Ford Fiesta Active: The Fiesta pulls on its Gore-Tex hiking boots
Ford has broadened the best-selling Fiesta's appeal by giving it a smidgen of SUV style and attitude, says William Scholes
FEW cars of any size or type are as in command of their brief as Ford’s excellent Fiesta, writes William Scholes.
Perennially popular, the little hatchback is always but always in the upper reaches of the Northern Ireland sales charts.
It isn’t difficult to see why people love it.
Good to look at, value for money, inexpensive to run, well built and handily sized, the Fiesta is one of those cars that does pretty much everything well, with its credentials further enhanced by being one of the best-to-drive small cars on sale.
But even class champions like the Fiesta can’t afford to ignore the apparently unstoppable demand for SUVs, particularly as rival manufacturers are piling in to the market with supermini-sized baby SUVs.
That means cars like the Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008, Seat Arona and Volkswagen T-Cross, plus a bunch of others.
The problem is that while some of these cars are OK, others are pretty poor.
And none of the better ones are decisively better than their conventional hatchback siblings, respectively the Clio, 208, Ibiza and Polo. Ford has its own car in this sector, called the EcoSport, and it isn’t much good either.
One conclusion that can be drawn from these SUVs’ burgeoning popularity is that buyers are prepared to overlook a number of shortcomings as long as they can get a car with chunkier, SUV-lite styling and a slightly higher driving position.
All of which, quite logically, brings us to the car featured on this page, the Ford Fiesta Active.
Here we have an example of a very fine hatchback which has been treated to a bit of rufty-tufty body cladding, a set of roof rails and a gentle lift - by about the thickness of your thumb - in ride height.
It means, reckons Ford, you can have all the goodness of the Fiesta with some of the stylings of an SUV. Think of it as Fiesta in Gore-Tex hiking boots.
Volvo and Audi, with their Cross Country and Allroad models, have had success with this approach on larger estate cars, offering a perfect - and highly appealing - compromise for customers who want a smart estate car with off-road ability but without the size or excess of a full-fat SUV.
Others have tried to do this with smaller cars but with questionable, and mostly forgettable, results.
The Fiesta Active is a very fine hatchback which has been treated to a bit of rufty-tufty body cladding, a set of roof rails and a gentle lift - by about the thickness of your thumb - in ride height
Does anyone remember the weird-looking Volkswagen Polo Dune or the ill-starred Rover Streetwise? Thought not...
The Ford is a far more convincing effort than those cars, not least because the Fiesta is such a great car to begin with.
Indeed, you come away from the Active wondering why anyone would really want one of the junior SUVs instead. But that in turn may lead you to ask why you wouldn’t just buy a ‘regular’ Fiesta in the first place...
The rugged exterior and chunky 17-inch alloy wheels do make the Active stand out and, to my eyes at least, Ford has done a good job of dressing up the Fiesta’s familiar shape.
An 18mm increase in ride height comes courtesy of what Ford describes as ‘rough-road suspension’, which also brings a 10mm wider track. The Active has upgraded shock absorbers and Ford has even tweaked knuckle geometry; there’s more to it than a beefier set of springs, in other words.
Though the car remains front-wheel-drive, it does benefit from three drive modes, including ‘slippery’ which tweaks the traction control system to help negotiate, erm, slippery surfaces.
There are three Active trims, dubbed 1, B&O Play and X. All come with five-door hatchback bodywork.
Standard equipment includes lane-keep assist, automatic headlamps, a heated windscreen, electric front and rear windows, rear privacy glass, driver seat height and lumbar adjustment, air-conditioning and an infotainment system with smartphone mirroring.
B&O Play cars have their roof, roof rails and door mirrors painted in black and come fitted with a 10-speaker B&O Play premium audio system, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
The range-topping Active X gains part-leather upholstery, heated front seats, electric-folding door mirrors with puddle lights, satnav with DAB radio, keyless entry and start and a rear-view camera and parking sensors.
The Fiesta Active is an entertaining car to drive as well, with quick, accurate steering, strong brakes and an abundance of grip
Petrol cars get Ford’s super-smooth 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which is offered with four power outputs - 84bhp. 99bhp, 123bhp and 138bhp - and a six-speed manual gearbox. The 99bhp car can also be had with a six-speed automatic gearbox.
Two 1.5-litre diesels are available, with either 84bhp or 118bhp, and a six-speed manual gearbox.
Prices broadly align with the regular Fiesta’s Titanium and ST-Line trims; the cheapest Active 1, with the 99bhp petrol engine, costs from £18,350. Active B&O models start at £19,450 with the Active X priced from £20,800.
My test car was an Active X with the 123bhp petrol engine. It’s a great fit for the Fiesta - sweet-revving, responsive and punchy - though I couldn’t get my average fuel consumption above 40mpg, which is disappointing for a small car. My motorway-heavy driving perhaps didn’t do it many favours, but even so...
With the Active, as with any other Fiesta, you can banish fears that it’s going to be noisy and unrefined, on the motorway or elsewhere - this is as quiet a small car as you could reasonably expect, aided by an engine whose noise fades to nothing at a cruise.
It’s an entertaining car to drive as well, with quick, accurate steering, strong brakes and an abundance of grip.
The Active’s bespoke suspension set-up seems to have added a slender layer of extra comfort to the Fiesta’s already plush ride, or at least it felt that way compared to the last, standard car I drove. But then again, a regular Fiesta is a wholly commendable car in terms of how it steers, grips and rides.
It would be difficult to argue that the addition of its ‘slippery’ drive mode and modest suspension changes are enough to make the Active a must-buy for anyone who needs a small off-roader - a Suzuki Swift 4x4 is far more capable.
Rather, I think the Active’s appeal lies more in its chunky good looks than it does in anything engineering-related.
And that, plus the simple fact that it is a Fiesta - one of the best new cars on sale - make it an easy car to recommend.
AT A GLANCE
Ford Fiesta Active X
Price: £21,300. As tested: £22,000, with ‘luxe yellow’ exclusive paintwork, £750, and steel spare wheel, £150
Engine and transmission: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 123bhp, 125lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 121mph, 0-62mph in 10.4 seconds, 31-62mph in fourth gear in 10.4 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 49.6mpg-46.3mpg (WLTP combined), 38.7mpg (real world), 113g/km
Car tax: £170 in first year, then £145 annually
Benefit in kind: 26 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (87/84/64/60), 2017