Ford Fiesta 1.6 Ti-VCT

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The paintwork options on the Verve, Ford's concept car for 2007, were such a hit they've retained the look for the funky new Fiesta

Price from: £12,595 (range spans £8,695-£13,695). On sale in October

Engine: 1,596cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 120bhp at 6,000rpm, 112lb ft at 4,050rpm

Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Performance: 120mph, 0-62 in 9.9sec, 47.9mpg official average, CO2 139g/km

A car's colour can have a big influence on how we perceive it. That's why a carmaker may choose a "lead" colour for a launch, perhaps carrying that colour through to the publicity material and even the free notebooks (the paper sort, not a compact electronic bribe, if you're wondering).

The Ford Fiesta information pack and notebook currently on my desk are visual splashes of magenta and lime green. The first of these adorned the Verve concept car in 2007, a car said to point to the new Fiesta but which was too racy, too wedgy, too daring to become a production car. The real things surely wouldn't look like this. Would they?

This three-door car's colour got as much publicity as its style and its futuristic interior in which the centre console was arranged as a pair of mobile phone keypads (the slanty-keyed type sometimes adopted by Nokia) with phone-like operating logic for the various media-related functions – including the ability to read music directly from a USB stick. The colour was called Hot Magenta. Ford had not meant it to become a production colour, but pressure mounted and that's what it has become.

Creating it is complicated, as it involves a special kind of metallic base coat and a coloured, instead of clear, lacquer on top. Getting it consistent enough for mass production was a challenge, but it was met. It's not quite ready, though: I'm looking at a collection of new Fiestas lined up to drive and none of them is in Hot Magenta. For visual impact it will have to be Squeeze. Yes, the lime green that shares the branding billing.

None of this would matter much if the Fiesta was very watered-down vis-à-vis the Verve. But when I first saw the production Fiesta I gasped, which seldom happens with a new mainstream car. In fact I saw two of them at a studio preview, one in each of the headline colours, and the only obvious differences were the addition of a bar across the big, trapezoidal air intake to take the number plate, and the removal of bright metal trim from the upper part of the side-window outline and either side of the nose's Ford badge.

It turns out that the production Fiesta's roofline is an inch higher, too, but you'd never notice. And inside, there is almost exactly the same dashboard and console. It makes you wonder why Ford didn't simply call it Verve. "We came close," says UK marketing director Mark Ovenden, "but it didn't work in all languages. Besides, the previous Fiesta was still well liked by customers so it made sense to keep the name." That's quite a contrast with the Escort-to-Focus non-continuum a decade ago.The Fiesta looks good, then, which has the welcome effect of making you want to drive it. It gets even better when you learn that it weighs around 40kg less than the outgoing model, yet has a much stiffer structure. Its engines have become more efficient, too, especially the Econetic version of the 1.6-litre, 90bhp diesel which produces just 98g/ km CO2. So no road tax.

Other engines are, or will be, a 1.4 diesel and three petrol units of 1.25, 1.4 and 1.6 litres. Only the biggest engines of each fuel type were available for this first drive.

So, into a three-door Zetec S finished in a bright metallic blue. Straight away you feel that this is a car engineered by people who love driving. Too many superminis have glutinous steering which masks all feeling of the road and replaces it with an action both rubbery and stiff. Not here. The steering is crisp and convincingly weighted according to the loads fed back to it by the front wheels. The Fiesta provides all the right inputs and responses for an enjoyable drive, including an impressive ability to deal with bumps.

The honing of what feels good and eradication of what feels bad extends to the brakes (firm but not too heavy underfoot, progressive in action), the gear change (smooth, light and precise) and, crucially, the engines. The petrol 1.6 produces up to 120bhp but, more importantly, it pulls smoothly and keenly across a broad speed range thanks to the variable timing for the inlet and exhaust valves. It sounds good, too, subdued and smooth but definitely alive.

And the diesel? Similar deal; smooth and quiet of its type, more relaxed than the petrol but still keen to go and, of course, more economical. That said, at 139g/km the petrol engine is impressively light in its carbon footprint. All very positive, then. Straight into the supermini charts at No 1? Despite a cheap-looking mileometer display in red which can be hard to read, the answer is an emphatic "yes". After all, if you're going to drive a car, you might as well enjoy it.

THE RIVALS

Peugeot 207 1.6: from £12,295

Shares 120bhp output and variable valve timing with the Ford but lacks its fluency of motion and feeling of quality. Overweight, too.

Seat Ibiza 1.6 Sport: £11,295

New Ibiza looks quite racy but, despite Seat's claims, it still feels plasticky inside. This version makes do with 105bhp and lacks the Fiesta's verve.

Vauxhall Corsa 1.4: from £10,315

Vauxhall, like Fiat and Renault, eschews the mainstream 1.6-litre category so this 90bhp 1.4 is the closest rival. Looks dramatic, feels obese.

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