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Ford Fiesta ST 2020 review: Urban test

Ford adds another arrow to its fun-filled performance quiver.

Daily driver score

3.9/5

Urban score

3.9/5

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.

Because it’s not just sales numbers which make a brand in the long run. There’s an art to offering fun, aspirational models, too. Look at Suzuki’s Jimny 4x4 and Swift Sport as other examples.

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.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

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.

I wouldn’t call the Fiesta’s $31,990 price-tag ‘cheap’. I wouldn’t call the Fiesta’s $31,990 price-tag ‘cheap’.

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).

18-inch alloys come standard on this hot hatch. 18-inch alloys come standard on this hot hatch.

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.

The ST is packed with a rather long list of inclusions. The ST is packed with a rather long list of inclusions.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

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.

The Fiesta wears Ford Europe’s new design language. The Fiesta wears Ford Europe’s new design language.

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 design is aggressive, but not over the top. The design is aggressive, but not over the top.

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.

Inside, things are interesting. Inside, things are interesting.

How practical is the space inside?

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.

This definitely isn’t a big car. This definitely isn’t a big car.

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.

Unsurprisingly, rear-seat passengers get next to no amenities. Unsurprisingly, rear-seat passengers get next to no amenities.

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 to now offer 311 litres VDA. Boot space has been expanded to now offer 311 litres VDA.
  • The boot held our largest 124L CarsGuide travel case with ease. The boot held our largest 124L CarsGuide travel case with ease.

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.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

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.

You’re buying this car for its 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine. You’re buying this car for its 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine.

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.)

How much fuel does it consume?

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.

What's it like to drive around town?

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.

Like any good hot hatch, the Fiesta is huge fun. Like any good hot hatch, the Fiesta is huge fun.

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.

There is nothing remarkable about the transmission in a good way. There is nothing remarkable about the transmission in a good way.

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…

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Just because the Fiesta is a performance car, doesn’t mean it’s missed out on crucial active safety gear.

The ST comes standard with auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, and auto high-beam control.

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.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

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.

All Fords are now covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. All Fords are now covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

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.

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.

$31,990

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.9/5

Urban score

3.9/5