AS INTRODUCTIONS go, this one’s hardcore. Sitting on the starting line at Heathcote Raceway, the Fiesta ST’s three-cylinder patiently idling away as I toggle the drive mode selector to ‘Track’, it dawns on me that my first experience of my new long-termer will be a full-bore acceleration run at the dragstrip. No gentle ‘Hello’, no warming up period, no cruisy drive to sample the shift action or how power is delivered. Just 3000rpm, a quick clutch dump and as much throttle as the front axle can handle during the sprint to 400m.
This is one of the first Fiesta STs in the country, and having to collect it from Ford means online editor Cam Kirby arrived late to Heathcote. We’re here for our cover shoot with the Mercedes-AMG A45 and to run both cars down the dragstrip. Find them an odd pairing? Don’t fret, our logic is sound: few hatches carry as much hype as these two, or as much interest from people who really care about driving. Plus, they neatly bookend the hot hatch segment – the $93K ‘hyper hatch’ A45 packing 310kW/500Nm and this more attainable $32K Fiesta ST punching out 147kW/290Nm.
Predictably, they couldn’t be more different at the strip. Where the A45 does its best to force all of the skin on your face towards your ears as it tears away from the line to hit 100km/h in 3.9 seconds, my first launch in the Fiesta is a tangled mess of wheelspin and shuddering axle tramp. There’s more torque than I was expecting from a three-pot. It sounds fruitier than I was anticipating, too, and the sound symposer system (which boosts theatrics by piping exhaust noise through the speakers) is fairly subtle and authentic.
The second and third runs are cleaner, my technique being finessed with each launch. Managing wheel spin is the biggest priority: it’s 31 degrees and the unprepped surface is slippery enough to have the 18-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres chirping as I shift into third. It feels fast, and the sensation is far more exciting than the numbers suggest.
My best run takes 6.7sec to reach 100km/h, which is a couple of tenths off Ford’s official 6.5sec claim. The quarter takes 14.9sec at 154.8km/h. Not bad given I didn’t use the launch control feature or exploit the ST’s ability to handle flat shifts (ie not lifting the throttle on upshifts). Mechanical sympathy won out there.
But here’s the thing – I’m quickly learning the Fiesta is about more than binary acceleration figures. Just as its real-world performance feels faster than the numbers suggest, the rest of the car imbues an immediate sense of personality and fun. It sounds naughty, even at idle, and obvious thought has gone into how you interact with the car. All of the control weights are nicely judged, the stubby gear shifter fluidly snicks from slot to slot, and you’re cocooned in heavily bolstered Recaros. The seats are so good you quickly forget you’re set a little higher than you’d like, though while they hug me comfortably, others could find them a little snug.
I won’t be wanting for equipment, either. Aussie STs score a full suite of advanced safety gear, an 8.0-inch central touchscreen with clear graphics and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and all of the extra ‘go fast’ bits usually reserved for an optional Performance Pack (Quaife LSD, 18s, launch control) as standard. The only extra cost to our example is Ford Performance Blue paint for $650.
It’s a strong first impression, then, yet the real measure of a great hot hatch isn’t how quick it is in a straight line, but how it tackles a tortuous back road. Three months of lift-off oversteer and cocking inside rear wheels await.
FORD FIESTA ST
Price as tested: $32,940
This month: 226km @ 7.8L/100km