Ford is simplifying its city car line-up and will offer just one new Fiesta model when it arrives early next year. Fortunately, for hot hatch buffs at least, that single Fiesta ST model is also the fastest and the best.
And there shouldn’t be much love lost for buyers shifting preferences away from conventional cars to small SUVs, though the ST will have a much more focused target audience, namely those prepared to pay for performance, handling and added visual flair in a compact hatchback package.
Vehicle Style: Small hot hatch
Price: $29,000 plus on-road costs (estimated)
Engine/trans: 147kW/290Nm 1.5-litre 3cyl turbo petrol | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.0 l/100km
With no pricing finalized some 10 months from its projected Australian release and no decision on final specification (more on that later) the closest indication is that the Fiesta ST will hope to undercut its nearest rival, the $30,990 Volkswagen Polo GTI.
Given the latest GTI starts at $30,990 with a DSG gearbox and the ST is manual-only, the best guess would be Ford’s pocket rocket is about a $29,000 proposition.
For that, buyers will get a Fiesta that’s a little longer and wider than the model it replaces but, being the sportiest model, comes with the full regalia of a deep front air dam, rear spoiler and either 17 or 18-inch wheels.
Power comes from a 1.5-litre three cylinder engine and for the capacity, there’s quite a lot. It’s turbocharged and produces a peak 147 kilowatts and a substantial torque output of 290 Newton metres from as low as 1600rpm all the way to 4000rpm.
There’s a launch control function that dials in optimum revs and traction control before dumping the clutch in the six-speed manual and that, along with just 1262kg to haul (in the three-door version), equates to a claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time of 6.5 seconds.
Speaking of doors, Ford hasn’t decided whether to import the three or five-port version but Australians’ historical preference for the latter would indicate it is the more likely.
We will get just the one model specification unlike the three levels available in Europe but whether features such as the larger wheels and a limited slip differential will be included as standard or optional equipment is not yet known.
Definite inclusions will be cylinder deactivation that under light loads turns the triple into a two cylinder and helps keep fuel consumption down to 6.0L/100km, plus there’s a form of passive rear-axle steering to improve cornering, although no adjustable dampers as part of the three (normal, sport and track) adjustable drive modes.
The interior offers a good blend of practicality, sportiness and techoid entertainment. The Recaro seats, which might be standard on Australian STs, have excellent comfort and support, the flat-bottomed steering wheel is a bit gimmicky, and the eight-inch central infotainment screen sits high and prominent.
About the only ergonomic black spots are the centre console bin that repeatedly seems to foul the driver gear-changing elbow, and pedals that somehow don’t seem set-up for easy heel-and-toe gear changes.
You get a decent sized boot of 311 litres capacity seats-up, and the back seat is about as roomy as you’d expect for a small car, meaning just adequate for two taller passengers.
ON THE ROAD
Any doubts that just three cylinders are enough for a performance kick are quickly dispelled just by moving the ST off the line. There’s lots of pulling power so the engine is remarkably flexible and willing to haul from low revs in higher gears, but it’s also quite willing to reach its quite low redline just above 6000rpm.
The sound it makes is a kind of rorty, off-beat rumble that is enhanced both by an exhaust flap that opens at middling revs and a synthesized version of the engine note coming through the sound-system speakers that might be cheating a little, but sounds natural enough.
So the ST has the goods to go fast (find the right road, and would you believe it tops out at 232km/h) but it is the combination of engine, gearbox, suspension and brakes that makes the whole pocket-rocket package boil with intensity.
And no, if you’re licensed only to drive an automatic the ST is off limits although Ford engineers hint a dual-clutch auto is on the cards. Until then, those drivers willing to use their left foot are likely to revel in the extra involvement of the manual.
The new electrically-assisted power steering is very direct moving from off-centre and feels a little nervous before the driver becomes accustomed to using more delicacy, and then enjoying the built-in feedback and involvement.
Find a road with a series of corners and the ST is ripping good fun. There’s as astonishing amount of grip for a car of such prosaic origins, helped by the Quaife mechanical LSD that virtually eliminates the inside front wheel losing traction exiting a tight corner.
Torque steer is really only noticeable during hard, straight-line acceleration and the front end is sticky enough to mean understeer is not an issue at road speeds. Despite all this, the ride quality is firm but compliant enough for comfort, at least on European roads.
With brakes that seem to have limitless stopping power after repeated hard use, just enough engine power for the chassis and handling that is dependable and entertaining, it adds up to a very accomplished combination of sports car and tourer despite the Fiesta’s small size.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Any on-road comparison with the new Polo GTI is going to be fascinating and if, as expected, Ford undercuts the VW on price the Fiesta ST just might become one of the best value, highly entertaining yet still practical performance cars money can buy.
- Interested in buying Ford Fiesta? Visit our Ford showroom for more information.