The Ford Fiesta suffered a bit of sales blip earlier this year. For the first time in three years there were a couple of months where it wasnâ€™t the UKâ€™s best-selling car. Still, after a brief pause itâ€™s regained its crown, with the new model selling 20,000 units since hitting showrooms in July.
Thatâ€™s off the back of the â€œcoreâ€ model range but Ford have a multi-stage strategy for the Fiesta to keep it top of the tree. Next year weâ€™ll get the crossover-styled Active and full-blooded hot hatch ST but this month the range has been expanded by the higher-end ST-Line and Vignale models.
Sitting above the regular Style, Zetec and Titanium lines they represent the sporty and luxury branches of the Fiesta family. Each gets individual styling and equipment to set them apart and to grab an even broader spread of customers.
Ford Fiesta ST-Line X
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 121mph
0-62mph: 9 seconds
CO2 emissions: 89g/km
ST-Line cars get a more aggressive edge thanks to a reworked grille, rear spoiler and all-round body kit as well as 17- or 18-inch alloys. Inside, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, sports seats and pedals continue the image and the suspension has been retuned to deliver a sportier drive.
Even the regular Fiesta is a fine handling machine. The previous generationâ€™s reputation as the best drive in its class was maintained by the new model and the ST-Line sharpens things up even more with its specially tuned suspension. Itâ€™s composed and poised on even seriously challenging roads. The steering feel and weight are tuned just right and combine with fantastic body control to offer a truly rewarding drive.
Yet thereâ€™s no sacrifice in ride quality, which remains impressively composed and smooth, especially given our test carâ€™s low-profile 18-inch wheels.
Vignale models keep the same on-road composure but do away with the firmer suspension setup. The focus here is very much on luxury. Ford insist that thereâ€™s no reason small cars canâ€™t have a premium feel so, along with the trademark Vignale grille and body styling, the Fiesta Vignale gets heated leather seats and steering wheel, an opening panoramic roof, auto climate control, the
ten-speaker B&O Play stereo plus the range-topping eight-inch Sync 3 system.
While that all sounds great itâ€™s a bit of a mixed bag. The quilted leather upholstery is a highlight, as it is in other Vignale models, and the high-end equipment is welcome but apart from some carbon fibre-effect trim and a leather dashtop the rest of the materials are the same as in every other Fiesta. The plastics on the doors and centre console are by no means bad but if Ford are serious about this being a luxury offering to take on the likes of the Audi A1 some slightly higher-grade plastics wouldnâ€™t go amiss.
Thereâ€™s also the small (quite literally) matter of the wireless phone charging pad, which is too tight for anything bigger than about 4.5 inches.
Alongside the ST-Line and Vignale are launched the ST-Line X and Titanium X. Titanium X is a step below Vignale, losing the styling and some of the high-end kit, while ST-Line X adds more luxury kit, including part-leather seats, the eight-inch screen and more driver assist features, to the ST-Line spec.
We tested the cars with the 1.5-litre, 118bhp diesel and six-speed manual gearbox, and the 99bhp version of the Ecoboost petrol mated to a six-speed auto. The diesel lacks a little in torque at times but kept in the right gear through the light, precise manual box it performs well. Itâ€™s also pleasantly refined even with a heavy right foot and offers mid-50s real-world economy.
Paired to the auto, the 99bhp petrol felt a little sluggish and a touch noisy when worked hard. From past experience the 123bhp version with the manual gearbox is the one to go for.
Thereâ€™s no doubting that both ST-Line and Vignale models are great cars, but so are more humble versions of the Fiesta that do without the styling and extra kit but cost hundreds, if not thousands less. The ST-Line makes a more convincing argument with styling and performance thatâ€™s a proven draw for younger drivers but the Vignale? Well time will tell.