As much as I like tootling around with my partner and the dog on our Sundays in the Wicklow Mountains, occasionally it is good to get in a car and take it off for a week by myself and explore a part of the country that’s new to me.
I am as happy as Noddy in his little red car as the constraints come off and I can probably drive farther, faster and for longer when left to my own devices.
So it was in the middle of last month that I took off for a few days to Ballina in Mayo and just across the county line to Enniscrone in Sligo.
The week before I had been at the Frankfurt Motor Show and my colleague from The Irish Times, Michael McAleer, had been singing the praises of Mayo as a place and his hopes for joy at Croke Park, and, like a big salmon in the Moy, I was hooked.
As luck would have it, one of the cars I was most looking forward to this year was scheduled for my week off – the new Ford Fiesta. And after the relative disappointment over the company’s ST Line models a few weeks back, the new Fiesta would have to perform.
The shackles were off and I would be throwing the car around the country roads as well as needing something to make rapid progress along the motorways to the West to maximise my time there.
I needn’t have worried. The all-new Fiesta was a delight and I loved driving it. All the brio that made it, and its bigger brothers, the Focus and Mondeo, one-time class-leaders for their driving finesse, has returned. It was agile, confident and with great grip. If you need them, the brakes are first class. The autonomous emergency braking also works!
The model I was driving was a ‘Frozen White’ Fiesta Titanium with the 1.0-litre EcoBoost 100PS petrol engine.
There was a very slick six-speed manual which spurred the car to 100kmh in 10.5 seconds and had a maximum of 185kmh, while still keeping CO2 emissions of 97. You can also expect about 50mpg, which I got over my week.
If this seventh-generation Fiesta was a driver’s car par excellence, it did suffer from still being very tight and awkward in the back and the test model was overloaded with extras such as heated seats and steering wheel, which are not needed in a small, adaptable little car. The extras pushed the price to €25,270, which is a long way from the €16,550 entry price of the all-new Fiesta and even a massive increase on the already well-specced Titanium model opening price of €20,050. It was too much and I wouldn’t pay it, but fully loaded and at around €21k the car would be good value.
It is bigger from the outside than the last model but that only pays off with the front seats, and as I have said I wouldn’t like to be sitting behind someone like me in the driver’s seat. The load area was adequate for me but not for a small family.
Yet the car is super safe and has been awarded the maximum 5-star safety rating by independent crash test authority Euro NCAP. It claims to be the most technologically advanced small car on sale in Europe – and delivers sophisticated features designed to help prevent or mitigate the impact of an accident for occupants and pedestrians, including an enhanced version of Ford’s Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection that for the first time can help prevent collisions in the dark. The Fiesta has been around for 40 years now but this is the most refined version and almost has a premium feel.
But it isn’t roomy enough and will lose out to the massive range of competitors on that score.
However, I had a real blast driving it. That experience, plus a couple of days spent at the seaweed baths in Enniscrone and wandering around some of the wonders of Ballina and Mayo, restored some joy to my soul.
I’ll be back.
The lessons from Frankfurt which I mulled on my week off were that the electric and hybrid “revolution” is now so embedded in the car-maker’s psyche that there is not turning back.
However the biggest battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of the paying public over the next few years will be over the small SUVs. It was impossible to go to any of the big exhibition halls without falling over them.
There was the impressive Kia Stonic, which my colleague Martin Brennan described last week, next door was its sister the Hyundai Kona, while the T-Roc from Volkswagen deserved attention.
The Kia people particularly impressed me and I think they are getting their act together faster than other marques. While the Stonic is about the size for me, Kia also has a fast coupe-type saloon called the Stinger which people are raving about.
Its performance this year is impressive and it is the only top 10 marque to increase over last year in what is becoming a very difficult market with many people eschewing the chance to buy new and go across the Border to buy good quality cars far cheaper.
On my return I was delighted to hear that Dyson is entering the electric car market. I have just bought my second Dyson vacuum-cleaner and the service and quality I received could go a long way to ensuring success on the forecourt.