Car reviews - Ford - Fiesta - ST
Peppy and willing three-pot engine, manual gearbox feel, razor-sharp steering, go-kart handling, sporty interior touches
Room for improvement
Jittery and skittish ride quality, thirsty engine, some cheap cabin elements, exhaust should be louder, no auto option
Ford’s pint-sized Fiesta ST has all the charm – and the drawbacks – of a hot hatch
2 Apr 2020
CHANGING consumer trends over the last few years has seen a drop in the number of light hatch buyers, which has in turn resulted in a number of brands dropping their offerings from the segment,
However one part of the light car segment is alive and well – the hot hatch segment, which models like the Volkswagen Polo GTI, Renault Clio RS and Peugeot 208 GTi keeping the fun. Lightweight spirit alive.
Ford has moved with the times, dropping the new-generation Fiesta hatch from its line-up – with the exception of the top-spec ST, which races into showrooms with an increase in power and sharpened dynamic ability.
So how does Ford Performance’s latest model compare to the competition?
First drive impressions
At $31,990 plus on-roads, the Fiesta ST arrives in the value-conscious light car segment priced competitively against its main rivals, the aforementioned Polo GTI and Clio RS200 Cup, both of which ask $32,490.
Just one iteration of the Fiesta ST is available – a six-speed manual version that will offer a point of difference to its auto-only rivals, teamed to a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol mill.
The new three-pot engine provides a 15kW/50Nm boost over the outgoing 1.6-litre four-cylinder unit, with final outputs coming out at 147kW at 6000rpm and 290Nm from 1800-4000rpm.
With an identical power figure to the Clio and Polo, the Fiesta ST is well positioned to compete, and the punchy little three-pot delivers with a willing and hard-revving character that encourages sporty driving.
A strong band of torque is found from low in the rev range, and a responsive throttle allows for instantaneous acceleration in most situations.
With a kerb weight of just 1217kg, those power outputs are made feel even more significant, with the Fiesta ST able to leap off the line and mow down the triple-digit figure in no time (6.7 seconds officially).
One of the Fiesta’s major points of difference compared to its rivals is its transmission, a six-speed manual transmission that will delight purists when compared to the Polo and Clio’s dual-clutch automatic units.
The gearbox has a fairly heavy, analogue feel which gives it an old-school hot hatch vibe, but still shifts relatively smoothly while retaining its heavy and tactile character.
The purist in us loves the fact that Ford is only offering its little hot hatch with a manual option, however putting our more pragmatic business hat on, we can’t help but feel the ST will not sell as well as it could without an auto option.
Our only other gripe with the manual transmission is that we feel it could have a taller sixth gear, with the tachometer sitting at around 2500rpm at highway speeds.
The short gearing contributed somewhat to our fuel consumption figure of 9.1 litres per 100km, up from the 6.3L/100km combined figure, with a mix or highway and spirited back road driving mixed in.
Along with the heavy feel of the transmission shifter, the Fiesta ST also has a noticeably heavy steering feel, which with a 12:1 ratio is the fastest of any Ford Performance model and 14 per cent sharper than the previous Fiesta ST.
The new steering setup gives the Fiesta a precise and direct feel, with the heavy steering helping provide a sense of connection between the driver and vehicle.
In fact the steering is so sharp we feel it may become tedious as a daily driving proposition where the driver is constantly making micro-adjustments to keep the vehicle in a straight line.
The hard-edged feel is a hallmark of hot hatches, and the suspension setup of the Fiesta ST only reinforces that feel, with an overly firm calibration that no doubt enhances on-road dynamics but hampers ride comfort.
Especially when travelling at high speed or on less-than-perfect road surfaces, the ST’s ride quality is harsh and unforgiving, with even minor bumps making their way up through the cabin.
The new-gen Fiesta uses a weight and cost-saving torsion-beam rear suspension setup, which tends to be less sophisticated than independent suspension.
As a result, the Fiesta ST has a particularly jittery rear end, which does not inspire a ton of confidence when travelling at high speeds or throwing the vehicle into corners. The standard 18-inch alloy wheels do nothing to aid ride comfort, either.
While the suspension is far from perfect, the Fiesta’s small dimensions and sporty engineering make it a fun little pocket rocket in the twisty stuff, holding its line through corners and gripping faithfully to the road without any understeer from its front-drive layout.
When under full acceleration, there is a small hint of torque steer when driving in a straight line, however the Quaife limited-slip diff on the front axle does a good job of channelling the power successfully to the road.
Doing an even better job are the Fiesta ST’s potent brakes, which do a marvellous job of wiping away speed in the blink of an eye.
The interior of the Fiesta ST is typical of an affordable hot hatch, with a largely low-rent layout in terms of materials and spec, augmented with a number of sporty and high-class features.
A leather steering wheel, shifter and handbrake lever come as standard, as do bolstered Recaro seats with leather and Alcantara upholstery, heated seats and steering wheel, 10-speaker B&O Play audio system and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with the SYNC3 infotainment system.
Ford’s SYNC3 system is a smart and sharp system, however we feel its usability would be greatly increased with the inclusion of a number of physical shortcut buttons running around the outside of the screen like you would have on a Hyundai or Kia model, which would help drivers keep their eyes on the road and would make the infotainment system far easier to navigate.
Under the premium features, the interior features swathes of black plastic, and generally has a dark and simple construction.
Dimensions for front passengers are comfortable, however as a light hatch, adult rear passengers will find it hard to fit comfortably.
The 311-litre boot is not particularly long but has plentiful depth, and folding the 60/40 split-fold rear seats allows for a practical amount of space.
Ford has a little dynamo on its hands with the Fiesta ST. It is raw, fun and dynamic, and can comfortably stand up against the other baby hot hatches on the market.
An automatic option would surely increase its popularity, however the purist-driven manual-only setup makes it feel like a callback to the glory days of the uncouth, raw and engaging pint-sized hatchback.
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