The enduring prevalence and market dominance of the Ford Fiesta is staggering. With over 4.5 million Fiestas sold in the UK since its release in 1976, it has been the best selling car in the UK for the last seven years.
The Ford Fiesta was approved for development by Henry Ford II (otherwise known as Hank the Deuce) – grandson of Henry Ford, the man who conceived the assembly line mode of production by creating the Ford Model T. The Fiesta was so-named not just for the sake of alliteration, but as an allusion to Ford’s recently opened factory in Spain.
Today, it is unbeatable in the realm of the supermini – that class of vehicle smaller than a family car but larger than a city car. The Fiesta’s all-purpose dimensions make it a car with a wide appeal, but there is a lot more going on under the hood to make this model a highly desirable drive – and Oodle’s top seller, month after month.
We sat down with Ford Fiesta engineer Robert Stiller, Ford Fiesta product manager Chris Rushton and Ford Britain product affairs manager Oliver Rowe to pinpoint precisely the secret of the Fiesta’s perennial success.
“One reason the Ford Fiesta is so popular is its front-wheel drive,” says Robert. “It gives the car a certain charisma defined by highly characteristic steering, braking and handling – which is always top of its class.”
Aside from defining the car’s unimpeachable handling, the front-wheel drive allows designers to capitalise on more interior space by doing away with the drive shaft – thereby freeing up room for passengers and making the best possible use of limited supermini dimensions.
After so many years at the top of customers’ wish lists – and so many years of one in twenty cars sold being a Ford Fiesta – the car has become a cultural force in its own right. Not just here in the UK but across Europe, the Fiesta has become a part of our daily life – whether we’re seeing or driving them.
“There is a long heritage of Ford in the UK as well as Germany,” says Robert. “It has been so unbelievably popular over the years. I was told it is perceived as a Great Britain vehicle, so people are really proud when they buy a Fiesta – and the same is true here in Germany. I think this is additional factor in its popularity”
“Our launch campaign for the new Fiesta was all about how Ford enables Great British progress,” says Chris. “If you look up our TV ad on YouTube you see we do celebrate the Fiestas over the years. You see a couple of snapshots of previous generation Fiestas so we really did try and tap into that with the launch of this new one.”
Ford has been careful not to reinvent the Fiesta beyond all recognition; they feel a responsibility to the car’s history, which must be balanced with providing a product that is always improving technically and stylistically.
“I think the key to it has been the evolution and investment that has gone into the Fiesta as a nameplate,” says Chris. “We’ve made it relevant for every new generation so it’s always had the core appeal of being fun to drive.
In some ways, the Ford Fiesta was borne out of necessity, designed partly in response to the 1970s fuel crisis that left people crying out for smaller, more economical motor vehicles. Through necessity, motorists discovered the convenience of more modestly sized cars.
“Now, the supermini especially is the most popular in Britain,” says Chris. “I think people realised that size car is perfect for them.”
It’s not just the size that is economical in a Ford Fiesta though; today, the need to conserve fuel is an ecological imperative as much as it is a response to market forces – so the work to reduce consumption continues apace.
“In terms of the powertrains,” says Chris, “we’ve evolved the design but also have a fantastic engine in the Ecoboost. The 1 litre Ecoboost has won the best small engine of the year seven times in a row, and won overall engine of the year a few times. Sub 100 grams CO2, it’s a really responsive engine as well – so you can drive it very frugally and with minimal emissions, but it’s also got the drivability and acceleration you need in urban and motorway environments.”
After more than four decades of taking us from A to B, the Ford Fiesta has inevitably become ingrained in the memories of millions. The name, the look, the feel – nearly everyone will have a certain story relating to a certain model and a certain time in their lives. It’s a powerhouse of motoring nostalgia.
“I learnt to drive in a MKI Fiesta,” says Chris. “It was inherited from my grandmother and was an old V reg in a very attractive beige colour. I was born in 1977 so I’ve very much had Fiesta with me my whole life. The MK1 really started the ball rolling for Fiestas. It’s probably my favourite.”
“I’m not that old yet,” Robert laughs. “I worked on the outgoing model a little bit but the new Fiesta is my baby as I’ve spent the last four to five years of my career really starting from scratch. My all-time favourite Fiesta is the ST-Line from the new model.”
“I love the XR2,” says Oliver. “The red XR2 used to be in a programme called Cat’s Eyes when we started doing TV placement, which we still do and we have one in the heritage collection. They call the wheels pepper pot wheels because they look like the top of a pepper mill, so that would be mine.”
Ford recognise the personal connection that drivers form with their Fiestas, and to that end they do everything within their power to foster that tailor-made feeling.
“We now offer an unlimited choice of different series,” says Robert, “so we have the ST-Line/Vignale, the Active/ST soon next year so lots of choice for the customers. And there are so many opportunities to individualise the cars. You want a two-tone roof? You’ve got it.”