Ford's outgoing Fiesta was good, but its image was too cardigan-and-slippers to appeal to most. The new Fiesta on sale April 15 certainly blows that image out of the water, with its almost muscular, edgy lines.
Fiesta's sculpted body covers an impressively grown-up car for one so small. That's a deliberate move. This is a global vehicle selling into a world that's downsizing; even in America the biggest-seller is no longer a truck. But those buying more compact and fuel-frugal don't necessarily want cheap or low-tech. Hence the up-market Honda Jazz variants, and Fiat's Blue&Me Bluetooth and voice control for its diminutive 500.
And hence this Fiesta. For it's not only handsome, it's packed with kit.
But first; there's a choice of two engines - a 88kW/152Nm 1.6-litre petrol mated to a manual transmission, for a claimed 5.9l/100km thirst, and the 71kW/128Nm 1.4-litre with its four-speed auto and 6.5l/100km claim.
The pre-launch drive was of the 1.6, on a wet and blustery day that prevented any exploration of the car's handling limits. Which is a pity, for Kiwis are keen drivers and I was keen to test Ford's assertion that though this is a global car, the suspension's tweaked to suit each market.
Despite the rain, initial impressions are good - and the Fiesta feels solid on the road, though tyre noise was more intrusive than expected.
Meanwhile that 1.6-litre engine may be more frugal than its predecessor, but it's also more powerful, and never feels busy slotted under this compact bonnet.
As for the cabin, it's as characterful as the car's exterior. Ford says the layout was designed to mimic a mobile phone's format, and it's intuitive to use while the ergonomics are good. I navigated my way through it without resorting to the manual, soon choosing radio stations by voice alone.
Yep, voice control in a $25,000 car. And it's not just a gimmick; it lets you control the phone and entertainment without taking your hands from the wheel, making those steering wheel-mounted audio controls redundant for the simpler tasks.
Both Fiestas arrive in Zetec spec, which includes Bluetooth hands free, also with voice control, plus stuff like USB and MP3 ports, and cruise control.
Last but not least, Fiesta plays the safety card. It gained a five-star NCAP occupant crash test rating and scored well for child and pedestrian protection too. It gets five airbags (including a knee bag), ABS brakes and stability control - increasingly seen as a must-have thanks to its ability to help drivers avoid crashes.
Overall, my initial impression is that this is an impressive car. It's small, but feels grown-up. Its strong design imparts visual character, and it delivers larger-car safety and features at a small-car price.
That takes the battle to the Mazda2, delivers the Fiat 500's tech features at a lower price, and trumps Honda's pricier Jazz, an otherwise excellent car that drops the ball by omitting stability control.