Ford Fiesta VS Hyundai i20
- A true hot hatch
- Forgiving but engaging to drive
- Highly specified
- Tight back seat
- Firm ride might not be for all
- Manual-only will limit appeal
- Cracking exhaust
- Fun rather than ferocious
- A hoot on a track or (we expect) a winding road
- Too soon to properly judge it
- Manual only will deter shoppers
- Lacks the out-and-out punch of bigger hatches
Hot hatches are for a relatively small club of enthusiasts, and new small cars are gradually being eliminated from the greater Australian market.
Surely, it makes little to no business sense to bring an Australian audience a small, manual-only hot hatch all the way from Europe, to sell to a pitifully small audience of diehard enthusiasts.
But then, perhaps this is part of Ford’s enduring genius in Australia. You see, while long-time Australian arch-rival Holden stumbled over its ill-fated Commodore sequels and flip-flopped on its SUV catalog, chasing sales numbers in a post-local manufacturing world, Ford let the cars speak for themselves by offering Aussies brightly coloured pony cars and over-the-top pickup trucks which instantly etch themselves on your consciousness as they rumble past.
So, here we are. Ford made the surprise announcement to bring in its Fiesta ST hot hatch a few years ago, and despite a few delays we can now get our hands on it.
The question remains – is it any good? And, what is it like to live with in an Australian capital city? We took one for a week-long urban test to find out.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
After we spent what felt like an eternity with the Hyundai i30 N being an only child in Australia, the lauded hot hatch is finally getting a smaller sibling, with the Korean brand confirming the i20 N will debut in Australia next year, likely in the first six months of 2021.
On paper, at least, the city-sized hot hatch promises to deliver the performance thrills of the N brand to a whole new demographic, given its utterly family-proof dimensions and what will obviously be a more affordable price point.
But is it truly worthy of the N badge? We put an early prototype version to the test on the track to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
If you want a brand-new city-sized hot hatch which is also entirely track-ready, it is clear you only really have one option to go with in 2020.
Good thing then the Fiesta ST is not only a blast to drive, but it has all of today’s modern connectivity and tech items in an attractive and tasteful package at a not-outrageous price.
It’s just too bad the manual-only aspect will limit its appeal to true enthusiasts.
We'll reserve full judgement until we've lived with a production version of the i20 N, but after our short, track-based taste test? We like it a lot.
Fun rather than ferocious, it's the kind of hot hatch you can have an absolute blast in without feeling like you're going to kill yourself or your licence, and you can't help but climb out smiling..
The Fiesta wears Ford Europe’s new design language, which has swung back towards curves and bumps from the angular look of a few years ago, being tied to the brand’s broader global range through the use of the Mustang-look rhomboid grille. After the Focus it’s the first car to bring this design language to our market, and heralds a better-looking range of Ford SUVs in the form of the Puma and Escape (a segment in which Ford is struggling to make ground).
Regardless, our Fiesta only comes in one four-door body-style and one trim, this full-fat ST with all the spoilers and contrast detailing.
I love it. It scratches that European hot-hatch itch many have with its compact dimensions balanced out well with more subtle design touches. The 18-inch wheels and contrast grey highlights work well in the ‘Race Red’ colour scheme on our car, which also seems to nicely integrate the rear light fittings.
It’s aggressive but not over the top; there’s an element of subtlety about it, which should be applauded.
Inside, things are interesting. The chunky leatherbound wheel is nice, as are the almost-too-well-bolstered Recaro seats. But the dash is very upright, and the seating position immediately feels just a smidge too high, even in its lowest configuration.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen juts out of the dash into the passenger compartment, making you really feel those tight dimensions. At least everything is easily within reach…
The cabin design is a little dated, with plenty of hard plastics, a more-analog-than-not dashboard and some fittings which could easily be in a last-generation Ford product. Those searching for that hot-hatch experience probably won’t care, but it’s just not the most modern space to be in.
Again, this more an arbitrary score here, as the only i20 N we've seen to date was dropped in camouflage inside and out.
That said, you can tell from its silhouette that this a wide, hunkered-down hatch, with bulging arches and 18-inch blacked-out alloys, a domed bonnet, and little roof spoiler jutting out from above the rear windscreen.
Hyundai tells us the i20 N will also serve up a new air intake on front bumper, unique side sills, a new radiator grille, and a new rear bumper with a diffuser, as well as new rear lights. You can get the i20 N in seven colours, one of which will be the Performance Blue that's become the signature of the brand.
Inside, Hyundai says you'll find a "high-performance driving space" (whatever that means) with a host of N stuff, like a sports steering wheel and shifter, metal pedals, sport seats up front and blue highlights throughout the interior trimmings.
This isn’t a big car, nor is it particularly magical in the way it’s packaged. It’s focused on the front two passengers, so is best meant for a single or couple. This is most obviously reflected in the awesome Recaro seats, which you have to drop yourself into due to the high and firm bolstering.
Still, even for front passengers it’s tight, with little arm-flailing room, and minimal cabin storage.
There’s two centre cupholders, which can barely hold a large cappuccino, tiny bottle-holders in the doors, a small centre console box, but a decently sized binnacle under the climate controls where my wallet, keys and phone spent most of the week. The glovebox is also so small that the collection of manuals which live in there had to be bent out of shape to fit.
Amenity-wise you get one USB port and one 12V power outlet next to the gearknob, and one USB port in the centre console.
The Fiesta is tall, so at least no occupant is left wanting for headroom. That having been said, the rear seats are tight. Behind my own seating position, my 182cm tall frame had knees up against the seat in front, and entry/egress to the rear is a little tight. I’d hardly recommend placing an adult in the centre seat. Unsurprisingly, rear-seat passengers get next to no amenities. There are no power outlets or adjustable vents, leaving them with only a pair of pitifully small cupholders in the doors and rear-seat pockets. Still, the fact it has rear doors at all is something, and gives it at least the ability to carry four adults without too much trouble getting them in or out for quick urban journeys.
Boot space has been expanded 21 litres over the previous Fiesta to now offer 311 litres (VDA) of space. This is actually pretty impressive and held our largest 124L CarsGuide travel case with ease.
Under the floor there is a space-saver spare wheel.
Not particularly practical, to be fair. While Hyundai is yet to confirm the specification details of the i20 N, it is based on the brand's existing city car, so expect similar dimensions here.
It does, though, have four doors, which puts it ahead of some of its hot-hatch competition, and means climbing into the backseat isn't as hard as it could be. Once there, though, you won't be spoiled for space.
For reference, the regular i20 serves up twin cupholders up front, and bottle storage in each of the doors.
That car also stretches some 4035mm in length, 1734mm in width and 1474mm in height. That's enough to squeeze 326 litres (VDA) into the boot, or 1042 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat folded flat.
Price and features
I wouldn’t call the Fiesta’s $31,990 price-tag ‘cheap’ considering how much car, physically, you actually get for that money.
But then, for a pretty much track-ready hot hatch, it’s not bad either, especially since it is packed with a rather long and surprisingly luxurious list of inclusions.
These include 18-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, sat-nav and digital radio, a 10-speaker Bang and Olufsen audio system, 4.2-inch colour information screen between the dial clusters, single-zone climate control, leather steering wheel and semi-leather/suede Recaro sport seats, heated front seats, a reversing camera, and full LED front lighting.
Performance-wise, out of the box the ST gets Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, launch control with three drive modes, and is the first Fiesta to get a mechanical limited-slip differential (built by Quaife).
Rivals? The Fiesta comes at an opportune time, after Peugeot’s ageing but excellent 208 GTi was pulled from our market last year, and the Clio RS Cup ending production internationally, so you’ll be stuck looking for MY18s of those in dealers.
Other than those two, there is the Suzuki Swift Sport, which is fun and more affordable ($25,490), but not as much of a serious performer.
The Fiesta’s option list is limited to a panoramic opening sunroof ($2500) and premium paints ($650). Both are arguably worth it if you want them.
This is a tough one to answer, without yet knowing the pricing details. But Hyundai has told us that it will be priced on or around the money for the segment, which should see it land around the early $30k mark.
In terms of exactly what you get for that money, well, that remains to be seen. But here's what we know so far.
Expect 18-inch alloys wrapped in Pirelli rubber, a digital driver's display and a second, central touchscreen that will deliver both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, remote unlocking with push-button start, power windows, and...
Well, that's about all we could glean from our very camouflaged car. But you will also get a whole heap of performance kit, which we'll touch on under the Engine and Transmission section.
For everything else, though, you'll just have to watch this space.
Engine & trans
You’re buying this car for its 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine from the larger Focus. It is a punchy and characterful little unit, pushing out a whopping 147kW/290Nm. A lot for such a small package.
The Fiesta ST is only offered with a six-speed manual transmission which proved quick but forgiving, even in dense traffic. There’s no magnetic clutch or anything too brutal here which is going to make the ST unpleasant for urban drives punctuated by stopping and starting.
On the performance front the ST comes to Australia with a Quaife LSD as standard, which you can really feel in the corners. (More on that in the driving segment.)
I like the engine. A lot. Not the most powerful in the class, sure, but not underpowered in my opinion, either.
That's enough grunt, Hyundai says, to deliver a "class-leading" power to weight ratio of 126kW per tonne.
So how does it stack up? It puts the i20 N about a touch under segment standard, power-wise, with cars like the Polo GTI making 147kW and 320Nm, while the Fiesta ST makes 147 and 290kW. Unsurprisingly, it’s also comprehensively shaded by the Toyota GR Yaris, which makes a whopping 200kW and 370Nm.
We have managed to extract some other key details surrounding Hyundai’s newest hot hatch, too. We know, for example, that there’s torsion-beam rear suspension, a mechanical LSD, Sachs dampers, dual-mode exhaust and, like it’s i30 N big brother, the i20 N should get Pirelli rubber wrapped around its 18-inch wheels. It also weights just 1250kg.
More? Well there's rev matching for the manual gearbox, launch control and the brand's N Grin Control System which allows you to dial through Normal, Eco, Sport, N and N Custom drive modes.
The chassis and suspension have been overhauled, too, and there's bigger performance brakes fitted.
The initial claim of 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle seems pretty bold, and we couldn’t get close to it. I’m sure you could get much closer if you tried, but I was having far too much fun.
After a week of blasting the Fiesta down alleyways and skitting it around corners, the engine computer returned a usage of 8.4L/100km. Not on the claim, sure, but also not bad considering how much fun you can have for that amount of fuel.
The Fiesta has a 45-litre fuel tank and will accept mid-grade 95RON unleaded.
That I can't tell you, at least not yet. We were driving pre-production cars exclusively on a race track, and so taking an computer reading would have been grossly unfair, and Hyundai hasn't dropped an official figure on us yet.
We do know that the i20, in regular guise, is fitted with a 50-litre tank.
Like any good hot hatch, the Fiesta is huge fun, even when in the tight quarters of a city, or on a daily commute which would otherwise be boring.
The torquey engine makes short sharp bursts down suburban streets smile-inducing, and, due to the pure physics of having so much power in such a small package, there’s serious entertainment to be had without wrangling with the law. That’s because this car comes alive in the little moments: bursting off the mark at the lights, or swinging it into a corner and feeling the LSD work its magic to keep the ST’s body in line. You don’t need to be speeding or breaking traction to enjoy it.
There is nothing remarkable about the transmission in a good way. It’s slick, slots into gear nicely and the clutch is smooth – even forgiving. That ties into something else the Fiesta does well. Nothing is over the top about it. It is sensible, understated, tasteful.
You can bring it to life in the confines of an apartment block without waking up your neighbors, go for a short drive to the shops without cringing at potholes, take your family somewhere without blending them in the corners.
The suspension has enough give to be firm, a pleasure in the corners and a little skittish perhaps, but not as brutal as, say, the Peugeot 208 GTi was.
And while it might be the only performer left in the segment for now, I reckon it is a better urban friend than the Peugeot on Sydney’s roads, and a more engaging one than the Clio in the curvy stuff. It’s a hot hatch with few compromises… as long as you can drive a manual…
How should the success of a city-sized hatch truly be measured? Raw power and out-and-out pace? I don’t think so. There are bigger, more powerful vehicles for that.
Price? Well, at least a little. This segment forms the stepping stone to the performance vehicle world, and so they really can’t be too inaccessible, right?
If you ask me, the biggest - and possible only - criteria a car has to hit in this segment is that it’s fun. Plain and simple. Does it make you want to take the longer, twister way home, emerging at the other end of a winding road with a face-splitting grin and fighting the urge to turn around and do it again in the other direction? Or does it make you want to stick to the freeway?
Well, it’s safe to say that in the i20 N - in prototype form at least - the answer is definitely the former.
Yes, the light hot hatch segment has been in something a power arms race of late - one now won by the GR Yaris - but the i20 N doesn’t really step into that ring. Its 150kW and 275Nm puts it at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pure outputs.
But damn if it ain’t fun. The numbers on the page only really tell half the hot hatch story. The rest of it is how it feels, or how big a smile it paints on your face, and I can tell you this car painted a plenty big grin on mine.
One of the things I like about the i20 N is that it feels a little Mazda MX-5-like, in that you don’t need to be traveling at warp speed to feel like you’re having a good time behind the wheel. It means you can unleash it on any twisting road you come across, and have a whale of a time, without risking your entire driver's licence.
There are some cars where you really need to be travelling at pace to feel like you’re having a good time in them, but this isn’t one of them. It feels fun all the time.
It feels really connected to the track, too, like you’re in control of the vehicle, And I think the mark of a hot hatch is one that makes you feel like a better driver, and this does that. It forgives you mistakes, it urges you to push a little bit faster, a little bit further, and all of which results in a pretty good time behind the wheel.
Now a caveat, of course. This is a pre-prod car, and this test also took place on a race rack, so how this thing drives on the streets near your place, and what it's like to live with, is anyone’s guess, but as a taste test, it certainly seems to continue the N legacy of building cars that are simply a ton of fun.
Just because the Fiesta is a performance car, doesn’t mean it’s missed out on crucial active safety gear.
Missing is driver attention alert and active cruise, although in a manual it’s not likely you’ll miss it.
Ford’s Sync software also has a feature which can automatically call emergency services if the airbag is deployed.
Other safety features include torque vectoring, electronic stability, brake, and traction controls, six airbags (with full-length curtain), and dual ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
The Fiesta ST does not yet carry an ANCAP safety rating, although it does have a maximum five-star EuroNCAP rating.
More mysteries here, I'm afraid. Hyundai is yet to confirm full safety specification for the i20 N, but we would expect it to get most of the brand's advanced safety kit.
All Fords are now covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is on-par with major rivals, and a nice bit of security to have on a performance car. Check the fine print before taking it to the track though…
Ford also offers a few kickers through its Service Benefits program, like a free loan car when you service, auto club membership, and sat-nav updates.
The services which need to occur every 15,000kmn or 12 months are also cheap, with Ford covering the first four years at a fixed price of $299 each time.