Fiesta de Navidad

Spending the Christmas season with the Ford Fiesta Vignale.

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At the risk of repeating myself, I feel compelled to explain the set of circumstances that resulted in myself and my partner crossing Germany (twice) in the finest of small Fords towards the end of the year 2018.

Having sold my better half’s car early in the autumn (and with my own steed in storage), we found ourselves at the mercy of our friendly neighbourhood’s rent-a-car station on more than one occasion. For the holiday season – which entailed a 900-kilometre-trip from Hamburg to the Swiss border and back – we were destined to feel especially cheerful, since we ended up with not just some Kleinwagen, but the class-defining Ford Fiesta. But one with a whiff of coachbuilt extravagance and luxury, in the form of Ford’s Vignale top specification, sprinkled on top.

Ford’s reputation for building fine-handling motor cars meant I expected the Fiesta to feel like a somewhat more polished kindred spirit to the Mazda 3 that had turned out to be such a surprise win as part of a previous round of the rental car lottery. This, I can reveal without any further ado, was not the case.

But before addressing the Fiesta driving experience, this car’s specification deserves a bit of attention. It is, after all, a Vignale.

Like Ghia before it, Vignale is a suitably Italianate name (insofar as one could imagine it printed on a lady’s leather handbag) that happens to be among the Ford Motor Company’s valueless assets. But whereas the Ghia name became too associated with wood print plastics, pseudo velour and ruched leather upholstery for it to evoke Milanese haute couture flair any more, the Vignale name has lain dormant among Ford’s possessions long enough for it not to be tarnished by outdated aspirational conceptions of yore.

So instead of ‘wood’, the allegedly style-conscious supermini buyer of 2019 supposedly lusts after ‘carbon fibre’ and, inevitably, stitching and leatherette. In catering with this craving, Ford’s colour & trim specialists have created a cabin ambience miles away from the petit bourgeois plushness of a top-spec Scorpio, instead going for the kind of vodka lounge ambience to which more than one mood board had been dedicated a decade ago.

Topping off all the other efforts at raising the ‘false aspirational’ game is the Vignale’s hi-fi system, which is (supposedly) supplied by none other than masters of minimalist high-tech chic, Bang & Olufsen. One must assume that the deal Ford offered the Danish brand in order to use the B&O logo was too good to ignore: For both the flimsy looks of the stereo and its tinny sound (which wasn’t improved by dashboard’s rattling when base-heavy songs were being played at sensible volume) would be poisonous to any marque trading on sophistication.

Then again, the Danes might have reckoned that any Ford owners wouldn’t be tempted to buy themselves a home stereo system costing half as much as their cars, thus keeping potential damage to the brand in check.

Truth be told, the plastic panels on the dashboard and centre tunnel are not as offensive as most faux-carbon fibre, as its pattern and dark purple hue are not trying to mimic today’s no.1 high performance cypher in too devoted a fashion. However, the same clearly cannot be said about the copious amounts of stitching, which highlight not only their hardly artisan fit and finish, but also the unpleasant texture of the swathes of leatherette they are (supposedly) connecting.

An utterly pointless line of purely ‘decorative’ stitching on the front seats’ side bolsters is the most repugnant instance of this regrettable trend I have come across so far. Fans of True Religion-branded bluejeans might feel otherwise.

Probably not exclusive to the Vignale specification is the fluorescent blue ‘mood lighting’ that supposedly makes the Fiesta a ‘cool’ place to spend the dark hours in. In actual fact, it’s miles away from the excellent legibility and unobtrusive ‘aircraft cockpit’ flair the red-orange lighting of late 1990’s BMWs helped create. Having said that, it’s not as unpleasant as VW’s clinical, irritating white strips of interior lighting either.

As mentioned earlier, I was convinced the Fiesta would prove to be a slightly more professional feeling piece of kit than the appealing, but hardly flawless Mazda 3 we’d spent some time with in the autumn. So it was to my astonishment when I realised that in terms of cabin ambience – which was hardly the Mazda’s biggest forte – the Ford barely bettered it.

Little details such as the rather chintzy typography, coupled with very strange choices like using some of the nastiest plastics to be found inside the entire cabin right where they are touched all the time (on the door grab handles) were not in keeping with the image of Ford as established champions of mass market competence and Mazda’s status as underweight challenger. Some shoddily finished details and some visible wiring by the front seats’ base didn’t help improve matters in this regard.

Of course, flimsiness is all but forgiven if the rest of the car excels. Unfortunately, the Fiesta isn’t outstanding in any area. Least of all in terms of ‘user experience’, or UX in automotive industry parlance. In this field, the Ford managed to frustrate even more than the misguided VW Tiguan we’d sampled months earlier, thanks to a misplaced touchscreen, slow-to-respond software and a confusing input structure.

With no rotary controller fitted, the Fiesta required operating its infotainment system either using the irritatingly arranged buttons & knobs on the steering wheel or another row of buttons below the screen (which turned out to be utterly pointless). Most inputs required using the touchscreen, which was ill-placed in that the Vignale’s rather harsh ride meant placing one’s hand on top of it and using one’s thumb proving the most effective method.

The system’s lagging, coupled with my thumb occasionally not hitting the right spot due to the car’s movement, made for an altogether rather frustrating experience. Being able to connect my Smartphone and use some of its functions through the infotainment system was little consolation for this drastic shortcoming. Some of the money spent on the supposedly classy ‘Vignale’ animation upon start up might have been better invested in ergonomics research instead.

The same could also be said about the requisite driver aids no well-specified car can do without these days. This was most apparent during in-town driving, when overtaking any car parking in the street caused an alert (shrill enough in itself to cause a crash) warning of an impending frontal impact with incoming traffic. At the same time, the massive a-pillar, with its limiting effects upon the driver’s field of vision, inevitably resulted in musings regarding misguided efforts in the field of active safety.

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Speaking of the car’s basic qualities, I must report that in this Fiesta’s case, Ford’s reputation for building ‘driver’s cars’ is largely unfounded. Hardly surprisingly, the Fiesta wasn’t as antiseptic a driver’s tool as that underpowered VW Tiguan, but it also lacked the communicative crispness of the Mazda 3.

Its ride quality was somewhere closer to the Mazda’s (though the VW could hardly be described as a becalming cruiser either), but its direct, yet lifeless steering and the retarding nature of the little three cylinder EcoBoost engine (certainly when mated to an automatic gearbox) made for little in the way of Freude am Fahren.

In addition, the Ford’s extremely small fuel tank was a considerable nuisance when covering longer distances, as its decent, but not outstanding frugality (about 6 litres per 100 sensibly driven kilometres/ 47 MPG) couldn’t prevent the need for numerous stops along the way.

Returning to matters superficial, the Fiesta’s appearance deserves a brief summary. In order to be charitable, I’d like to single out the Vignale’s wheel design as one element of the car that truly exuded some upmarket flair. Their sheen was pleasant, rather than gaudy, and the entire design wasn’t trying too hard to be, like, totally posh.

The metallic red also was quite easy on the eye, even if not nearly as remarkable as Mazda’s superficially similar Soul Red Chrystal. The dedicated Vignale chrome trim also didn’t grate too badly, even though the V motif pattern on the grille is conspicuous, rather than striking. The less said about the Vignale badging (the typography in particular), the better though.

The Ford Fiesta Vignale is no bad car. But it’s no good car either, which – grand though it may sound – sheds an unfavourable light onto Ford’s European operations in general. For if this is the Fiesta, Ford’s mainstay European offer at its very best, it falls well short of expectations.

And all the fake stitching in the World won’t distract from that.

 

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at 

 www.auto-didakt.com

Author: Christopher Butt

car design enthusiast // the mind behind www.auto-didakt.com // contributor to The Road Rat magazine //

19 thoughts on “Fiesta de Navidad”

    1. Presumably it had been irredeamably tainted by half-hearted versions. Some of the Fiesta and Focus Ghia versions between 00 and onwards were very similar to other versions, barring the badge on the C-pillar. Ghia used to mean a substantially different interior. Also, the Titanium spec was used to attract customers wanting more features but without the Ghia beige/brown colours that in the end were all that distinguished Ghia from non-Ghia. The sharp reduction in colour variation was hard for the Ghia concept. If they could have offered rich reds, rich blues and warm tones the cars might have looked different. As far as I could tell a Ghia Mk2 Focus had the same grey or black cloth as any other one. If there was a leather option I never saw it. And suspensions settings were the same.

    2. Because decades of overuse had made it irrecoverably worthless. Ghia began as an Italian design studio who did the likes of the Karmann Ghia, they ended up as a badge stuck on the side of a Fiesta.
      Vignale will go the same way.

    3. “Vignale will go the same way.”

      Agreed, and it doesn’t have far to travel, given that this is its starting point.

  1. Christopher’s experience of the Fiesta Vignale is proof once again that you simply cannot overlay “quality” on an existing product, you have to design and engineer it in from the outset. The Fiesta is a perfectly good (in some respects excellent) mass market car and makes perfect sense as such. The Vignale version may have lots of additional features and different surface finishes to enhance its showroom appeal, but that’s what you’re paying for, not greater quality. It’s an issue consumers face all the time and often make a poor choice by equating additional features at a particular price point with better value, ignoring the inevitable compromise regarding underlying quality.

    Incidentially, it’s pretty unusual to find a top spec mainstream car on a rental fleet. Is this a one-off, or does it say something about how well or otherwise the Fiesta Vignale is selling?

    1. Very true.

      The UX is increasingly dominated by the touch screen these days, so why are car makers so bad at them? Perhaps the EU should act and ban them for safety reasons… but this is unlikely, as the EU thinks safety means more and more alarms and warning buzzers.

      Ford’s plastics have always been rubbish, and they seem simply unable to do anything about this.

      Finally, Christopher’s observation about interior lighting is spot on. My much-missed E39 BMW had cream leather seats, a light brown upper dash, light wood trim, and black steering wheel and major controls. It was a used purchase and I did not spec the interior – my wife’s initial reaction was one of horror. But it proved to be a wonderfully calming environment, the light leather and wood creating a sense of space and tranquility, and at night the orangey red mood lighting (created by two tiny little spot lamps up by the rear view mirror) provided just enough light to ensure you could see everything without it being a distraction.

      Bright white (and especially blue white) light is not calming. In fact, there is evidence to suggest it might be detrimental to health. Why would you use them in a car cabin?

  2. So are the dashboard and seat bolsters covered in man-made material, or just poor quality leather?

    1. It’s all plastic cow*.

      (* Reportedly, the appalling optional leather fitted to most cars these days, unless one chooses the exceedingly expensive Nappa (or similar) option, mostly consists of glue and the shavings left over from the production of regular leather goods. Maybe the Fiesta’s ‘leather’ was of this variety too, but it felt like good old leatherette.)

  3. There’s a product misleadingly called “bonded leather” which actually consists of shredded leather offcuts and other waste pressed and glued into sheets and overlaid with a synthetic surface impressed with simulated leather grain. No part of the surface you can see or touch is actually leather. It’s often featured on one of the shopping channels pedalling recliner chairs. The presenters use its name reverentially, implying it is somehow superior to “ordinary” leather, without ever admitting its composition.

    I’m not sure if this is what’s now known as “pleather”, but I imagine it’s something similar.

  4. It isn’t quite the same (I’d assume it’s the diesel version, not a top-spec one), but Sixt Rental’s advert on UK television towards the end of 2018 highlighted how cheaply a Maserati Levante could be rented. Probably not what the brand intended!

    Another part of the Vignale offering was the improved “dealer experience” which the future owner would receive. https://www.ford.co.uk/shop/research/ford-vignale-experience
    Perhaps they do, but if I had been a prospective customer, I would have been wary about believing that. Just looked, and the “B&O” stereo is available from B&O Zetec trim, £16665. You’re then talking £3-4k difference, depending on options added to the Zetec, for the Vignale trim. Plus the insurance group is 15, as opposed to 10 (though the difference could be negligible). The B&O stereo means you can’t have a spare wheel – I assume there’s a speaker in there for bass, or so your luggage can enjoy some tunes.

    1. The B&O editions are available in a couple of nice colours too – particularly Bohai Bay Mint green to my eyes. Even so, £17k seems like a lot of money for a Fiesta – or am I just getting old?

  5. Adrian – yes, it is a lot, but you can get at least £3k off if you go through a broker, such is the supply situation.

  6. How disappointing, and surprising. Last time a drove a Fiesta (I think I wrote about it briefly on these pages – ‘Viva Fiesta’) I thought it was terrific, at least to drive – but then it had the old 1.25l 4-cyl Zetec engine in a low spec and was the old shape car. I generally think that touch-screens are anti-ergonomic and borderline dangerous on the move – they do look nice though. The Vignale thing just does not work on a car like this, if at all. You’d have to be very dull to actually buy a car in this trim with your own cash. I saw a comparison the other day with a MINI and new A1 and the Vignale was £thousands more than the other two in terms of its official sticker price.

    I like the colour, though – although agree that it’s not as nice as Mazda’s SRC – and the wheels.

    1. The wheels are lovely. They remind me (to an extent) of the wonderful Pininfarina-designed wheels available exclusively for the 760i, which are the most pleasingly shaped piece of any BMW of the past few years.

    2. My boss has a 760Li with those wheels. They are magnificent in a blindingly shiny, chrome stylie! Unfortunately, the 760Li does not set them off to best effect.

  7. While I understand, having just re-read the Mazda3 essay, that this Fiesta didn’t measure up to it overall, surely the size difference is significant? Since I haven’t bothered to learn what all the Euro ABCD etc sizes mean, as they have no significance to me where I live, the Fiesta is regarded as a sub-compact and the Mazda3 as a compact in my market. I have difficulty just getting in and out of a Fiesta with my old achy bones, and no trouble at all with the 3 which is even a bit larger than the no-longer available Focus. (The Golf ingress and egress experience is no deluxe ham sandwich for me either, with its wide sills and intrusive B-pillar). A longer wheelbase, all other things being equal, tends to give a more even ride, and extra width so that shoulders are not touching seems a real luxury.

    The whole “leather” seating and superflous stitching thing is wearing a bit thin, I agree. What used to be termed “leather seating surfaces” on moderately upscale interiors a decade or more ago, seems to have given way once again to “leatherette”. Leatherette is the marketing person’s grand faux name for vinyl; Mercedes of course dub it Artico or ARTIficialCOw, since MBTex is now too vulgar a term to present to its upscale clientele. Pleather is the cynics’ name for this stuff – don’t think you’ll find manufacturers using the term much. A decade ago Subaru used leather as thick as the better straps on the school satchels of my youth on the seat bottom and back – hard and unyielding was the result, but mine still look brand new. Mazda’s leatherette looks “loose” after a few months, so a decent cloth looks and feels nicer in the long run. One wonders why stitching is so apparent on many cars – does the average car-purchasing dullard equate it with hand-tooled luxury, or is it just required by the fevered imagination of Marketing Man looking for a photo-op to grace an overly effusive brochure?

    Not that I have had a vehicle with one of these infotainment systems, but surely from watching others use them, speaking out loud to them seems to work better than fumbling with a touchscreen, and Ford tout this aspect on this side of the pond. Watching others talking to a cheap robot to change this and that seems to me to be the epitome of being bent over for “technology”, but the current masters of the universe, Google and Amazon, are training the human parrot to speak aloud with their home “speakers”. So I suppose one has to align oneself with the current surveillance society, and embrace throwing away our privacy, so that spymasters can examine our utterings to see whether we’re angry enough to want to rebel at the indignities sent our way by the economic elites to pacify us.

    Harmon International, a Samsung subsidiary out of Connecticut, own B&O and have for some time. Many fine old hi-fi names are grouped under its aegis, producing general automotive audio mediocrity with the brand name being the only luxury involved. Bose runs its own show of not great, while Bowers and Wilkins is at least genuine. These opinions are those of a long-standing hi-fi nut – me. The last thing I need is a cheapo commodified audio system claiming to be wonderful, in a car – the base systems claiming nothing suit me fine. Quality listening resides within my home, and in my wider social circle of fellow audio enthusiasts. In that respect Vignale as applied to this Fiesta is about as genuine as the grand old names plastered on the facias of low grade automotive audio. Since most non-enthusiasts, used to the indignities of MP3 and compressed dynamic range and having very low cognizance of real quality audio while pooh-poohing the sensitivities of those who do, are mesmerized with a bit of thumpy bass and screechy treble, one cannot expect car audio to improve any time soon. Cars are hardly an ideal environment for the medium in any case, because background noise is high. It’s like smartphone cameras – 16MB pixel optical chips do not compensate for two bob plastic lenses and lack of decent colour correction, but the general lack of knowledge of the public and digital critics cannot fathom this basic fact.

    1. Bill,

      my Ford-Mazda comparison excluded the matter of size. It was based purely on Ford (of Europe’s) long-established reputation for building driver’s cars – which Mazda hasn’t attained yet, at least not in terms of the wider public’s perception. Yet it was the Mazda that possessed the qualities I desire in a ‘driver’s car’: communicative steering, intuitive input (throttle, brakes) and an overall impression of genuine interaction.

      The Mazda 3 I drove admittedly wasn’t as high-spec as the Vignale, but I doubt that’s the reason why the Mazda felt like an automobile developed with a focus on the fundamentals of driving, whereas the Ford went for a ‘jack of all trades’ approach, thus placing as much – or even more – emphasis on matters considered cutting edge these days, such as ‘connectivity’ and driver aides than driving pleasure.

    2. I agree Bill – I am just learning (two months in, but only on the days Mrs T lets me drive it) that learning the voice commands in conjunction with the touch screen and steering wheel controls is really very effective, and much, much safer than trying to use the touch screen on the move.

  8. Interesting article, almost shocking in certain regards.
    Provoking. I consider much of the negativity to be woven
    from the following two (very real) notional fibres:

    1) Great expectations – partly, but justifiably nourished
    by its predecessor’s appeal & objective competence.

    2) The indisputably kitsch notion of trying to faux-luxurify
    an “economically-priced” mass product, without resorting
    to obscene pricing, reckless speccing with opulent, really premium materials, paints and trims, that’d at least see to it being authentically ‘enhanced’ (if not inherently, of course) luxurious.

    (A third is probably the short-term effect of the review.
    I’d like to believe that any Fiesta’s charms are hidden
    for a longer-term affair with its Escort qualities).

    Didn’t have a chance to drive the Mk8 yet. The Mk7 Fiesta, however, I happen to be familiar with rather thoroughly.

    In spite of the many flaws I located during this
    long-term living with affair (perhaps deserving
    an article in itself), the verdict on the Mk7 core qualities
    is still fascinating:
    Just how did Ford manage to churn out so much automotive goodness in a car that barely costs 10-11K, is totally beyond all industry logic. It’s a class act, and probably there’ll never
    be a car with so much driving substance (and structural
    rigidity) for so little money.

    Pity to hear that the Mk8 is such a turn off.

    High expectations are perhaps not exactly the
    gateway to happiness.

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