With all the interest being generated by the new Citroën Nemo/Peugeot Bipper/Fiat Fiorino — not to mention Renault's new Kangoo Van Compact — there's a danger that traditional, small, hatchback car-derived vans will be sidelined. There's little point in buying something like that, the argument runs, when you can get yourself a proper light commercial with a 2.5m3 cargo area that's accessible from three sides.
The flip response is that none of the newcomers is on sale in the UK as yet and won't be for several months. More fundamentally, while vans like Peugeot's 207 lack the load space that Nemo et al can offer, they provide a degree of driving pleasure that perhaps more practical vehicles occupying the same footprint will find difficult to beat.
Driving pleasure certainly comes as standard with the diesel Fiesta SportVan, the most expensive model in the Fiesta light commercial line-up and the object of our test.
While the standard diesel Fiesta gets a 68hp 1.4-litre engine, with SportVan power comes courtesy of a 1.6-litre four-cylinder Duratorq TDCi common rail lump developing 90hp at 4,000rpm. Fitted with an alloy cylinder head and block plus a turbocharger with an intercooler, the 16-valve unit pumps out maximum torque of 204Nm at 1,750rpm and is married to a five-speed manual gearbox.
Independent suspension with MacPherson struts, a sub-frame mounted L-arm and an anti-roll bar is installed at the front. At the back you'll find a twist-beam set-up with coil springs.
Fiesta SportVan sits on smart 16in 12-spoke alloy wheels shod in our case with Pirelli low-profile 195/45 R16 tyres. You get an emergency inflation kit rather than a spare. Such an arrangement undoubtedly saves weight, space and money, but it's not one we're keen on. While using such a kit in the event of a minor puncture should allow you to limp home, it will be useless if the tyre has been severely damaged; an increasing hazard given the disgraceful state of Britain's under-funded and rapidly disintegrating road network.
ABS is fitted as standard, with disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering offers a 9.3m kerb-to-kerb turning circle.
With a gross weight of 1,605kg, Fiesta SportVan can handle a gross payload of 543kg and tow a trailer grossing at up to 730kg.
Entry to the 1.0m3 cargo bay — Ford arrives at the cube figure by filling the bay with standard-sized blocks so that it reflects the amount of usable space available — is by means of a rear hatch complete with a heated window and a wash/wipe system.
It opens to reveal an area with a tailored load bed cover plus sides well-protected to half their height from minor damage by a mixture of carpet and plastic mouldings. The wheel boxes are protected too.
Four load tie-down points are fitted as standard. Anything that isn't secured and starts to slide forwards is stopped in its tracks by a half-height bulkhead. The one fitted to our demonstrator was topped off by a mesh grille for an extra £100; all prices quoted here exclude VAT.
Maximum load length is 1,320mm. Maximum width is 1,366mm, narrowing to 980mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 957mm. Rear loading height is 647mm, with quite a pronounced lip at the back over which cargo has to be lifted. Maximum door aperture height is 787mm while maximum width is 1,016mm.
One of the most surprising things about Fiesta is how roomy the cab is given the vehicle's modest overall dimensions. Tall drivers are unlikely to feel they're being short-changed and the ability to adjust both the height of the sports-style seat and the height of the steering column means that most shapes can be catered for.
Storage space for all the oddments drivers haul around with them is modest. Facilities include a roomy, but not lockable, glovebox with a shelf above it, a tray in the middle of the dashboard, one at the bottom with a cup-holder and bins in each of the doors with a moulding to hold a soft drink can or a small bottle of water.
One initial concern we had was the presence of a big button on the dashboard that allows you to unlock the rear hatch. Our worry was that anybody after whatever you might happen to be carrying could break one of the cab's windows, hit the button and make off with their ill-gotten gains in seconds. Remote deadlocks are fitted, however, to ensure this cannot happen. If the vehicle has been locked then the smash-and-grab raider can hit that button all he likes; and nothing will happen.
That may not stop various morons trying, however, so it may make sense for Ford to reposition the button to floor level or to just inside the glovebox lid to make it less obvious; and less tempting.
SportVan buyers get a radio/CD player with chunky, user-friendly controls plus remote controls on the steering column and the ability to connect up a portable music player like an iPod. Electric windows form part of the package along with a trip computer, a 12v power point and driver and passenger airbags. Cosmetic embellishments include a leather-covered steering wheel with silver-finish spokes and a leather-covered gearknob.
Our test SportVan was additionally kitted out with a technology pack that includes electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors, air-conditioning, a heated windscreen and Bluetooth connectivity. It adds £600 to the price.
Fiesta SportVan is a hoot to drive from start to finish, no question about it. It's got ample performance on tap and the responsive steering, sharp handling and slick gearchange — one of the best we've encountered — means it can be exploited to the full. That's always assuming that you can put up with the racket. While the decibels generated by the engine are not especially intrusive, there's too much wind noise and road roar emanating from the back of the vehicle. Having all that fun at the wheel won't break the bank. We averaged an environmentally-respectable 60mpg.
While the use of low-profile tyres aids the handling, it doesn't do so at the expense of the ride. It's a touch firmer than it is on the standard Fiesta, but not unpleasantly so.
Distinguished by a body-coloured styling kit complete with a high-intake front grille, Fiesta SportVan comes with a three year/60,000 mile warranty with a roadside rescue and recovery service provided for the first 12 months of ownership. A corrosion perforation warranty protects it for eight years.
Front fog lights are included in the deal, as is an alarm and metallic paint. Our demonstrator was additionally equipped with headlights that can be set to come on automatically if conditions justify it — no bad thing given how few drivers switch their lights on when visibility is poor — and rain-sensing wipers in a pack that costs £100.
Ford's stylish-looking Fiesta SportVan is a hoot to drive, no question about it, and you can derive maximum enjoyment from it without breaking the bank or annoying the tree-huggers. We averaged 60mpg. Ample performance, sharp handling and a great gear change are accompanied by a roomy, comfortable cab. OK, wind noise and road roar could stand to be better controlled, and cargo capacity is limited. But SportVan still has a lot to recommend it as a practical runabout that provides a lot of fun into the bargain.