2018 Ford Fiesta Active first drive review - Riding the SUV craze

Our first taste of the jacked-up Ford Fiesta Active reveals it as the range's all-rounder

Almost one in five vehicles Ford sold in Europe in 2017 was an SUV, and nowadays it seems like anything remotely looking like a sports utility vehicle will sell. Besides its increasing range of SUVs that includes the EcoSport, Kuga, and Edge, Ford believes it can also attract buyers by offering high-riding versions of its regular passenger cars.

It's something other carmakers have done for quite a while now, so Ford too wants a piece of the action. These jacked-up models from Ford Europe sport the "Active" designation and the Fiesta Active is the first one to come, soon to be followed by the KA+ Active and the Focus Active (which will come both in five-door hatchback and wagon body styles).

Based on the regular Fiesta five-door hatchback, the Fiesta Active bets on SUV styling cues to win over customers. Highlights include the plastic body cladding, the roof rails, the aluminum-look scuff plates, the mesh grille, and the unique 17-inch alloy wheels. As for the interior, the model gets sports seats with exclusive materials and designs. All these elements combined make it arguably the best-looking version of the latest-generation Fiesta.

What it gains in ride comfort it loses in handling precision

Still, the SUV-like styling treatment tells only half the story. The Fiesta Active features a raised ride height (by 18 mm), wider tracks (by 10 mm), and softer suspension setup, making it the first Fiesta derivative that shouldn't get intimidated when the tarmac ends — even if it's not available with all-wheel drive.

Ford claims the Fiesta Active combines the fun-to-drive character of the regular Fiesta with the go-anywhere capabilities typical of SUVs. Having driven it in the south of France on various types of roads, I can say that's true, but not entirely. You see, the Fiesta Active features suspension upgrades aimed at improving ride comfort on poor-quality roads and gravel tracks.

However, the softer suspension setup combined with the higher center of gravity mean the car rolls more in corners than the regular Fiesta. It's nothing excessive, but it's just not as nimble in corners. On the other hand, the ride quality is better than in the standard model, resulting in a better compromise between handling and comfort — especially on rougher road surfaces.

Adds "Slippery" driving mode for surfaces with reduced grip

Unfortunately, Ford's planned test route didn't include any gravel roads, so I can't tell you how the Fiesta Active behaves when the pavement ends. However, you shouldn't expect to do anything more than some light off-roading in this car. In the event you do so, it's good to know it features a "Slippery" driving mode designed to improve traction on surfaces with reduced grip.

This mode adjusts the Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control systems to reduce wheel spin, including when pulling away from stationary. Furthermore, the setting also helps drivers maintain control in slippery conditions by delivering small adjustments to the acceleration and brakes to prevent excessive understeer or oversteer. Again, I can't tell you how that works because I only got to drive the Fiesta Active on dry, paved roads.

By the way, the Fiesta Active and the Fiesta ST mark the first time the Fiesta offers driving modes, and in the case of the former model those include Normal, Eco (available only with the six-speed manual transmission), and the aforementioned Slippery mode.

Engines carried over from the regular Fiesta

The engines are sourced from the standard Fiesta and include the 1.0-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder unit in four states of tune (85, 100, 125, and 140 metric horsepower), and the 1.5-liter TDCi diesel available with either 85 or 120 hp. I drove the range-topping EcoBoost model with a six-speed manual transmission, and I found it agile enough, but slightly less so than the regular Fiesta in a comparable powertrain configuration.

A six-speed automatic transmission is only available for the 100-hp 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine. The economy champion is the 1.5-liter diesel, with the claimed fuel consumption going as low as 4 liters/100 km (with corresponding CO2 emissions of 103 g/km). The gasoline engine is not that far behind, though, returning from 5 l/100 km (113 g/km CO2) of average fuel efficiency.

Plenty of tech, but you'll have to pay extra for it

Equipment-wise, everything one can have in the regular Ford Fiesta is available in the Active model too. Highlights include the SYNC 3 infotainment system (standard on the Active), the excellent B&O Play sound system, as well as driving-assistance features such as Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keeping Aid, Lane Keeping Alert, Traffic Sign Recognition, Auto High Beam, Adaptive Cruise Control, and much more. Most of these gadgets are optional, though.

Ultimately, I think the Fiesta Active targets buyers who are style-conscious, more specifically people who follow trends. And since crossovers and SUVs are the most popular types of vehicles right now, the Fiesta Active has all it takes to become a sales success. But it should also appeal to buyers who want a car that can do everything because the Active is the most versatile and grown-up member of the new Fiesta family.

If you want one, you should be prepared to pay slightly more than for a regular Fiesta in a similar powertrain and equipment configuration. Prices start from €17,950 in Germany for the base trim level with the 85-hp 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine, but you should know even the entry-level Active model has a comprehensive standard equipment since it's based on the regular Fiesta's Titanium trim level.

READ MORE: Our first drive in the regular Ford Fiesta hatchback

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