sprogs to have a safer, limited driving setup -- no problem, just use Ford's new MyKey system. You can customise in-car alerts for things like seat belts, the low-fuel warning, speed warnings, and even electronically limit the car's top speed, as well as disable the radio should little Jimmy decide he's not going to wear his seat belt. Not only that, but you can also limit the actual volume of the radio to just 45 per cent of its maximum, which should please the neighbours.
Meanwhile, if you're a bit crap at city driving, or you're just plain bored and concentrating on something else entirely more entertaining than the backside of a car, Active City Stop could be the answer to your crash-prone prayers. Simply put, the system stops your car even if you don't when it detects a collision is imminent, slamming on the brakes, killing the engine, and slapping your hazard lights on to warn others that you've forgotten where the brake pedal is. The car uses range and light detection sensors to monitor 15 metres of the road ahead 50 times a second, and gauges whether that car in front has stopped or not. It should stop you crashing into the back of someone at up to 10mph, and reduce the impact to something like a minor bump at up to 19mph. Sadly it's not going to recognise that pedestrian who's just stepped out in front of you though, so you're on your own with that one.
If the unfortunate does happen, and you do end up getting into a wreck, Ford's got a new emergency assistance module for Sync, which automatically calls the emergency services from your Bluetooth-connected mobile phone and might just save your life. It's pre-programmed to make that call in the native language of wherever you happen to be in Europe, too, firing over your exact location thanks to the on-board GPS -- handy if you happen to be doing the whole 'Brit's abroad' thing. It's activated when an airbag goes off, or when the car's fuel shut-off kicks in, giving you a brief window to cancel the call, should the airbag have gone off because some granny's just hit the nose of your car with her handbag or something. It'll bung you on speaker phone, just in case you're incapacitated, and will even transfer the call to your phone if you happen to step out of the car. It's a great, potentially life-saving feature that ought to be in every modern car these days, and doesn't even need a monthly fee like other services, because it just uses your Bluetooth phone. Five different phones can be paired with the car at anyone one time, which is great for music streaming, but it also means the car will attempt to call the international emergency assistance number, 112, from each phone in turn until it gets through. Ford's apparently done some crash tests with phones in the cabin, and found that both the Sync computer and the phones survive pretty nasty collisions.
It's not just in-car tech Ford's managed to pack the new Fiesta out with. Under the bonnet you have the option of Ford's new eco-boost engine. Don't be fooled by the name, the 1L, three-cylinder eco-boost might be small, but it packs a wallop. Eco-boost combines a turbo, direct injection, and independent variable valve timing to produce the power of a 1.6L engine with a much smaller displacement, meaning it drinks far less fuel. It's got really good low-end torque too, which means in a relatively small and light car like the Fiesta, it accelerates fast away from the lights. After having nuked the vibration traditionally caused by a three-cylinder engine, Ford was left with a really good, aggressive-sounding engine note, so not only does the eco-boost pack a responsive-punch, it also sounds great. In fact, it's so good that Ford's looking into using the technology to produce a less eco-minded engine that rivals the turbo-charged beast that it's going to shove into the new ST. Combined with responsive steering and decent road holding, the new eco-boost-equipped Ford Fiesta is an impressive little package indeed.
There's a lot to like about the new Ford Fiesta. From much improved interiors, Ford Sync, Active City Stop, and a load more in-car gadgets, plus a great ride and decent handling, the small car has never been quite so good. I just can't wait to see what the new Fiesta ST's going to be like. With a 1.6L, 182bhp turbocharged engine, electronic torque vectoring control, and an even better ride, that thing'll be one hot hatch. It's just a shame it'll probably come looking like a day-glow trainer just like the rest of the ST/RS line.