MOTOR first Australian drive review
When you’re running late to the party, you’d best make a good entrance. The Ford Fiesta ST is very, very late.
It launched in Europe almost two years ago and was available in right-hand drive shortly after, but specification quibbles (Ford Australia wanted active safety kit that’s optional on overseas examples to be standard) meant a Q1 2019 launch became a Q4 2019 launch, which in turn became a Q1 2020 launch. Just.
The upside of Ford Australia’s obstinacy is one loaded hot hatch. In Europe, Fiesta STs are available in ST-1, ST-2 or ST-3 guise, with an optional Performance Pack on top of that, but Aussie cars get the lot – it’s like a Bunnings snag with onion, mustard and sauce.
As such, there is keyless entry and start, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with smartphone mirroring and SYNC3 connectivity, a 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo, heated leather steering wheel, heated Recaro front seats, auto headlights, auto emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, lane-keep assist and more.
Mechanically, you score 18-inch wheels with 205/40 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, a Quaife mechanical limited-slip diff, launch control and shift lights, all of which constitutes the Performance Pack that’s an option overseas. This hefty specification takes some of the sting out of the $31,990 price tag.
That might look steep when the previous Fiesta ST kicked off at $25,990, but take into account inflation and it’s an effective price increase of around $4000. Will that matter to the market? It shouldn’t, for reasons that will become apparent.
Let’s get the sensible stuff out of the way first, particularly as that’s where the new Fiesta ST needs to take the greatest strides over its predecessor.
The good news is there has been a significant uplift in both quality and ergonomics; the materials are now more premium small car than budget city car, and the seating position is usefully lower. Even better, you no longer need to be a whippet-thin jockey to fit snugly in the supportive Recaros; the steering wheel is a touch fat and the gearshift requires a small stretch, but the pedals are nicely spaced for fancy footwork.
The shift to a five-door body won’t please purists but makes accessing the rear seats roughly a billion times easier. It’s a fairly basic environment, but there’s ample space for a couple of six-footers.
What’s more, those passengers won’t hate you, as the ride is hugely improved. Don’t expect a magic carpet – it’s still firm and you feel the surface of the road – but the hopping and bouncing that made the old car tiring on long journeys is gone.
Key to this is the clever frequency-dependent damping, which goes some way to mimicking the effects of adaptive dampers with the ability “to tune out high-frequency road imperfections when there is limited demand for damping – like on the motorway, but adjust again to delivery optimised road-holding performance when driven hard”. They’re the words of Ford, but in layperson’s terms it’s less jiggly when you’re taking it easy yet still has an uncanny ability to soak up big bumps when you’re thrashing it.
And few cars want to be thrashed like a Fiesta ST. It might now be more grown-up, but it hasn’t forgotten how to boogie. This is a car you will never want to stop driving. Look up ‘perfect front-drive dynamics’ in the automotive dictionary and if there’s not a picture of Ford’s new hot hatch, there should be. The addition of the limited-slip diff is a masterstroke. Inside wheelspin is a common bugbear with front-drivers – including the old Fiesta ST – but now traction is incredibly strong, and holding steady throttle through a corner will stick the front tyres to the road.
Outright grip is sufficient to generate cornering speeds that have the potential to embarrass much more expensive machinery, but pure pace isn’t what this car is about. Its brilliance is the communication it provides to the driver, the steering being a particular highlight. It’s a little weighty, but the heft feels natural and doesn’t obfuscate the messages received from the front tyres, so there’s the confidence to really attack corner entries.
While the nose is nailed, the rear-end is up to all sorts of antics; as the limit is approached there feels to be a hint of passive rear-steer, but a bit of provocation will generate a half-turn of oversteer (which the Sport ESP setting will happily allow). In tight turns the Fiesta marks its territory by cocking an inside rear wheel into the air.
The biggest dynamic fault is occasional bump-steer when the car is heavily loaded. Road noise is also quite pronounced, and the brakes could use a little more feel. They are modest in specification – more in line with what you’d find on a base model than a performance variant – and, while they show plenty of stamina on the road, will they hold up to track abuse? We’ll find out in a future test. Nevertheless, such criticisms would be minor on an $80,000 or $150,000 car; on something costing $31,990 they seem largely irrelevant.
The Fiesta ST’s new downsized three-cylinder engine is even more remarkable. It’s an incredible bit of engineering, tiny in size – the block basically fits on an A4 piece of paper – and in capacity (1497cc), yet producing 147kW at 6000rpm and a meaty 290Nm from 1600-4000rpm. Ford claims 0-100km/h in 6.5sec, which feels achievable in ideal circumstances.
At a slippery Heathcote Dragway our best effort is 6.83sec to 100km/h and a 14.86sec quarter-mile at 155.86km/h. Any wheelspin quickly dissolves into teeth-rattling axle tramp, but a stickier surface should yield those missing tenths.
Like the similar yet even more powerful three-cylinder in the new Toyota GR Yaris, the Fiesta ST engine’s strength is not outright performance but its flexibility. Rolling acceleration is brisk, its 80-120km/h time of 4.0sec only 0.2sec slower than a Hyundai i30 N, and the short gearing and wide expanse of torque makes for effortless progress. But while you don’t need to stir the gearbox, you’re going to want to.
To be honest, the shift isn’t quite as ‘mechanical’ as the previous ST’s, but it’s still light and very accurate even when hurried across the gate. Weirdly, the shift action brings back memories of the FG X XR8’s manual, only far nicer.
Presumably extracting almost 100kW/litre out of such a small engine requires a decent injection of boost, but there is no appreciable lag or delay to throttle inputs. As the maximum torque figure suggests, floor it anywhere from 1600rpm on and you’re rewarded with smooth, purposeful acceleration right to the 6500rpm cutout. It sounds cool, too, gritty and angry with hints of turbo choof and the occasional pop from the exhaust on the over-run.
In case there’s still any confusion, let me be clear: the new Fiesta ST is absolutely brilliant. It’s a textbook example of how to successfully broaden the appeal of a car without compromising its core enthusiast values.
Essentially, Ford has nailed what Renault tried to do less successfully with the last Clio RS and current Megane RS. Every shortcoming of the previous ST, itself a fantastic machine and a modern classic, has been rectified with virtually no compromise.
The new Fiesta ST isn’t just one of the best hot hatches available, it’s one of the best performance cars full stop. It might be late to the party, but it has waltzed in dressed like Prince with a pet tiger on a leash and string of supermodels in its wake. Way to make an entrance.
2020 Ford Fiesta ST Specs
BODY: 5-door, 5-seat hatch
ENGINE: 1497cc inline-3cyl, DOHC, 12v, turbo
BORE/STROKE: 84.0 x 90.0mm
POWER: 147kW @ 6000rpm
TORQUE: 290Nm @ 1600-4000rpm
WEIGHT: 1191kg (tare)
POWER-TO- WEIGHT: 123kW/tonne
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
SUSPENSION: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); torsion beam, coil springs (r)
TRACKS: 1506/1476mm (f/r)
STEERING: electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
BRAKES: 278mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); 253mm solid discs, single-piston calipers (r)
WHEELS: 18.0 x 7.5-inch (f/r)
TYRES: 205/40 ZR19 (f/r); Michelin Pilot Sport 4
PRICE: $31,990 ($32,640 as tested)
PROS: Beaut engine; superb dynamics; interior improvement
CONS: Could have been here 18 months ago; price hike
RATING: 5 out of 5 stars
|Ford Fiesta ST|
|0-400m||14.86sec @ 155.86km/h|
|Speed in gears|
|1st||49km/h @ 6500rpm|
|2nd||90km/h @ 6500rpm|
|3rd||137km/h @ 6500rpm|
|4th||182km/h @ 6500rpm|
|5th||228km/h @ 6500rpm|
|6th||232km/h @ 5570rpm*|
Heathcote, 25˚C, dry. No rollout applied
Driver: Scott Newman
Official timing supplier: www.vboxaustralia.com.au
Second Opinion: Wheels first Australian drive review
Wheels has been at the forefront of Australian motoring media since 1953, creating quality, credible content that consumers trust, and taking readers behind the scenes of the automotive industry.
Feisty Fiesta ST finally lands – and it’s worth the wait
By: Trent Giunco
PLUS: One of the best steers regardless of price; punchy three-pot turbo; smile factor of 11
MINUS: Lack of three-door version; some rack rattle; could use beefed-up brakes
The Wheels Verdict
We could wax lyrical about the Fiesta ST’s myriad talents. It’s been a long time coming and it’s more than worth the wait. With a powerful and charming three-cylinder turbo, razor-sharp handling, updated cabin tech and a persona to make you chortle, the ST is one of the best performance buys – period.
What is the Ford Fiesta ST?
With Ford axing the ‘normal’ Thai-built Fiesta in Australia, the German-built ST is the only variant of the small hatchback reaching our shores. While it was released in Europe some time ago, Ford Australia held off for this high-spec version to arrive. Hence we get all the mechanical goodies, highlighted by the Quaife limited-slip diff and grippy Michelin rubber, as well as loads of tech. It’s five-door and six-speed manual only. There a single $32,290 model grade with the only options being metallic paint ($650), as on our test car, and a panoramic sunroof ($2500).
Why are we testing it?
We’ve driven the ST overseas and loved it. Now that it’s finally on home soil, it’s time to see if the bona fide hot hatch stacks up down under. Spoiler alert: it’s a big yes.
The Wheels Review
In the dormant early hours, the sounding of an alarm is piercing. Mornings are tough enough, but rising at 7am on a chilly Sunday morning seems especially cruel. Unless, of course, there is motivation to do so. Only then the will to press snooze dissipates. Inspiration comes via a key fob to the vaunted Ford Fiesta ST. All of a sudden it feels more like Christmas morning than an affront to a sleep-in.
Slinking into the heavily bolstered Recaro bucket-style seats (now wider and heated) it’s hard not to immediately pick up on the intent. The steering wheel is on the larger side, as is the thickness of the heated rim, but thankfully you now sit lower than before. Depressing the nicely weighted clutch and hitting the starter button brings the 147kW/290Nm three-cylinder turbo to life, its almost grumpy idle alluding to a serious side that’s aching to be uncovered. It sounds purposeful.
Scampering through Melbourne’s desolate city streets at this hour is liberating thanks to the stark lack of traffic and the Fiesta’s diminutive dimensions. Even the usual cycling pelotons in Lycra seeking lattes have eschewed the main thoroughfares.
Despite covering pockmarked ground, the ST isn’t fidgeting or crashing. It’s firm, yes, but also malleable, with the new dampers manipulating their valving depending on the severity and frequency of bumps. The quick steering, peppy engine and three evenly placed pedals are perfect for slicing through city streets with a wide childish grin.
We’re heading out of town to the Yarra Valley, an area blessed with roads championed by enthusiasts. It’s the definition of front-wheel drive hot hatch territory. However, despite the CBD shenanigans, there is a simmering worry that the ST might not meet the hype. The fact Wheels attended the international launch of this car (three-door guise) in 2018 can’t be shaken.
Yet, by the time the first few corners are taken with verve, all doubts disband within an instant. The deliciously weighted steering feels naturally heavy. Brushing the first apex with conviction reveals the pointy front end. It’s one that seeming fails to descend into understeer no matter how much entry speed you throw at it.
Continuing up the neverending surface and camber changes highlights the brilliance of the Quaife limited-slip differential – an expensive boon you wouldn’t expect in a $32,290 hatchback.
The mechanical LSD vehemently quells spinning of the inside-front wheel, while you can feel the outer 18-inch front hoop driving you out of the corner. Curved ‘Force Vectoring’ springs (positioned in opposite directions) work in conjunction with the ultra-stiff torsion beam rear axle, saving weight without compromising comfort or dynamic competence.
Being able to use all of your lane given the small footprint is freeing. There is a maturity progression in terms of dynamics, coupled with a step-up in grip to Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. Don’t think playful yaw movements from the rear are a thing of the past though, it’s just now more predictable. Thankfully, the ST hasn’t totally turned its back on its nefarious ways.
Post brunch, the roads open up and the ST’s sophisticated nature comes to the fore. As does the size-doesn’t-matter 1497cc turbo triple. It’s a punchy unit with astounding torque, while the short-throw six-speed manual ’box is competent, adding to driver appeal.
Yes, the Fiesta isn’t about outright pace, but trying to think of what you’d need to beat the Fiesta on a tight and twisty road is hard. It’s a giant-killer of the highest order. There is a sense that the ST is laughing at you and saying, “Is that all you’ve got?” It’s devilishly fast.
The only dynamic deficiencies are slight kickback through the steering wheel and a brake package that could be more robust (278mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers at the front and 253mm solid discs, single-piston at the rear). But both are inconsequential blights on a gleaming copybook.
The tempo reduces on the return leg to Melbourne and, surprisingly, you can relax in this hot hatch. The cabin is another reason to hold judgement on the ST’s late arrival given we’re now afforded an updated top-spec version. Cruising at 100km/h there is isn’t much intrusive road noise, but tuning the world out with the high-end B&O sound system is a welcome treat.
In fact, with monotonous kays to cover, exploring the cabin reveals a marked improvement in quality. The materials are pleasingly tactile, and the 8.0-inch SYNC 3 infotainment screen is light-years ahead of the antiquated Sony system. The Nokia-phone-style buttons are out, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is in. Ergonomics are sound, vision is clear and our cars gain full AEB.
More time spent with the ST unfurls design delights, as a passenger discovers when alighting a controversial rear door (the three-door won’t be offered in Oz). It has guards that pop out when you open the door to prevent denting a car, before swiftly retracting as the door closes. Said rear-seat occupant also reports decent head- and legroom for a 4068mm-long hatchback. The 311-litre boot, with 60/40-split seats, is found to be accommodating, swallowing all the toilet paper and lockdown supplies one could scavenge.
It’s now 7pm and the sun is fading. The Fiesta’s LEDs flicker in the dim light as the garage door slams shut. Twelve hours and myriad kays later, it’s hard not to be captivated by the charmingly cheeky yet utterly competent ST. So much so that you’d be forgiven for thinking it has an RS badge firmly on its pert rear.
If you’re after a performance car that reminds you why you love driving, this is it. The Fiesta ST is certainly worth waking up for.
RIVALS: Peugeot 208 GTi; Suzuki Swift Sport; Volkswagen Polo GTI
FORD FIESTA ST SPECS
Engine: 1497cc 3cyl, dohc, 12v, turbo
Max power: 147kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 290Nm @ 1600-4000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-100km/h: 6.7sec (tested)
Economy: 10.9L/100km (tested)
Price: $32,290 ($32,940 as tested)
On sale: Now
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