Ford ready to unleash a new Fiesta on the sales charts
THE Fiesta is enormous business for Ford - it is Northern Ireland's favourite new car and has been the best-seller in the UK for seven years - so it is little surprise that the company has thrown the kitchen sink at the model, writes William Scholes.
It will arrive in our showrooms next year, bringing with it a push upmarket - a potentially risky move for a model which has traditionally offered a very wide range of choice, including at the budget end of the price spectrum.
The styling is a safe evolution of the current car but where Ford has been more radical is in how it is setting up the Fiesta's trim levels.
Titanium is likely to be the big seller, but there is also Vignale - a posh trim which seems, to me, to be a throwback to the Ghia models of old - and sporty ST-Line.
An ever-so-slightly jacked-up version, dubbed Active, is spoken of by Ford as being a crossover. The suspension hike seems so modest that, with a bodyshell unaltered from the other Fiestas, the crossover label sounds a bit of a stretch.
Still, roof bars and a bit of plastic cladding bring SUV design cues to the little hatchback. Other Ford models will also soon receive the 'Active' treatment.
Ford feels the world is ready for a more upmarket Fiesta range - it says 60 per cent of its sales in 2016 were of higher specification models - and hopes the new Ka+ can meet the needs of customers who simply want a small, cheap car.
If the basic exterior design is closely related to the outgoing car, thankfully the interior is more radical.
This is a real weak point of the current Fiesta, whose dashboard design in particular is leagues behind rivals.
The new car gets a proper touchscreen, at last, and the button count has been drastically slashed.
The Fiesta has never been the roomiest of superminis but a marginal stretch of the wheelbase and slimmer seats has liberated a little more room for those committed to the back seats, says Ford.
Ford reckons the Fiesta is "the world's most technologically advanced small car", at least when specified with the full phalanx of optional equipment.
Cameras, radars and ultrasonic sensors scan 360 degrees around the car and monitor the road 130 metres ahead to make gadgets tick, including - deep breath - pre-collision assist, pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition, automatic main beam, cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, driver alert, a lane keeping aid, adaptive cruise control and automatic parking.
Ford says the exterior - which has grown a little longer and wider - has been "optimised" for a "more upscale appearance".
"Parking sensors are now fitted flush with the body panels; windscreen washer nozzles are hidden beneath the upper bonnet lip; there are no visible screws in the taillights or rear fascia; the shut line between the roof and the rear liftgate is reduced by more than 30 per cent - all examples of the Fiesta team's obsession with quality that customers will instantly appreciate," it declared.
Ford's design director Joel Piaskowski said Fiesta customers love the design of the outgoing car.
"We evolved the design to make it more contemporary, yet not lose the 'Fiesta-ness' that the customers love," he said.
"The next generation Fiesta is refined, yet much more sculpted with an equally emotional appeal."
Engines at launch include the three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol unit in 99bhp, 123bhp or 138bhp flavours and a 1.1-litre with 69bhp or 84bhp.
The diesel option is a 1.5-litre engine with either 84bhp or 118bhp.
The current Fiesta is noteworthy for being far more fun to drive than most other small cars, and Ford says it has worked hard to keep keener drivers happy, with better steering, more grip and improved suspension.
We will be able to judge for ourselves how well it all works - and what it costs - when the new Fiesta goes on sale.