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When the Ford Fiesta was launched in Malaysia in 2010, the local B-segment hatchback market was still relatively quiet. Back then, its only real rivals were the less well-equipped Mazda2 (the outgoing model) and previous-gen Suzuki Swift – the cheapest Honda Jazz and Volkswagen Polo were still north of RM100k and there were no tax-free hybrids to steal the little Ford’s lunch money. Smitten by the reasonable price, attractive Euro styling and sharp handling, buyers flocked to the Fiesta in droves.

What a difference four years make. In the interim, the duty-exempt CBU B-segment hybrids have come and gone, the Honda Jazz and Volkswagen Polo are both now locally-assembled and priced squarely to compete with the Fiesta, and the Peugeot 208 and cheaper models such as the Mitsubishi Mirage have also joined the party.

Hoping to battle the influx of new rivals, Ford has introduced an EcoBoost variant for the facelifted Fiesta, fitted with a tiny 1.0 litre three-cylinder engine. Despite the considerably smaller motor, the price has gone up by over RM9.3k over the 1.5 Sport, now sitting at RM93,888. Has the company gone too far down the downsizing route, or will the newfangled mill make the Fiesta appealing again?

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The Mark 6 Ford Fiesta (codename B299) remains fresh-faced six years after its debut at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show. All sharp lines and thrusting shapes in a market full of rounded forms and soft edges, it was a product of Ford’s then-new Kinetic design language and doesn’t feel dated, especially considering its age.

A facelift grafted two years ago, which made its debut at a Ford Go Further event in Amsterdam, gave the little tyke a large Aston Martin-esque chrome grille that perhaps feels a bit contrived for such a small car, but it did at least update the car’s styling to fit with the extroverted front fascias of newer competitors.

The EcoBoost model has been fitted with a bodykit with LED daytime running lights, as well as a set of black-and-grey graphics. Some may like the look these additions give the Fiesta, but this writer at least feels that they cheapen the car’s aesthetic. The cooking model’s design, after all, is already a rather sporty design, and there’s no need to jazz it up unnecessarily.

The interior, at least, feels well-sorted. The dashboard may appear to feature a riot of swooshes and a disarray of buttons at first, but actually everything falls naturally at hand and works in a logical manner.

The controls for Ford’s SYNC infotainment system are clearly laid out – mode buttons (mirrored by the illuminated symbols next to the display) on the left, a directional pad and volume control in the middle, a numerical keypad on the right and four selection keys at the bottom. Browsing through menus is therefore a fast and fuss-free experience, like a Nokia from days past.

The blue monochrome screen may look anachronic next to the large colour touchscreen of the new Honda Jazz, but the system is as fully-featured as you’d like, and the easy-to-use voice control system (blissfully) works with any phone no matter what the operating system, unlike its Japanese competitor.

Build quality is about average for the segment, but the plastics do have some interesting textures moulded into them, the gloss black and metallic-look trim the facelift brought adding some newfound class to the Fiesta and the part-leather, part-quilted fabric seats look great and offer excellent support.

Only space disappoints slightly, the new Jazz having moved the game on considerably. Rear head- and legroom in particular feels a little confined coming from the Honda (and the view out is restricted by the sharply-rising beltline), while the boot is noticeably smaller. The cabin is still comfortable, however, and entirely useable, so if you’re in no need of so much real estate you won’t feel so shortchanged.

A major perk specifying the EcoBoost brings is the inclusion of the Safety Pack, which includes seven airbags (dual front, dual side, curtain and driver’s knee) as opposed to the two in the 1.5 litre Sport and Titanium. These puts this particular Fiesta back to the specification that won it a five-star Euro NCAP rating, while stability control that is present in the rest of the range continues to be offered here.

Peel back the skin and you’ll find the bones of an ordinary supermini. Sharing the same underpinnings as the previous-generation Mazda2, the Fiesta features suspension that’s par for the course, with MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam setup at the rear.

The real gem sits in the engine bay under a mess of wires – a turbocharged and direct-injected EcoBoost three-cylinder 1.0 litre engine. Displacing a scant 998 cc (the block fits on an A4 sheet of paper), it nevertheless produces a respectable 123 hp at 6,000 rpm and an impressive 170 Nm at 1,700 rpm. As with the rest of the range, the EcoBoost is paired with a six-speed PowerShift dual clutch transmission for our market (a five-speed manual variant is available in Australia).

Ford has expanded considerable effort to make its tiny mill smoother, more efficient and more responsive than a typical three-pot. The flywheel, for example, has been made deliberately unbalanced to offset the natural vibrations caused by such a piston count without resorting to heavy and expensive balancer shafts.

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The exhaust manifold is moulded into the cylinder head for better efficiency, while a cast iron block reduces warm up times by as much as 50% compared to an aluminium unit. The timing belt is also immersed in oil to reduce noise and improve efficiency.

The result? Despite the decent output, the Fiesta EcoBoost has a claimed combined fuel consumption figure of just 5.3 litres per 100 km. It’s no surprise then, that the engine has just bagged its third consecutive International Engine of the Year award.

Be in no doubt, this is a right corker of an engine, pulling the Fiesta willingly from low down all the way to the higher reaches of the rev range. The car feels much faster than its claimed 9.4-second 0-100 km/h time would lead you to believe, and, slight grumble at idle aside, it remains uncannily smooth all the way. Great soundtrack, too – a nice, rorty, hard-edged growl that really eggs you on.

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It’s not all rosy, however, as the PowerShift does let things down ever so slightly. Pin the throttle and there’s a little hesitation as the gearbox fumbles to snatch a lower gear, before the car shoots forward under a surge of torque. This exacerbates the slight turbo lag the engine has at very low revs and makes driving the EcoBoost a bit more hectic than it arguably should be.

Eventually, you do learn to build a rhythm with the powertrain, to anticipate the downshift (and the accompanying burst of torque) that will come. In any case, there are no problems with the upshifts themselves, which are swift and smooth, making exploiting the engine a real joy. It’s a shame, then, that there’s no way to shift gears manually other than the rather unintuitive rocker switch on the gearknob.

Flicking the steering wheel reveals a rack that, being electrically-assisted, is devoid of much feedback. It is, however, quick and accurate, and crucially it doesn’t get in the way of ringing the Fiesta by the scruff of its neck at all.

Which is just as well, because the chassis is an absolute peach. It feels taut through the corners, with a iron-clad control over body movements and remarkably little roll. There’s a playful streak running through the car, with the line of attack adjustable using the throttle, but it doesn’t feel unpredictable or unruly. The brakes, despite utilising rear drums, are strong and dependable, no doubt helped by the lightweight engine.

Yet, ease off the pace and you’ll find that the Fiesta settles down nicely, with a decent pliancy over bumps – Ford has to be commended here for making a conventionally-suspended car handle well without jarring the occupants inside. The triple remains hushed on the highways, too, as does road and wind noise.

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The Ford Fiesta has always been one of the star performers in its class. Yes, it isn’t the most spacious, the transmission isn’t the most responsive, it’s not the most comfortable and, if the first drive in the new Mazda2 is any indication, it might not have the sharpest handling title all to itself much longer. But it plays the consummate all-rounder with aplomb, doing very little wrong and almost everything very well.

The inclusion of the 1.0 EcoBoost motor only adds to its appeal, the perky, zesty yet fuel-sipping mill matched perfectly to a nimble, dynamic yet supple chassis. Coupled to the added safety features, the verdict is clear – if you’re absolutely dead set on buying a Fiesta (and you don’t mind swallowing the considerable premium over the other models), this is certainly the one to get.

Also read our Thai drive report on the Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost, and compare how the Fiesta shapes up against its segment competitors at Carbase.my.