Ford Fiesta Zetec S TDCi
by Owen Mildenhall
Since its debut in 1977, the Fiesta has been one of the UK's most popular cars. And with nearly 80,000 of the superminis hitting our streets last year, it's still a best-seller. But with Britain's love of fast Fords, the lack of a performance version has left many disappointed.
Now the waiting is over! With the introduction of three new models, the range has just got a lot livelier. Last week, we were the first magazine to get up close and personal with the 150bhp ST. But also hitting showrooms in January will be the new Zetec S - designed to offer sporty handling and looks, yet be cheap to buy, run and insure.
There are two engines to choose from - the firm's 99bhp 1.6-litre Duratec petrol unit and a new 1.6-litre TDCi oil-burner, producing 89bhp. The Zetec S follows the lead of cars such as the Skoda Fabia vRS and Peugeot 206 HDi GTi in using the high torque characteristics of a diesel to deliver strong performance in a small hatchback.
With 204Nm, mid-range power is impressive, the car's tractability negating the fact that it's 1.3 seconds slower from rest to 60mph than the petrol model. While it's a little noisy at idle and when labouring at low revs, once cruising at motorway speeds, refinement is good and the engine's flexibility allows easy overtaking.
With a combined 62.8mpg figure and group six insurance, the Zetec S should be cheap to own, too. And opting for a diesel doesn't mean you have to compromise on the sporty looks, as both Zetec S models are identical, following the look of their ST big brother.
Featuring the same deep front and rear bumpers as the 2.0-litre flagship, the Zetec S also gets its mesh grille, rear spoiler and front foglights. While it lacks the ST's side skirts, colour-coded door handles and mirrors, the styling cues and 16-inch alloy wheels give the S a chunky appearance. Inside, the front sports seats are supportive and trimmed in attractive fabric, while the leather steering wheel lifts an otherwise sombre cabin.
Sitting 10mm lower than the standard car, stiffened springs and dampers bring sharper responses. As the diesel is only marginally heavier than the 2.0-litre petrol unit found in the ST, the Zetec S offers sharp turn-in and excellent front-end grip. And while the suspension fidgets over bumpy surfaces, Ford's chassis engineers have done a good job of sharpening the handling without compromising the ride.
Adding a fun chassis to the punchy nature of the TDCi engine means the Fiesta Zetec S should appeal to those who want entertainment, without having to pay for the privilege at the pumps.
The Zetec S delivers the ST's fun handling without the insurance penalty of a large power output. Offering a diesel is a clever move, as it provides performance and economy in one package. Sure to appeal to buyers wanting a warm hatch with smart looks, the Zetec S broadens the Fiesta's appeal.
At a Glance
* Petrol Zetec S costs £11,595
* Available in four colours, metallic paint a £325 option