Drives

FIRST

TRENT GIUNCO

THE NEW METAL THAT MATTERS, TRIALLED AND TESTED

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

FORD FIESTA ST

BRILLIANT THINGS COME IN THREE-POTS

IN THE DORMANT early hours, the sound of an alarm is piercing. Mornings are tough enough, but rising at 5am on a chilly Sunday morning seems especially cruel. Unless, of course, there is motivation to avoid pressing the snooze button. Inspiration comes via the key to the long-awaited Ford Fiesta ST. My plan is simple – punch out of the city and head for some of Victoria’s best driving roads.

Slinking into the heavily bolstered Recaro bucket-style seats (now wider and heated) it’s hard not to immediately pick up on the intent. The steering wheel is on the larger side, as is the thickness of the heated rim, but thankfully you now sit lower than before. Depressing the nicely weighted clutch and hitting the starter button brings the 147kW/290Nm three-cylinder turbo to life, its almost grumpy idle alluding to a serious side that’s aching to be uncovered. It sounds purposeful.

Scampering through Melbourne’s desolate city streets at this hour is liberating thanks to the stark lack of traffic and the Fiesta’s diminutive dimensions. Despite covering pockmarked ground, the ST’s suspension isn’t crashing through. It’s firm, yes, but also malleable, with the new dampers manipulating their valving depending on the severity and frequency of bumps. The quick steering (1.9 turns L2L), peppy engine and three evenly placed pedals make it perfect for slicing through empty city streets.

We’re heading out of town to the Yarra Valley, an area blessed with serpentine roads championed by enthusiasts. It’s ideal hot-hatch territory. However, despite the CBD shenanigans, there is a simmering worry that the ST might not meet the hype. The fact Wheels attended the international launch of this car (in three-door guise) way back in 2018 can’t be shaken.

Yet, by the time the first few corners are taken with verve, all doubts vanish within an instant. The perfectly weighted steering feels naturally meaty. Brushing the first apex with conviction reveals the pointy front end. It’s one that stubbornly resists lapsing into understeer, at least at halfway-sensible road speeds.

Throwing continual surface and camber changes at it highlights the brilliance of the Quaife limited-slip differential – an expensive boon you wouldn’t expect in a $32,290 hatchback.

The mechanical LSD effectively quells spinning of the inside-front wheel, while you can feel the outer 18-inch front hoop driving you out of the corner. Curved ‘Force Vectoring’ springs (positioned in opposite directions) work in conjunction with the ultra-stiff torsion-beam rear axle, saving weight without compromising comfort or dynamic competence.

Being able to use all of your lane given the car’s compact footprint is deeply satisfying. This instantly feels a more mature car that the old ST, plus grip has taken a step-up thanks to standard Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. Don’t think playful yaw movements from the rear are a thing of the past, though, they’re now just more predictable. Thankfully, the ST hasn’t turned its back on its nefarious ways.

Post brunch, the roads open up and the ST’s sophisticated nature comes to the fore. As does the size-doesn’tmatter 1497cc turbo triple. It’s a punchy unit with astounding torque, while the short-throw six-speed manual ’box is competent, adding to the overall driver appeal.

The Fiesta isn’t about outright pace, but trying to think of what you’d need to better this car on a tight and twisty road is hard. It’s a giant-killer of the highest order with deep dynamic reserves. There is a sense that the ST is laughing at you and saying, “Is that all you’ve got?”

The only dynamic deficiencies are slight kickback through the steering wheel and a brake package (278mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers at the front and 253mm solid discs, single-piston at the rear) that sounds small on paper. They do hold up fairly well to serious punishment, however.

The tempo reduces on the return leg to Melbourne and, surprisingly, you can relax in this hot hatch. The cabin is another reason to hold judgement on the ST’s late arrival given we’re now afforded an updated top-spec version. Cruising at 100km/h, road noise isn’t overly intrusive, and a B&O sound system is standard.

In fact, with a few highway junctions to cover, exploring the cabin reveals a marked improvement in quality. The materials are pleasingly tactile, and the 8.0-inch SYNC 3 infotainment screen is light-years ahead of the antiquated Sony system. The Nokia-phone-style buttons are out, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is in. Ergonomics are sound, vision is clear and our cars gain full AEB.

More time spent with the ST reveals some thoughtful details. Each door (the three-door version won’t be offered in Oz) scores a guard that pops out when you open it to prevent denting a car, before swiftly retracting as the door closes. Rear-seat occupants also have adequate head- and legroom for a 4068mm-long hatchback. The 311-litre boot, with 60/40-split seats, comes in useful, swallowing all the toilet paper and lockdown supplies we could scavenge.

It’s now 7pm and the sun is fading. The Fiesta’s LEDs flick off in the dim light as the garage door slams shut. Fourteen hours and a few hundred kays later, it’s hard not to be captivated by the cheeky yet surprisingly polished ST. You’d be forgiven for thinking it has an RS badge firmly on its pert rear.

If you’re after a performance car that reminds you why you love driving, this is it. The Fiesta ST is certainly worth waking up for.

TRENT GIUNCO

PLUS

One of the best steers regardless of price; punchy three-pot; smile factor of 11

MINUS

Lack of three-door some rack rattle; could use beefed-up brakes version;

Model Ford Fiesta ST 

Engine 1497cc 3cyl, dohc, 12v, turbo 

Max power 147kW @ 6000rpm 

Max torque 290Nm @ 1600-4000rpm 

Transmission 6-speed manual 

Weight 1208kg 

0-100km/h 6.7sec (tested) 

Economy 10.9L/100km (tested) 

Price $32,290

On sale Now

The Rival

VOLKSWAGEN POLO GTI $32,490

The sixth-gen VW Polo launched in 2018 with a very mini-me Golf approach. The car grew dimensionally and the GTI version gained its older sibling’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo. The unit is good for a Fiesta-rivalling 147kW but is a little heavier. The Polo is DSG-only and sprints to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds. Watch this space: we’re lining up the GTI and ST (with a third curve ball) for a comparison test soon.