Ford's Fiesta is a small car on the up. Since its fairly low-key start in 2004, when it sold a very respectable 3900 units, the small Ford takes up around ten percent of light car sales, up against the Toyota Yaris and Mazda2.
This is a hotly contested segment as the target market is made up of bits of multiple demographics. Ford says first-time buyers, first-time new car buyers and also empty nesters buy these sorts of cars, but a lot more besides will consider it.
Explore the 2014 Ford Fiesta Range
Ford is at great pains to point out the "premium-ness" of the Fiesta. For now, the Thai-built five-door range is composed of one engine and two models - 1.5 litre four cylinder Ambiente and Trend. Gone is the old diesel - nobody (well, around 3% of buyers) bought them and Ford says that the extra outlay for the diesel made no sense with the petrol engines returning such good fuel economy.
The basic Ambiente with steel wheels and a five-speed manual starts at $15,825, rising to $19,825 for the Trend PowerShift. All Fiestas get SYNC, bluetooth and power windows all round as well as cruise control. The Trend adds 15-inch alloys and front fog lamps to the reasonably generous spec of the Ambiente.
In December, the Sport will join the range in either five-speed manual or six-speed PowerShift for $20,525 and $22,525 respectively. The Sport adds bigger wheels again, part leather trim, firmer suspension, Sony stereo (which looks like an explosion in a button factory) and the 1.0 litre EcoBoost engine. Capped priced servicing applies to all and will be around $1900 over six years.
The new Fiesta is the old Fiesta but with a mid-life refresh. Cynics might say that the virtually unchanged looks means the company is being lazy, but when a car looks good already, why mess with it?
There's been a bit of fiddling with lights and bumpers. The most notable change is the nose - the trapezoid grille has been lifted higher and now sits more proudly, bringing it into line with the rest of the global Ford range.
Inside it feels a little dated. The plastics are a bit hard and shiny but seem tough enough. The entertainment controls still look like a 2001 Nokia mobile phone and there are too many buttons. The interior's materials have had a refresh, lifting the cabin. But it's very black in there, saved only by the light-coloured headlining.
There's been a fair bit of change under the bonnet. The 1.6 litre petrol is gone in favour of a similar, but smaller, 1.5 litre. It's a bit peaky, 82kW at 6800rpm, but the 140Nm arrives earlier at 4400rpm. It's not relaxed by any stretch, but most buyers won't care. There's a choice of five-speed manual or six-speed double clutch, which Ford calls PowerShift.
In December, things get a bit more interesting - Ford's EcoBoost 1.0 litre turbo triple cylinder will come on stream, meaning an impressive 92kW and 170Nm.
As before, the Fiesta is a very competent and sometimes even fun car to drive. While the tyres are a bit skinny, there's plenty of grip from the front wheels and a little bit of life in the lax rear end.
Ford of Europe took care of the ride and handling, making a few detail changes to the Fiesta. The anti-roll bars are 15 percent stiffer and the electric steering has been tweaked to suit the changes.
While the rear-end is still quite soft, the Fiesta's handling finesse has improved. It can be thrashed quite mercilessly through tight and twisty bends, while maintaining composure. It does roll, but it's controlled and progressive.
The launch test loop featured some fast bends, one of which had a gigantic dip, but the car shot through it, shrugging off the dive without a noise and the cabin without a squeak.
Its limits aren't lofty, but you can have some fun. If you want something with a bit more go, best wait until the 1.0 litre EcoBoost, which is a brilliant engine already available in Ford's EcoSport.
The engine gets a bit buzzy towards the redline and seems to sound more breathless in the PowerShift than the five-speed manual. Both transmissions are fine, although you have to wonder why there are only five speeds on the manual.
Ford explained that just 30 per cent of Fiesta buyers choose manual. It's not really an excuse in a "premium" hatch, but the dual-clutch PowerShift makes up for it with a sixth gear. Unlike VW's DSG, the Ford is much better off the line, much smoother.
It also shifts very smoothly through the gears, even in sport mode. It would be nice for gearshift paddles to be standard, but they are unavailable
Passengers should enjoy the ride, too - for a stubby little car, it's very well damped over even big bumps and will handle both highway and city without ruffling anyone's lunch.
There's a new ECO feature on all Fiestas, which is a shift-up indicator on the dashboard, letting you know when to move up a gear to save fuel. If the car thinks you're doing a good job, little tree leaves grow in the dash screen. Cute, but we were too busy having fun on the launch drive route to test that feature, so that will have to wait for a more rigorous test.