2013 FORD FIESTA REVIEW
What’s Hot: That engine, that chassis, that pricetag.
What’s Not: Big gap between 2nd and 3rd gear.
X-FACTOR: Fun factor is off the scale, and it’s wallet-friendly too.
Vehicle Style: Light hot hatch
Engine/trans: 1.6 turbo petrol | 6sp manual
Power/torque: 134kW/240Nm (147kW/290Nm overboost)
Price: $25,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.2l/100km
After launching to critical acclaim in Europe, Ford’s highly-anticipated Fiesta ST has at last rolled into Australian showrooms.
And boy is it a firecracker. Small, but packing one hell of a bang.
It’s been a busy period for hot hatches. One of the Fiesta ST’s chief rivals the Peugeot 208 GTi launched recently, and at the opposite end of the spectrum is the Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG which launched just this week.
But in this writer’s opinion, for what it packages against the dollars asked, the Fiesta ST eclipses them all.
It absolutely destroys its direct competitors in the sub-$30k bracket too. For sheer fun-factor the Fiesta ST is a remarkable machine, and one that the Renault Clio RS will find very hard to top when it arrives early next year.
All Australian Fiesta STs are built in Cologne, Germany, and only offered in three-door configuration.
Having fewer doors than its cooking-model counterpart means there’s a slight sacrifice in outright practicality, but the upshot is that the German-built Fiesta feels markedly more premium than the rest of the Fiesta range, which is built in Thailand.
The dash pad is soft, rather than rock-hard, and the black headliner gives the cabin a sportier ambience. Reach adjustment for the steering column is also exclusive to Euro-build Fiestas.
Its ST-specific Recaro seats give excellent lateral support, while the chunky steering wheel feels great. The only ergonomic complaint we had was the pedal spacing; it’s just a bit too tight for proper heel-toeing.
An integrated sat-nav system isn’t offered on the ST, but the standard audio system is a thumping eight-speaker Sony unit with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, plus a USB input.
Keyless entry and ignition is also standard, and the ST debuts Ford’s MyKey system in Australia.
By locking out certain functions - like being able to disable the ESP and limiting top speed to 140km/h - MyKey is designed to give peace of mind to paranoid parents.
Entry to the rear seats isn’t too difficult, and once seated there’s a good amount of leg and shoulder room.
The roof rail does come mighty close to the side of your head though, and headroom is predictably tight.
You wouldn’t want to spend too much time back there, but the same could be said of pretty much every three-door light hatchback.
ON THE ROAD
The launch route encompassed some of the best roads Victoria’s Yarra Valley has to offer, as well as some of the worst. As a test of the Fiesta ST’s handling, it was certainly comprehensive.
The Fiesta ST’s suspension is firmer than the Peugeot 208 GTi and Suzuki Swift Sport, and about on par with the Volkswagen Polo GTI. Body roll is practically non-existent, and at times the Fiesta feels about as compliant as a rollerskate.
Hit a mild pothole at moderate speed and there’s a sickening thump, but stick to smoother roads and the ST comes alive.
Turn-in is super-crisp and the fast rack-ratio gives the steering superb response with plenty of feedback through the wheel (and some mild torque-steer too).
The 205-section Bridgestone Potenza RE050As aren’t especially trick, but the suspension geometry of the ST maximises the contact patch and allows them to work at their best.
It just grips and grips. As with the dearly-departed Focus RS, Ford Europe’s Team RS division has worked wonders with the Fiesta ST’s suspension.
It’s still a conventional MacPhershon strut front and torsion beam rear layout, but the front knuckle is unique to the ST and the rear beam has been reinforced to increase roll resistance.
Combined with a lower ride-height, stiffer springs and dampers and that new steering rack, the Fiesta ST sticks to the road like glue. Try as we might, it was incredibly hard to induce understeer.
But it’s not all about grip. This is a playful, well-balanced chassis too.
Misjudged your line? Ease off the pedal mid-corner and the nose will tuck in. Lift off more abruptly with the stability control dialled back and the rear will start to come around. It’s supremely adjustable, and an absolute hoot to drive.
The personality of the ST’s chassis is amplified by the engine. It’s 'only' a 1.6 litre four, but thanks to direct injection, a turbocharger and intercooler, it pumps out 134kW and 240Nm in normal conditions.
Drive harder to unlock the overboost function, and that rises to 147kW and 290Nm. Handy numbers for a car that weighs just over one tonne.
Midrange torque is fantastic, and for a low-capacity turbocharged engine there’s mercifully little turbo lag. The torque curve is fat too; this motor is at its happiest between 3000rpm and 6000rpm. There’s rarely much need to explore the 6500rpm rev cut.
It’s hooked up to a six-speed manual (no fun-sapping twin-clutch malarkey here: VW and Renault take note), but the yawning chasm between second and third gear interrupts the pace somewhat.
Never mind. Just stick it in third and use the ST’s commendable torque to pull from corner to corner. Only the tightest of switchbacks will necessitate a downshift to second.
It sounds fantastic as well, thanks in some part to the 'Sound Symposer' piping induction noise directly into the cabin. Surprisingly bassy at low revs and gutteral at high revs, the Fiesta ST’s powertrain never sounds shrill or unpleasant.
And that’s great, because sound is one of the most important facets of any performance car.
Ford has done well with the Fiesta ST’s voice box. It’s an appropriately sporty note when you’ve got the hammer down, but also very quiet during light-throttle cruising.
What’s it like to drive around town? We have no idea. That assessment will have to wait until we can get our paws on a week-long loan.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
There’s still a fair few months left in 2013, but I’m going to call this one early. The Ford Fiesta ST is one of the best cars released this year, and possibly the best.
It may not be vision-blurringly fast, but the sharpness of its handling and the directness of its controls make it feel much brisker than it is. It’s pure, undiluted fun.
Not only does the $25,990 Fiesta ST undercut all of its rivals on price (bar the Suzuki Swift Sport, but sadly that car lacks the muscle to compete with the Fiesta), it out-drives them too.
Hear that? That’s the sound of the Polo GTI stepping down from its throne.
We also suspect it’s faster point-to-point than that other sub-$30k grin-generator, the Toyota 86. We’ll put that theory to the test soon.
Ford reckons its first shipment of around 100 cars will satisfy initial demand. We think they’re about to be proved very wrong.