Ford’s new Fiesta has been out for a couple of years now and is starting to become a common site on the roads, but one model you don’t see very often is the Fiesta Zetec S. It’s currently the hottest version in the range and yet it’s a rare site on the roads. So is that because it’s not worth buying or because people don’t know it exists? I thought I’d have a drive in one and find out.
I’m a big fan of the new Fiesta’s styling. It’s so much better than the last model’s bland shape with even the lowest spec models looking pretty tidy, but the Zetec S adds a little extra glamour. Smart 16-inch alloys combine with a subtle bodykit to give a sense of performance – it doesn’t shout ‘LOOK AT ME’ like a Focus RS, but looks meatier than the base-spec models.
In The Cabin
Behind the wheel it’s typically Ford. Everything’s where you’d expect and within easy reach, and it all feels well screwed together (although maybe not to VW and Audi standards). It’s easy to get comfortable as the wheel adjusts for rake and reach, and it’s a nice place to sit. I’m not wild on the stereo controls, lots of trapezoidal buttons crammed together, but the large display is a nice touch. Equipment is reasonable, including aircon, CD , quick clear windscreen and Bluetooth.
Under The Bonnet
Powering the Zetec S is a 1.6-litre petrol engine that’s good for 118bhp, up on the old 99bhp engine thanks, in part, to the use of independently-variable valve timing. Power delivery is smooth all the way up the rev range, although the engine delivers most of it’s torque from fairly low down in the rev range, meaning you don’t have to thrash it if you’re not in the mood.
Economy is rated at 47 mpg (although I only managed mid 30s) and the C02 emissions are just 139 g/km, dropping it into band E so the Zetec S offers reasonable running costs.
Insurance is slightly high on the Zetec S as it sits in group 13, so that might put off some potential buyers, but servicing should be OK thanks to Ford’s big dealer network and relatively low costs. I’d recommend ringing around a few dealers first as I’ve discovered that they have wildly different attitudes to charging.
On The Road
Most Ford hatchbacks from the last ten years have been a much better drive than you might expect, and Ford’s chassis engineers have carried on the good work with this latest Fiesta.
The new car benefits from the use of stronger steel in the bodyshell, giving it much greater torsional rigidity – three times more than the old model. This in turn allows for stiffer suspension without sacrificing too much in the way of ride comfort, and that means you’ll suffer from less body roll in the corners. An extra benefit is that the new car weighs 40kg less than the old model, so there’s less mass for the chassis, engine and brakes to contend with.
On a quick run the Fiesta behaves so much better than you’d expect. Turn-in is extremely quick and body roll is kept neatly in check, so it hangs onto corners surprisingly well. Push hard into a corner and understeer sets in eventually, but up to about 8/10 pace the Fiesta feels quite neutral in balance.
One problem with having a good chassis is that it highlights how little power the Zetec S has got. As it stands the chassis can easily cope with everything the 118bhp can throw at it and could happily handle a bit more. You could always have a Mountune upgrade fitted to give you 140bhp, but even then I think the Fiesta would be happy pushing that to 150bhp and maybe beyond.
While the chassis lives up to expectations, the steering actually exceeds them. I’d been prepared to hate the electrically-assisted steering, as other cars I’ve driven with similar systems have been stripped of all sensation and feeling – it’s like steering by remote control. But on the Fiesta the steering is fairly well weighted (maybe a little too light), is very quick to respond and offers a reasonable level of feedback. You get enough sensation from the front wheels to feel confident enough to push harder, and that allows you to get the most from that excellent chassis. It might not be as feelsome as older cars, but by modern standards the Fiesta likes to let you know what’s happening.
The new Fiesta Zetec S isn’t perfect. The engine needs a bit more poke, the dash could do with a touch more ergonomic thought and the asking price of £13,645 is a tad optimistic (although haggle with your dealer and I reckon you could get that to under £12k).
But don’t let those minor points put you off what is otherwise an excellent hatchback. The Fiesta Zetec S looks the part and has performance that almost lives up to the styling, and while you won’t be breaking any lap records on a track day you’ll still have a car that’s perfectly capable of bringing a smile to your face on your favourite backroads.
Look for a second hand Zetec S and it starts to make much more sense. The new Fiesta is holding it’s value very well, but look around the big car supermarkets and you might be able to find a year old Zetec S for under £10k. The Fiesta I borrowed was a 58 plate with just 18k on the clock and was up for sale at £8,500 (it’s gone now) and there was nothing wrong with it. It felt mechanically sound and didn’t have a scratch on it. If I’d been seriously looking I would have been very tempted.
|PERFORMANCE||1.6-litre is good but needs more power||6|
|HANDLING||Another great Ford chassis with good steering||8|
|AFFORDABILITY||Low running costs but don’t pay the list price||7|
|DESIRABILITY||Zetec S badge popular, looks the part||7|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||A great hot hatch in the making … but not quite yet||7|