Car reviews - Ford - Fiesta - ST
Superb Recaro seats, real-world usable performance, effortless point-to-point pace, precise gear-shift, unbeatable value
Room for improvement
Overly sensitive traction control in corners, only one-way adjustable steering column, noisy rear suspension, polarising styling
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29 Nov 2013
LET’S cut straight to the main point here: The Ford Fiesta ST is $25,990.
Even before you look at what this ST badge-wearing three-door hatch can do on the road, its sub-$26,000 price-tag makes it look like a pretty attractive package already.
Pick up a brochure and you will see a good range of toys from cruise-control, keyless entry and start, Recaro sport seats, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, Bluetooth, trip computer and a four-inch TFT screen.
On the outside the hottest Fiesta is immediately recognisable by a set of 17-inch five-spoke alloy-wheels and (on our test car at least) a rich Molten Orange paint job unique to the ST.
With that lot included as standard, the asking price starts looking even better value.
The styling of the Fiesta range has been fairly well received but if you didn’t immediately warm to the warp-speed looks then we would forgive you.
Forget what engine may lie under the bonnet for a moment and disregard the tuned chassis developed at the esteemed Lommel test-track in Belgium: at its core this is still a Fiesta, and the occasional reminders can be found in the interior.
Generally speaking everything seems screwed together well and nothing rattled or squeaked, but the interior lacks an air of quality that can be found in the more expensive European offerings.
The black roof lining, aluminium-look trims and white-stitched cloth Recaro seats definitely add a sense of occasion, but bring a feel more akin to sports-shoes rather than sportscars.
We felt the dash was overwhelmed by buttons and hard to navigate, which could have been rationalised by a more simple solution similar to BMW’s iDrive or Holden’s MyLink system.
But let’s be honest: if the interior trim and entertainment system is of greatest concern to you in a performance focused hatchback, then may we recommend something else?If driving pleasure is what interests you most, then read on.
Engine and transmission
A 1.6-litre engine in any state of tune may not immediately conjure sporty expectations, but given the Fiesta weighs in at just under 1200kg, the engine hardly has a lot of metal to lug about.
The little EcoBoost four-cylinder petrol uses direct fuel-injection, twin variable camshafts and a turbocharger to wring out 134kW and 240Nm of torque.
However, when full-throttle is applied an overboost function temporarily raises the turbo-pressure, resulting in an eyebrow-raising maximum output of 147kW and 290Nm of torque.
The added performance hop-up lasts a considerable 20 seconds, and since we can’t imagine a driving situation other than a V-max run that requires full-noise for longer, we think it’s fair to consider the overboost figure the norm.
From a standing-start the zero to 100km/h time of 6.9 seconds is very believable, and the little Ford pulls like a train all the way to the redline.
The accompanying engine note is satisfying but we feel a little too much of the aural experience is the responsibility if the ‘Sound Symposer’, which pipes some of the noise through the sound system.
Thankfully, while exhaust and induction sound-effects might not be completely believable, the turbo soundtrack is far more authentic.
Where many manufacturers shy away from the characteristic turbine whistle associated with turbocharged engines, Ford seems to have embraced the whole performance, and the lively motor produces a noticeable whistle on acceleration followed by a pleasant whoosh as the boost is dumped on overrun.
We’re also very pleased Ford resisted the temptation to fit this hot-shot with any kind of automatic transmission because firstly it would have dented the sharp asking price and secondly, it would have meant some unlucky souls would have missed out on the glorious six-speed manual gearbox.
The standard-fit cog-box contains six beautifully matched ratios which fall into place with a perfectly weighted and notchy selector lever. The excellent gearbox/engine union is connected and completed by an equally well-matched clutch providing a croc-like bite that remains progressive and light on foot.
The whole performance is quite theatrical and encourages a not exactly fuel-conserving driving style, but when we managed to tame our toe, a very respectable consumption figure was entirely possible and not a million miles from the quoted 6.2L/100km.
An engine and gearbox match as good as this would almost be worth the $25,990 investment alone.
Ride and handling
Much has been talked about the chassis development of the Fiesta ST, and the handling is arguably its most enticing feature.
Having spent time on the grueling Nurburgring in Germany and then on to Ford’s top-secret test complex in Belgium, the Fiesta earned its ST badge after months of careful tuning.
The modifications over standard fitment are extensive and cover virtually every aspect of chassis geometry, from the 15mm lowered ride height, uprated dampers, stiffened anti-roll bars front and rear, Ford’s ‘torque vectoring’ differential and the only rear disc brakes found on any Fiesta.
The result is a shining example of just how good a hot-hatch can be.
From the first turn-in, it’s clear the Fiesta ST has something special going on underneath its skin. Tiny inputs through the steering result in blow-fly like changes in direction.
The relatively tall shell resists rolling even when carrying significant speed, and the small dimensions give the hatch a distinct advantage through tight corners.
Dialing in too much power in corners prompts the electronic engine-nanny to turn off the taps which can get frustrating, but this soon teaches the pilot to lay off the power during cornering completely and glide through bends. As with all front-drivers, fluency is key.
Nothing is left to guess-work with the electric power-steering, which provides instant feel and feedback regardless of what you throw the car at, and the disc brakes on all four corners scrub speed tirelessly.
The rear wheels occasionally crash through surface imperfections highlighting the limits of torsion-beam suspension systems, and when pushed really hard the Fiesta will cock its rear wheel, indicating a lack of front anti-roll bar stiffness on the ragged edge.
As with any fine-handling driver focused car, the Fiesta cannot cheat physics forever and, at the very limit, the narrow track combined with short wheel-base manifests itself as a light rear-end, though this in our experience was seamlessly gathered up by the ESC.
This is another testament to the fine development work that has clearly gone in to the Fiesta, because plough-on understeer would have been a real disappointment after such agreeable road manners.
Throughout it all, both front passengers remain pinned in position as if they are woven in to the fabric of the (rather vulgar) Recaros.
Many performance cars costing four-times the price of the $25,990 baby Ford would struggle to return such a rewarding experience behind the wheel.
Safety and servicing
Seven airbags are hidden about the interior of the Fiesta including curtain bags, which extend to the second row of seats, side impact bags for the front row and a drivers knee-bag.
Three point seatbelts with pyrotechnic pre-tensioners are fitted to each of the five seats, ISOFIX child-seat anchors are positioned in the two outer rear seats, and both front seats have a seatbelt reminder function.
With all that safety gear it should come as no surprise that the little Ford has five ANCAP stars to its name.
For an additional fee, every Ford built after 2007 can be covered by with the MyFord servicing plan, which caps the maximum cost of logbook servicing for up to seven years/105,000km, guarantees 12 month/15,000km service intervals and provides a year of roadside assistance.
In the same way a pilot has to earn their wings, the Fiesta has had to earn Ford’s esteemed ST colours.
We are delighted that the Fiesta ST passes all tests with flying colours and climbs straight to the top of the hot hatch tree.
It is a careful balance of power and poise devoid of all the unnecessary accoutrements that would have spoiled its performance and price.
This isn’t just one of the best cars Ford has made this year, nor is it just one of the best hatchbacks we have driven in 2013. It isn’t just one of the best performance cars either.
We think it is simply one of the best cars full stop.
And did we mention it costs $25,990?
Alfa Romeo Mito QV ($30,000 before on road costs). Alfa Romeo’s baby has a very similar driving appeal to the Fiesta with outstanding handling, a gutsy engine note, bags of turbo sound-effects and a firm rewarding ride allowing great point-to-point pace. The extra cash necessary to step up to the Italian buys a dollop of unmistakable Euro style and the best seats this side of a circuit-racer.
Peugeot 208 GTi ($29,990 before on-road costs). The little French hottie offers similar levels of performance and equally lively handling but brings a little more quality with its interior finish and styling. The drive might not have quite the urgency of the Fiesta, but the Pug makes up for it with comfort and typical Peugeot panache.
Volkswagen Polo GTI/Skoda Fabia RS ($27,990 plus on road costs). Another $2000 on top of the Fiesta ST brings two similar German offerings in to the realms of possibility. The Skoda and Volkswagen hot-hatches have performance to match the Ford but the absence of a manual gearbox option may push purists away. Bags of typical German build-quality and understated styling make them worth a look.
SpecsMAKE/MODEL: Ford Fiesta ST
ENGINE: 1.6-litre turbo in-line four-cylinder
LAYOUT: Front engine, front drive
POWER: 134kW (147kW overboost) @5700rpm
TORQUE: 240Nm (290Nm overboost) @1600-5000rpm
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual
EMISSIONS: 145g/km CO2
SUSPENSION: McPherson(f)/ torsion beam with coil springs(r)
STEERING: Electric PAS
BRAKES: 278mm vented(f)/253mm vented (r)
PRICE: $25,990 before on-roads
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