A ‘premium’ supermini could hold the key to promoting mass adoption of autonomous technology. Paul Myles reports.

We have heard much from connected car executives at Ford about how the volume manufacturer can ‘democratise’ new technology by bringing it to the mass market (Ford will woo consumers with connectivity).

It’s not difficult to see how they will achieve this having driven the new range-topping supermini from Ford, the Fiesta Vignale. Yet, Vignale is seen by the carmaker more as a sub-brand than just a top-of-the-tree model with the current versions, Fiesta, Kuga, Mondeo, Edge and S-Max, enjoying a higher level of hand-finishing to justify a premium price tag in each of their auto segments. The brand also enhances the customer experience by offering special body colour options, unique choice of wheels and body detailing, quality leather interiors, a personal relationship manager at all Ford stores and a one-call support service.

The key role, from a connected car viewpoint, is that the Vignale will be the first of Ford’s platforms to enjoy executive-level technology before it works its way into the mass market arena. TU-Automotive was invited to test drive the new Fiesta on the winding and weather roughened roads of the Snowdonia National Park in Wales to see just how ‘premium’ a supermini can be. Visually, the little car immediately looks like a Vignale, with its lashings of chrome details and distinctive grille.

Inside, too, you’d be hard-pressed to find any other car in this segment offering a more opulent environment thanks to quality quilted leather seats, plush carpeting, a 675-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system and top-specification infotainment package in the shape of Ford’s latest SYNC 3 suite.

This eight-inch screen system is much simplified compared to earlier generations and brings the connected world to the driver in a very intuitive way that rarely requires any reference to the owners hand-manual, which pulls the technology in line with smartphone use.

Of course, the ride quality is crucial with any touchscreen system and here the Fiesta shines soaking up the challenging road surface conditions of North Wales so that a front seat passenger can scroll through menus despite the driver maintaining pretty rapid progress thanks to the car’s punchy 138bhp three-cylinder 1,000cc Ecoboost petrol engine. In fact, the car’s special comfort-orientated suspension manages to cope fairly well with even large wheels, including the optional 18-inch alloys, without transmitting much in the way of vibration or noise while still providing a tight and sporty ride when pushed hard.

Naturally, this little car will probably spend much of its life less on the wild-and-woolly countryside lanes than in congested city streets and this is where it’s easy to see it being an ideal candidate for Ford’s upcoming autonomous features. A ‘mass-market’ rendition of an auto-pilot would sit very nicely in among the car’s existing ADAS offering which features automatic emergency braking as standard plus options, that do not cost much more on top of the Vignale’s list price of £19,795, including blindspot and cross-traffic alerts, a driver assistance pack that uses top-flight pedestrian detection, distance alert and adaptive cruise control.

While its screen ticket may place it firmly at the top of the B segment auto price tags, this Fiesta is still one of the most affordable entry points to this level of ADAS and, when it does get Level 3 or 4 autonomy, the Vignale could be seen as the real herald of mass-market driverless technology.

TU-Automotive Detroit 2018

06 Jun 2018 - 07 Jun 2018, Novi, USA

With 150 speakers, a 200,000 sq ft exhibition and 3000 attendees, TU-Automotive Detroit is the world's biggest conference & expo for connected & autonomous cars.