The fifth generation Fiesta of 2002 was model of restraint.
Editor’s note: First published on 13th December 2016, this piece is being re-run today to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 5th generation Fiesta’s introduction.
“It was designed to please the public, men and women alike, with those big headlamp eyes, and that smiling radiator mouth.” Those were the words of designer, Chris Bird. The project started in 1998 and is one of the unalloyed Bird Fords. The project bore the code B256 and featured a new floor pan for three variants: the five-door, the three door and the Fusion. At this point Chris Bird had replaced Claude Lobo as design director and wanted to put his mark on Ford.
Ford themselves seemed to be keen to capture what they felt was VW’s spirit of serious design even though the New Edge look of the Focus and Puma seemed like it was going down well after the public came to accept the Focus’ startling looks. To that end, the mission involved making a design that had some commonality with the Focus and also signalling a new coolness.
This is why Ford went on a hiring binge that brought in Bird, J Mays and eventually Martin Smith plus a welter of less well-known designers such as Ernst Reim who they had worked with. That said, the Fiesta emerged from the Dunton design centre (not Merkenich) so its cast of helpers featured many existing Ford hands such as Chris Svensson, Mark Adams and Lee Moran.
The first sketch shows the car with flat surfaces, Focus-style lamps and an arcing roofline. It’s recognizably like the final car due to the flatness of the surfaces. One wonders if the sketch medium (Photoshop, I suppose) determined the look or if the look would have been the same if it had been drawn by hand.
The second drawing is closer to the final car and may be a post-design sketch. Quite a lot happens between selection of renderings and the final 3D models which is not captured in sketches. Other hand-sketches show cars with the Focus front lamps and lower tail lamps but with a squarer roofline.
The styling model (above) shows the Focus lamps and deeper grille. The rub-strip is lower. Most importantly, the roof is an arc ending in an Ka-like lip. The high, vertical lamps are bit slimmer than on the production model.
Also present are the pronounced wheel-arch features which tie the car to the Focus and also signal an important Ford characteristic. “Our new version of New Edge Design will be simpler and clearer but will retain the athletic feel,” said Chris Bird. The next step took the form of the C-Max and Mk2 Focus and then changed direction again when Martin Smith announced the arrival of Kinetic Design that ironically made Fords look, once again, quite like a lot of other cars.
The satisfying quality of Chris Bird’s Fords was that they stuck to classic design principles that Dieter Rams would recognise and yet looked like nothing else. Fourteen years later the 2002 Fiesta retains a pleasing rightness to it, high calibre styling at an affordable price. And DCDQ, of course.
 Editor’s note: Chris Bird joined Ford’s design team in 1999, by which time, the Fiesta was about a year into its design gestation.
 DCDQ stood for Dependable, contemporary, driving, quality. The term appeared in a lot of Ford literature around the time but didn’t catch on.
28 thoughts on “Reserved”
I know I’m swimming firmly against the DTW tide here, but I’ve never liked this generation of Fiesta, nor its Fusion offshoot. The three-door is marginally more acceptable.
There’s a fine line between rational restraint and boring and for me this design is squarely in the latter camp. It’s just so crushingly dull. No wonder it was facelifted only three years into its life. Fords should be Fords not Volkswagens.
Fortunately the next version of the Fiesta was an absolute peach.
Agreed. It’s a bit like with brutalist architecture for me, feels inhuman in some way. There is nothing wrong with design of this generation Fiesta from “academic” perspective, but it’s extremely drab and lacks any personality for me. Nature around us isn’t drawn with a ruler, so why cars, or buildings have to be. Next generation of Fiesta, on the other hand, is very fun and inviting design, at least from the outside. Similarly to Grande Punto, it makes people smile.
“Nature around us isn’t drawn with a ruler, so why cars, or buildings have to be.” Sometimes nice design has more linear qualities and sometimes it doesn´t. Not everything has to be curved and organic just because natural forms tend to be irregular, curved and made of changing lines. There´s a lot of human-made things that seem to fail your test. Parthenonon (and the vast majority of architecture?) Lamborghini Countach? Alfa Romeo 75? Mondrian´s paintings? The Fiesta is a very lively shape indeed and it has a lot of subtle curves. That´s why it is so magical.
Hi job,i agree with you,and you are saying well “the exterior” because the interior of the next fiesta was not nice in my opinion. The examined fiesta i find ok for a family. The latter for a single.
Good morning Richard, and thanks for (re-)posting this article. When current, i had one in 5-door guise as a rental car. To my pleasant surprise the car did everything exactly right, especially on the windy roads of Portugal. Restraint in design, one might say purposeful as well, and hiding a lot of quality underneath, certainly when compared against its tinny predecessors.
As of tomorrow I’ll be driving around Ireland in a rented new Focus for a few days. That car’s no wonder of restraint but nonetheless curious as to what it will bring…
Where in Ireland are you driving? I have just returned from there.
Did you really get a new Focus ? Rental cars are a bit scarce these days, my daughter and hubby just visited us in Kerry, and the rental they got at Dublin airport was a 2019 JDM Nissan Note, on rental duty since April, still greeting drivers with Japanese welcome audio….
Good morning Richard. I always loved this refined version of ‘New Edge’ (with the ‘edginess’ dialled down a couple of notches). With due respect to John, for me the designs fall firmly on the positive side of the line, handsome, restrained and rational, but still with a strong Ford family resemblance. Here’s the Mk2 Focus in (better) pre-facelift form:
There isn’t a line or crease out of place, to my eyes. It’s perfect.
The ‘New Edge’ designs have aged much better than the later ‘Kinetic’ designs, I think.
Not to mention that it features the only Escort/Focus sedan that I find palatable:
That might have to do with the fact that it’s largely a Volvo, though, which helps proportions:
Overall, I greatly admire that era of car design. Like you say, not a line out of place. A few days back, Richard mentioned the Opel Meriva in a comment:
This car is similarly satisfying to me, which is quite impressive for an MPV. Opel, Ford, Volkswagen, Audi and others produced some great designs in that period. Then again, I’m fairly certain I have a higher tolerance for boredom than most… 😜
I’m with John on this one I’m afraid Daniel.
The Focus Mk 2 though I think is excellent, and I think I’ve said before that I think the estate version has a lot of Volvo about it.
So, here is a thing. I clicked on the original version of this article published in 2016, and here is what I commented at the time:
“I expect I am in a minority of one around here on this issue, but this generation never did anything for me, and still doesn’t – I find it merely bland rather than tidy and restrained. And I have never gotten along with the frontal aspect, for reasons I find difficult to articulate. But then, I secretly liked the guppy-face Fiesta, so I suspect my opinion on all this is pretty worthless.”
Six years of (debatable) maturation later, I suspect I may have mellowed a little. I can see what Ford’s designers were trying to do and I suppose I can respect/admire that much. I never cared for this car’s replacement either, so it looks better with the benefit of hindsight, too. But I think this car really suffers in comparison to some of the better-resolved competitors that followed it: specifically, the 2005 Clio and Grande Punto. I think that with cars of this type, they do need some element of overt character, personality, call it what you will, that goes beyond the strictly rational. In images on the page, I can see what they were going for. In the real world, I have never – not once – taken a second glance at one of these on the high street, which is seriously unusual for me.
Usually, when I look at the evolution of a design process (years after the fact) through sketches, clays and final mock-ups, I am generally impressed at how far-sighted most design teams are at picking the design that seems to have aged the best. I think what is interesting in this case is that Ford missed a trick in not adopting the Focus-alike triangular headlamps. For me it’s the potential difference between a car that is distinctively Ford but with just enough character, and the final result, which doesn’t.
I suppose in the Fiesta’s defence it’s superior on every level to the Mk4 Polo, but that is really damning with faint praise…
I just looked at a launch comparison of the Grande Punto and the Clio and after all these years I still find them very mediocre. The Fiesta instead is still fresh and satisfying. I never get bored looking at them and the lovely things is that this deep design goodness was so affordable. The Grande Punto is, is by comparison so false. Nobody thinks it´s a Maserati or has any Maserati attributes. The Clio of the time is a mess.
Well, I can’t speak for the Punto’s designers. But I don’t think that the ‘fake Maserati’ narrative is a particularly fair allegation – as far as I recall that was exclusively a moron-media trope, never propounded by Fiat (officially or otherwise). Did they go out of their way to discourage the comparison? Perhaps not. But I don’t see why Giugiaro re-using a (IMO successful) trait in this instance is so heinous when his capacity for, let’s say, ‘creative recycling’ has been praised pretty much universally elsewhere on this very site.
In any case, having been in Italy recently, I still think the original Grande Punto looks quite fresh and significantly more characterful than the Fiesta. But, this is going to be an agree-to-disagree job, I think.
While I side with the author on his enthusiasm for this iteration of Fiesta’s styling, I would not choose to do so by rubbishing its French and Italian contemporaries. Both Clio and Punto had their merits – the Punto I still find pleasing to behold.
I can understand the ambivalence amongst the readership for the Lobo/ Bird Fiesta, and I would consider it to be ‘pleasing’, if not as animated as a First generation Focus, yet there is a correctness about this car that speaks to me. I would also add that my own experience was of a car that was pleasant to drive, with nicely weighted and linear controls, good outward visibility and a composed ride. I found nothing to offend in the cabin either, for that matter. Where I might baulk is in the suspicion that the Blue Oval would inevitably have penny-pinched somewhere which would (in my experience) culminate in disappointment. Still, it would (for what it’s worth) probably have been my anno-2002 B-segment choice.
Even if this generation of Fiesta was a good car dynamically (enough for the platform to have easily been spun-off to create direct successors to both the Ka and Puma), also find it too restrained from a styling POV. Maybe a production version of the RS concept would have helped shift perceptions somewhat.
I’ve always liked the exterior design of this generation of Fords. They only were let down by their cheap and nasty interiors which lacked the attention to detail which set VW apart at this time.
Mondeo Mk3 vs. Passat B5 or Focus Mk2 vs. Golf 4 are examples where the Fords are very attractive outside but put you off with the interior.
To be honest I think Fords to this day have underwhelming interiors.
Hmm. I think the interior had a correctness to it – and regarding the plastics, well, nothing fell off and it was all put together correctly. They also cost less than VWs and I would always choose this Fiesta over the corresponding VW.
It’s nice to see it – this was a good period for vehicle design. Interestingly, this Fiesta seems to have quite a large glass area (it did okay in Euro NCAP tests, nevertheless). Interesting also to see the concept drawings – the 1999 one reminds me of the Audi A2.
On a more negative note, I had one of these Fiestas as a courtesy car, and wasn’t impressed – it felt coarse and cheap, which was a shame.
Anyway, here’s an ad from Australia, which has Mégane overtones.
I had forgotten that ad. I thought it was naff at the time. Two decades hasn’t altered that view any.
I’ve always liked this Fiesta. In its pleasing balance and subtlety
it remains a reproach to the later manifestations of the model.
I have one big issue with this design and that is the black triangular bit at the bottom of the A pillar. I have a strong dislike for these triangular pieces in general, but here it’s huge and not very pleasing to these eyes. I also dislike the triangular piece in the rear door that makes sure the window can go all the way down. Again something I dislike everywhere I see it, but especially on the Fiesta it’s rather tall.
My issue with the current Fiesta is that it has a split A pillar – as in A1 and A2. Hell will freeze over before I buy a car with split or double A pillar.
Hi mervyn, are you saying this just because of aestethic reason or it implies also some kind of engineering failure or to make it cheap?
Marco, it’s about safety – you need to be able to see cyclists and pedestrians. A single A pillar gets in the way, but holds the windscreen in place. A double A pillar gets in the way twice as much, for no good reason. The Citroen DS has the best A pillars.
I remember at launch that many of the styling related comments made at the time in the UK motoring press were made in the context of the Focus which had been launched a few years earlier. The press was clearly expecting a smaller version of the Focus, i.e. a New Edge car. Ford had decided to move on, and so there was a lot of comment in response from Ford about the Fiesta being more mature, more calm, more solid looking. This even came down to the positioning of the Ford badging – did it stand alone in a panel or was it attached to another feature. Also, the graphics and font used for the nameplate FIESTA being much more prosaic than that used for the Focus.
Hence, reading between the lines, there was a sense of the journalists hinting at their disappointment that the car was not ‘bold’ like the Focus, and Ford being defensive about it in return. I am not sure many, including myself, were able to forget that sense and so I wonder the extent to which it still influences our thinking today?
My memory of this generation of Fiesta is that there was an advertisement photo viewing the car from behind at low level. The car pictured had directional tyres – and they were fitted the wrong way round….
The quality of these Fiestas was something else; they were terrifically well engineered for longevity. I bought, sold and leased hundreds. Ford really gave you more with this car.