EXPECTING BIG THINGS

Garage

ALEX INWOOD

ON THE HYPE TRAIN – FIRST STOP, SCEPTICISM

PEOPLE I TRUST have been remarkably positive about the Fiesta ST. Scott Newman, MOTOR’s road test editor and an authority on all things fast and flashy, says it’s one of the top three performance cars he’s driven. Then there’s Trent Giunco who, having road tested my car in last month’s issue, is still telling anyone who’ll listen how it “just won’t understeer” and that it’s more fun than a Lambo.

Okay, that last part isn’t true, but you get the point. So why am I wondering what all the hype is about? All I can think, as I bounce and jiggle my way to complete my weekly shop, is that the ride is pretty firm. And that the turning circle, courtesy of the super-fast 12:1 steering rack, feels wider than the orbit of the moon. And that when I close the door, there’s an odd plasticky graunch like the seatbelt buckle gets caught.

I know the reason: COVID-19. What a buzz-kill this virus turning out to be. Self-isolation, which initially sounded okay because it meant we could all work from home, quickly turned into purgatory when I realised it meant we could no longer just ‘go for a drive’.

There’s a silver lining, however. We had the ST booked in for a comparison test with the Polo GTI and Suzuki Swift Sport, and given this could be explained away to the constabulary as work, I loaded my pockets with hand sanitiser and grabbed the keys.

That first proper drive wasn’t so much eye-opening as it was revelatory. There’s something joyous about a well-sorted and slightly over-powered hatchback, and this one’s special. Next month’s comparison will tell all, though the Fiesta ST smacks of being created by people who care about driving. The front axle is incredibly sharp, and the steering, which felt so woeful in the car park at Coles, coalesces as the speeds rise. Its accuracy and immediacy are almost perfectly judged. You don’t steer this car with your arms; mostly you guide it with your wrists.

But the best bit is the playfulness of the chassis. Pile in a smidge too hot (205-section front rubber means it will push if you get too greedy) and you have two options: grab the throttle early and feel the diff help pull you towards the apex, or lift off and revel in readily accessible degrees of oversteer. Track mode is your friend here. It slackens the electronic safety net to allow a quarter turn of corrective lock, though it still has your back should you overstep. It’s amusing, addictive, and crucially, the fun is accessible at sane speeds on regular roads.

So the hype is real. The ST is deserving of the praise. And that plasticky sound when you close the door isn’t crummy build quality, but the noise of retracting plastic guards that spring open to protect the door edge. I guess that’s another positive...

ALEX INWOOD

REPORT TWO

FORD FIESTA ST

Price as tested: $32,940

This month: 344km @ 8.1L/100km