Ford Fiesta Zetec S Red Edition,
I WONDER if in the First World we have all become mad. Because when we are buying something we always choose the most expensive option. Rather than the best. We have somehow got it into our heads that a £200 set of kitchen knives will last longer and do more cutting than a £100 set of kitchen knives. We think that a £4m house will suit us better than a house for £250,000. We assume the food in a restaurant with big numbers on the menu is bound to be better and tastier and nicer than a Big Mac meal. But is any of this true?
Well, it’s probably not true with the McMeal and it’s definitely not true when it comes to cars. I know this because I have spent yet another week with the Volkswagen Golf GTI and it’s completely perfect. You can spend 10 times more on a car and it will be worse. This is a fact. There is no room for debate.
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You may think that Volkswagen puts its brightest and its best engineers into the boutique, high-profile companies that it owns: Bugatti, Lamborghini and Bentley. But it doesn’t. It uses its absolute geniuses on the Golf, because that’s the bread and butter of its operations. The Golf has to be right.
And it is right. I drive a lot of cars and every single one of them does at least one little thing that is annoying. The Golf doesn’t. The way the seats slide about, the feel of the buttons, the weight of the steering, everything: it’s all absolutely spot-on. As long as you ignore the dashboard “eco driving” tips.
And then, sitting on top of this nest of perfection, we have the GTI version, which comes with more power than you were expecting — a lot more — and an amusing gearknob in the shape of a golf ball. Das ist fun, ja?
I drove a Porsche 911 GTS the other day and I thought it was pretty damn good. I was also very taken with the Bentley Continental GT V8 S. But the Yorkshireman in me says, “What’s the point?” Because neither of those cars is better in any way than the GTI.
Sure, they have more power, but, come on, be realistic. When does that do anything apart from use more fuel? Most versions of the GTI will average more than 40mpg and you’d have to be extremely committed in your Porsche or your Bentley to get away from it on anything other than a road through Monument Valley.
On a Welsh mountain road, in the rain, the VW would be faster. Much faster. So the conclusion is this. No matter what you can afford, buy a Golf GTI instead. It’s that simple.
Or is it? Because for about £9,000 less than a Golf GTI you could have a Ford Fiesta ST, which, if anything, is even more fun to drive. It’s more fun to drive, in fact, than almost anything that’s been fitted with four wheels. It’s a little gem, that car.
Of course it’s a little smaller than a Golf, but how often does that matter? Do you really go everywhere with a couple of prop forwards in the back, and a st bernard in the boot? No. For most of the time a small, unpretentious car such as this is handier than a bigger, flashier one.
If you have a Bentley, the day will come when you say, “If only this damn thing were a bit smaller, I’d be able to fit into that parking space, but now I’ve got to waste a further hour of my life looking for another.”
It’s the same story with the Porsche 911. There will come a day when you come out of a meeting to find some worthless layabout has keyed the flanks and carved rude words into the roof. Then you will think, “If only I’d bought something a bit less showy.”
I cannot think of a single thing, however, that would cause the owner of a Ford Fiesta ST to say “if only”. Unless, of course, he or she happens to try out the Fiesta Zetec S Red Edition that I took for a spin last week. Then he or she is going to say, “If only I had one of these.”
I cannot think of a single thing that would cause the owner of a Ford Fiesta ST to say “if only”
On the face of it, it’s a ridiculous car. It’s called Red because it’s red. There’s a black one called the Black Edition. I know. Mad. And it gets sillier because it costs only £1,250 less than the super-fast ST but comes with a three-cylinder 1-litre engine that’s so small it could easily be mistaken for a pencil sharpener. The block — and this is a true fact — would sit comfortably on a piece of A4 paper.
Do not imagine, however, that because it’s physically small, it is weedy. Because as any flyweight boxer will tell you, that’s a mistake. In fact this little engine produces 138bhp. That’s not a misprint. Ford has managed to extract 138 brake horsepower from an engine that has the same capacity as two cans of beer.
I remember the song and dance Daihatsu made when it developed a 1-litre engine for the Charade GTti that developed 100bhp. “We have made a hundred horsepower from just one litre,” the company said at the launch, moments before I stuffed its test car into a ditch and knocked the front off.
And now Ford has upped that to 138bhp. You might imagine that it’s a mass of turbo lag and torque holes and strange noises. But no. It makes a sort of “brrrrr” noise and is like having a west highland terrier under the bonnet. I completely loved it. I loved the speed as well. It gets from 0 to 60mph in nine seconds and will eventually reach 125mph. And yet because it’s a 1-litre car the insurance is cheap and it is said you’ll get more than 60mpg.
I haven’t even got to the best bit yet: it’s a Fiesta, which means it has an absolutely stupendous chassis. Maybe the chassis in a Porsche 918 Spyder is a bit better. And there’s no doubt the Ferrari 458 Italia has a peach too. But the little Ford is in the same league — it really is.
It absorbs bumps as though they’re not there, it has a tenaciously grippy front and a waggly tail, and above all it makes you feel — even at half-speed — very happy. It is a car filled with joy, and that’s a rare thing these days.
Maybe the controls are fiddly, and if you specify some of the electronic extras, you will find them extremely complicated to use, but you can solve that by not bothering. Who needs DAB radio anyway? Only those who enjoy long and sustained periods of silence.
The only real problem with this car is where you live, which is in Britain. Because if you sell your Audi or your Bentley or your Ferrari to buy one — which, if you had any sense, you would — all your friends and neighbours would assume that things were going badly in your life and not talk to you any more.
That’s because we live in the First World. And we’re all mad.
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Clarkson’s verdict ★★★★★
Buy a Bentley for show but drive this beauty
Ford Fiesta Zetec S Red Edition specifications
- Price: £16,145
- Engine: 999cc, 3 cylinders, turbo
- Power: 138bhp @ 6000rpm
- Torque: 155lb ft @ 1400rpm
- Transmission: 5-speed manual
- Performance: 0-62mph in 9.0sec
- Top speed: 125mph
- Fuel: 62.8mpg (combined)
- CO2: 104g/km
- Road tax band: B (free for first year; £20 thereafter)
- Release date: On sale now