The All-new Ford Fiesta has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Launched late last year, it replaces a model which raised the benchmark for the supermini class and topped monthly sales charts in the UK right to the end of its run.
Bigger, more refined and with more equipment than ever â€“ but also costing more money â€“ can the new model pick up where the old one left off against a stronger field including the excellent SEAT Ibiza and the highly competitive Hyundai i20?
Early signs are positive. After a short absence the Fiesta is back at the top of the SMMT sales charts.
Ford Fiesta Titanium 1.0 Ecoboost 100PS
Price: Â£17,795 (Â£20,065 as tested)
Engine: 1.0-litre, three-
cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 113mph
0-62pmh: 10.5 seconds
CO2 emissions: 97g/km
Taking a leaf out of the premium manufacturersâ€™ playbook, the key word for the Fiestaâ€™s external look is evolution, not revolution. Itâ€™s still instantly recognisable as a relation of the old car and itâ€™s not instantly obvious what the changes are â€“ although you notice something is different. Itâ€™s a less sharp design overall, somehow softer. Itâ€™s larger and most noticeably different from the rear end.
Inside the cabin, the designers have been more radical. The fussy, busy and â€“ of late â€“ creaking interior of old, which changed little in the old modelâ€™s eight-year run is out, in favour of a more modern approach characterised by clean horizontal lines and a large touchscreen infotainment unit dominating the centre console.
The layout of the old car had prevented meaningful upgrades to the infotainment setup but the new modelâ€™s touchscreen brings with it the latest version of Fordâ€™s Sync system and should future-proof the Fiesta for the coming years.
Ergonomically itâ€™s a typically well-thought-out design from Ford, my only criticism being the size of the steering wheel which seems overly large for a relatively small cabin.
The new Fiesta achieved a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, scoring 87 and 84 per cent for adult and child occupant safety respectively, which Ford says is due to the Fiesta being the most â€˜â€™technologically advanced small car on sale in Europeâ€.
The new NCAP tests are more stringent than ever and are weighted towards cars featuring advanced accident mitigation technology. As standard, our test cars featured traffic sign recognition, auto high beam and driver alert and were fitted with the optional driver assistance pack which brings with it pre-collision assist, pedestrian detection, distance alert and adaptive cruise control.
I tested both diesel and petrol variants of the car. The diesel â€“ a 1.5-litre, 119bhp variant â€“ was the punchier of the two delivering a nought to 60 time of nine seconds. Refined and quiet it was a pleasure around town and had enough grunt to keep up with the motorway rat race.
The diesel is pricier than the petrol variant and with all the bad press affecting oil-burners at the moment Iâ€™d expect the petrols in the line-up to be the big sellers.
Particularly the 1.0-litre Ecoboost â€“ which is an engine Iâ€™ve raved about in the past. I tested the de-tuned 99bhp version, but 123bhp and 138bhp versions are also available.
Despite being the slowest of the turbocharged variants on offer (nought to 60 of 10.5 seconds) the little three-cylinder strikes a good balance between frugality and pep â€“ although Iâ€™d be inclined to opt for one of the more powerful tunings if I was planning to use it regularly outside the city.
Ford Fiesta Titanium 1.5 TDCI 120PS
Price: Â£18,525 (Â£21,280 as tested)
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 122mph
0-62pmh: 9 seconds
CO2 emissions: 89g/km
Where the old Fiesta excelled was in terms of its handling, and maintaining its fun-to-drive, easy and responsive nature must have been high on the list of design priorities at Ford, because this new model is once again a joy to handle â€“ despite being bigger and with a more refined ride than the old car.
The steering is perfectly weighted and precise, without being fidgety and thereâ€™s bags of grip even in comfort-oriented Titanium spec.
There are are more wallet-friendly cars than the Fiesta on the market â€“ but for the extra cash you spend compared with an i20 or a Kia Rio youâ€™re rewarded with a fun drive, solid build quality and decent refinement levels.
Itâ€™s top of the sales charts at the time of writing, and Ford will hope it can replicate the old carâ€™s success in staying there. One way or another itâ€™s a great time to be in the market for a small car.