FEISTY FIESTA (Ford Fiesta 1.0 Zetec Ecoboost 5dr)

CONTRARY to the old saying, growing up appears to be anything but a hard thing to do in the car business. This trend is most obvious in the supermini sector, where once small, feature-poor cars have been transformed into mature and capable all-rounders.

Of all the usual suspect to have experienced this transformation, Ford's Fiesta has surfaced with its engaging driving dynamics and sharp looks intact. In its defence, this latest generation small Ford was fortunate to have been engineered right first time. Blessed with sophisticated ride qualities and a cabin designed and built to emulate the high class ambience of the Focus and Mondeo, it had a clear advantage from birth.

Come refresh time and Ford's designers clearly took the plunge and went with the bold option, as the revised car sports a wide, dominant grille that mirrors some of its maker's more glamorous North American offerings. Inside, the Fiesta's cabin remains largely as before and it's changes to the centre console that are likely to generate the most headlines.

In a bid to continually drive down emissions and fuel consumption, small capacity three-cylinder petrol engines are starting to gain traction in the marketplace. Ford's decision to install its first effort in the larger Focus resulted in heaps of critical acclaim and proof that the 'small engine-big car' combination works without any significant compromises.

That engine has finally found its way into the Fiesta. Predictably the 125 horsepower unit delivers a useful slug of power and proves refined at speed. More interesting is the 100 horsepower version. The obvious question is whether sacrificing 25 horsepower in the name of economy and asking price results in a poorer driving and ownership experience. The simple answer is no. For all the Fiesta's upmarket cabin ambience and big-car equipment, it remains an obvious choice for urban motoring with the occasional longer run thrown in for good measure.

In five-speed manual gearbox trim, this Fiesta boasts a well-judged set of ratios to deal with all types of urban motoring. Brisk acceleration is easily achieved without any major effort from the driver or engine, while the latter's off-beat three-pot thrum is surprisingly endearing and only really becomes audibly vocal when pushed hard. Still, the upsides easily outweigh any negative experiences; with a lightweight engine under its bonnet the Fiesta changes direction with ease, the fast-acting turbo motor ensures a quick response at the urban traffic light Grand Prix while the on paper economy and emissions figures (99g/km CO2 and 65.7mpg) should please your bank manager if not the tax man.

For keen drivers Ford's ability to make a good car better should be applauded but the revised Fiesta's also been updated to please buyers seeking a rewarding ownership experience. Safety kit from the Focus has trickled down to the Fiesta, with Ford's low speed auto brake function helping drivers react quicker to, say, a pedestrian or car pulling out in front or stopping suddenly.

Creature comforts that you'd find on larger cars - parking sensors, heated mirrors - are also available depending on the trim level. An improved multimedia package is also offered, which boasts a tighter integration with your mobile phone and a more intuitive user interface. Dubbed 'Sync' it was first rolled out on Ford's American market cars and is now appearing on European models. Adding to its appeal is an SOS function, which is activated after an accident and alerts the local authorities.

If that doesn't grab you then, as a parent, Ford's MyKey innovation offers parents and other concerned owners some control over how someone uses the car. For example, if you want to minimise distractions whilst driving you can preset a low audio volume limit. To ensure your little darling doesn't accidentally run out of fuel it's possible to increase the threshold before the low fuel warning kicks in, and you can also set a speed limit to keep enthusiastic driving at bay.

And that’s what is so good about this revised Fiesta: the cosmetic enhancements have allowed the car to regain ground lost to more recent, youthful-looking rivals and the inclusion of the trick creature comforts should boost its appeal among feature-hungry buyers. In five-door trim it’s big enough to double as a family car if you’re brood is on the small side, but the Fiesta never feels bloated when driven with enthusiasm.

Overall, then, the Fiesta's slew of revisions have done much to help maintain its lofty position in the marketplace. For downsizers there's no real compromises to speak of, while those on the way up the car buying ladder will no doubt warm to the various creature comforts on offer. And, there's no getting away from the fact that Ford's three-cylinder petrol motor is a gem of an engine.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: Ford Fiesta 1.0 Zetec Ecoboost 5dr, £14,245 on the road.

Engine: 1.0-litre petrol unit developing 100bhp.

Transmission: 5-speed manual transmission as standard, driving front wheels.

Performance: Maximum speed 112mph, 0-62mph 11.2 seconds.

CO2 emissions: 99g/km.

Economy: 65.7mpg.

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