Bigger cars: how our motors have evolved

visual representation of bigger cars infographic with 4 new Ford Fiesta cars lined up next to each other

Bigger cars

Small city runarounds are growing into bigger cars as times goes by. You’ll struggle to fit even a small car in a garage that was built more than 30 years ago. But those mini motors have become faster, safer and more economical for drivers. To show how our cars are getting bigger we’ve got the ruler out on Britain’s largest seller.

The Ford Fiesta was launched in the UK 40 years ago, in 1977. It was an instant success, largely thanks to diddy dimensions. These made it smaller than the Escort which at that time was Ford’s most compact car. Fast forward 40 years and Ford is launching a new Fiesta this year. Here’s how old and new measure up.

Size matters

As time has passed so drivers’ expectations for what cars should contain have grown. Now even relatively cheap, small cars have air-conditioning, electric windows, multiple airbags and enormous computing power. To fit all this in, cars have had to grow in size. The all-new 2017 Fiesta – the seventh generation – is now 4040mm long, 13 per cent longer than the 3565mm old car. At 1735mm compared with 1567mm for the 1977 car, it’s 11 per cent wider. And its height of 1483mm makes it 9 per cent taller. Astonishingly, the new Fiesta is even bigger than the 1977 Ford Escort, which strictly speaking was in the larger small family car class.

Red Ford Fiesta on plain white background
Hey good lookin! New Fiesta isn’t just stylish, it’s safe and efficient too

Safety first

The world of car safety has changed dramatically over the past 40 years. When the Fiesta was launched it was a modern car but safety was primitive compared to these days. The driver and front passenger each had a seat belt. However, there were no seat belts in the back and on standard models there were no head restraints either. In the sales brochures the low seat backs are emphasised as if they’re a benefit!

The original Fiesta did claim to have ‘energy absorbing front and rear bumpers’. How much impact these could cope with before crumpling is debatable. Airbags were starting to feature on passenger cars in 1977 but it would be another 25 years before they were standard on the Fiesta. Although independent safety rating organisation Euro NCAP didn’t exist in 1977, we can safely say the original Fiesta would have struggled to register a single star.

The next generation Fiesta is expected to earn Euro NCAP’s top five stars. It has multiple airbags as standard plus 15 driver assistance technologies. These include cruise control that monitors the distance to the car in front, a blind spot warning, low-speed collision avoidance and a system that parks the car automatically.

Performance

The first Ford Fiesta didn’t have what was then new-fangled fuel injection that we now take for granted. Instead its engine relied on an old-school carburettor. Nonetheless, its 1-litre would exceed the speed limit with an 81mph top speed. It took 19.1 seconds to make 60mph from a standstill and it was economical for the time with a claimed 41.5mpg.

Original red Ford Fiesta - the new model is a much bigger car!
No head rests or rear seat belts for the Fiesta MkI and check out the tiny wheels!

The latest Fiesta has been called the world’s most technologically advanced small car. It features Ford’s latest engine technology. Although figures have yet to be confirmed, the 1-litre engine is expected have performance that’s significantly better than the model it replaces. That means mpg in the late 60s and a 0-60mph that would have been considered almost sporty in 1977.

Reliability

In the sales literature for the first-generation Fiesta, a big thing is made about it being designed for the DIY mechanic. There was no such thing as a warning light to highlight worn brake pads; you inspected these yourself through the wheel. This year’s all-new model will have a full suite of warning lights to alert drivers of any mechanical problems. Sadly, for enthusiastic repairers, fixing or servicing it will be like the models it succeeds: a job for a professional garage.

Find out how to get your car serviced here

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Mandy Weston

Mandy is an ex-mechanic, with 22 years’ experience in the motor industry. As an in-house motoring expert, Mandy is the go-to woman for any relevant questions that our customers have; both garages and drivers. From specific problems with your car to general maintenance, Mandy is a reliable source of information and advice. Her passion for motoring is a huge factor to her success and the huge wealth of knowledge that she has. She now uses her remarkable grasp of the industry to write regular content for our readers to help drivers understand their car better, avoid being ripped off by garages and save money on their motoring requirements.