The blurb gushes “Delivers SUV appeal” for Ford’s new Fiesta Active crossover, which is on sale now from about £17,795. Frankly it doesn't look as though it could tackle much more than a leafy drive, but Roelant de Waard, Ford of Europe's marketing boss, reckons this car's slightly higher driving position and exterior plastic cladding compared with the standard hatchback will be enough to give it at least 10 per cent of all Fiesta sales, which makes my head hurt.
De Waard has been through a similar contemplation and tells an allegorical tale of the early BMX bikes styled with a fuel tank-like cross member on the frame. He says this bicycle-aping-motorbike thing caused a backlash. "Buyers wanted a BMX, not a bike that looked like something else," he says. "It's the same with this market."
What this indicates is that "SUV appeal" is a thing and involves higher seating and unique styling, but not necessarily more robust construction or four-wheel drive.
Volkwagen's Polo Dune was a similar all-hat-and-no-cattle deal, and does anyone remember the Antonis Volanis-designed Matra-Simca Rancho? We could discuss this until the cows came home and were on your sofa watching Country File with a cup of tea and a slice of battenberg; it's happening, we’ve got to get over it.
Three styles of Active are offered, with the base model roughly spun off the standard Zetec Fiesta, which gives a decent basic level of equipment, but makes it difficult to analyse exactly how much more you are paying for the Active badge. They all get a new set of rugged-looking lower panels, with black protective wheelarche surrounds, unique 17-inch wheels, roof rails and a different grille.
The launch cars were as near to the Fiesta's top Titanium spec as makes no difference, with all the bells and whistles including a part-leather seats, a 4.2-inch central display and a reversing camera. The seats and trim get body-colour highlights, which are jolly but highlight the mismatch of soft and hard plastics in the cabin, and there are places, such as the doorbins and central console latching, which have been cost-cut to the bone.
Riding 18mm higher than the standard Fiesta, the Active has its own suspension and damper settings, including a 10mm wider track and three drive modes including a 'Slippery' mode which optimises the steering and stability systems for maximum traction and safety. This is not, however, an anti-scrabble traction enhanced system as offered on Peugeot and Fiat supermini crossovers.
Fiesta drivetrains offered include the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol turbo and a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel with a variety of power outputs and a six-speed manual transmission or six-speed torque converter auto (on the 1.0-litre petrol), all driving the front wheels only.
If it all sounds like much ado about nothing, the driving experience comes as a pleasant surprise. The class of more radically styled supermini crossovers are characterised by a ride quality similar to that of a supermarket trolley on a dry ski slope, yet almost from the off the Ford reveals itself as having much more sophisticated and comfortable dynamics.
It's slightly stiffer than a standard Fiesta, but that's not a bad thing, and the additional but well-controlled body roll makes it easy to drive and feel your way through corners, particularly with the sensitive and well-weighted steering.
There's no great weight penalty with the diesel, but its better fuel consumption (58.9mpg EU Combined in top 118bhp form compared with 44.8mpg for the top 138bhp petrol turbo) doesn't justify its vibrations and more ponderous driving experience.
The 138bhp petrol is peppy, good fun and delivered about 39mpg on the test route through suburban parts of the French Var province.
Most buyers, though, will go for the 99bhp and 123bhp versions of this engine, but will still enjoy the spritely ride and handling.
One Ford PR said, "It's a bit of a sleeper" when I expressed my surprise at how nice it was to drive. After Ford's lacklustre performance in this market (EcoSport, anyone?), the Active's is an assured debut, which builds on the company's dynamic expertise.
There's no more room in it than a standard Fiesta and it costs more, but I reckon the Active will prove a surprising – if slightly confusing – hit.
Ford Fiesta Active X EcoBoost 140
TESTED 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE £21,095/now
POWER/TORQUE 138bhp @ 6,000rpm, 133lb ft @ 1,500rpm
TOP SPEED 124mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 9.4sec
CO2 EMISSIONS 119g/km
FUEL ECONOMY 54.3mpg
*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 20/05/2018 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront. Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change. Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.