Other features included a fresh new more rounded exterior style, with soft angles between panels and feature lines, a low nose, deep backlight and large lamp clusters. Re-engineered front suspension used a sub-frame to stiffen the front-end structure and isolate the powertrain more effectively. At the rear, a new twist beam axle design incorporated stiffer arms and toe-correcting geometry to improve handling, and soft spring rates to improve ride comfort.
The all-new interior provided a cabin environment combining quality, comfort and excellent ergonomics. Occupant and vehicle security were improved to the highest standards in the small car class with, another segment-first, the combination of an advanced four-channel electronic anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution and traction control.
It was also winning awards for its ‘green’ credentials. Low fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, and an environmentally friendly production process, put it ahead of not only the rest of the Ford line-up but the competition as well. That year, Fiesta celebrated 20 years on the market. In that time, it had been the top selling car – in all classes – three times in Europe as a whole, 12 times class bestseller in Germany, 19 times in UK and four times in Spain. The celebration was made complete with the production achievement of the 8.5 millionth unit.
The Turin Show in that year also saw the presentation of the ‘cheeky but charming’ Saetta Concept. Meaning ‘fast as lightning’ Saetta was a Fiesta dressed in the clothes of a two-seater out of the Ghia design studio. A roll bar ran from the hood to the trunk creating not only a startling, eye-catching design, but also providing the chassis stiffness needed for a fun, compact sports car. It was an early forerunner of the Ford Streetka.
Completing the year’s product actions, Ford added driver and passenger airbags as standard on all Fiesta models. Another idea based on Fiesta architecture – the Ford Puma sports coupe – debuted in 1997 to the delight of driving enthusiasts. It was powered by a 1.7-litre four-cylinder engine with variable cam timing for outstanding responsiveness and performance.