A GAME OF CONFIDENCE

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TAKE THE GRIP AWAY?

ALEX INWOOD

T

HE ROAD snakes away into the gloom, its slippery surface climbing and disappearing into the low-slung tree cover. Puddles shimmer in the weak morning light and even from here, parked as I am on the hard shoulder, I can just make out wet clumps of leaf litter lurking in the shadows. This isn’t a road to be trifled with. Get it wrong here and you won’t run wide; you’ll run into a jagged earth wall or shoot into the ether before plummeting into the thickly grouped trees below.

Fast running in conditions like these requires confidence, both in your ability to read the road and in the car beneath you. The Fiesta is relishing the challenge.

This is its first real crack at anything other than bone-dry tarmac and I’d worried that a low grip surface might expose some previously hidden dynamic flaws. Torque steer was my primary concern, closely followed by savage snaps of oversteer should I lift too suddenly. Memories of a fellow journo disappearing backwards into the undergrowth in the previous-gen ST loom large, though this new car is far more forgiving.

True, the steering is ultra-fast, but slow your inputs down a little and it’s remarkably easy to place the front tread blocks exactly where you want them. The balance front-torear is expertly judged too, and far from backing off, I soon find myself loosening the electronic safety net to initiate small slides through the apexes of the tighter turns.

The conditions mean I feel faster on the way in than I do on the way out, though there’s something deeply satisfying about sensing the Quaife LSD tighten to pull the nose into line as I power through the exit. It’s high consequence driving, though I’d rate that run up a rain-soaked mountain road as one of my driving highlights of 2020. I doubt my speed ever crept higher than 70km/h.

Pulling up to watch the sun set outside the (now dry) country town of Healesville gives me time to reflect. It really is masterfully complete, this little Ford. So much so, that I find myself wondering what I’d prefer: one of these, or the fractionally more expensive Mazda MX-5 1.5? They offer different paths to the same means, though the Ford’s crisper body control and keener front end get it over the line for me. The fact it can also lug about four mates, and their shopping, in relative comfort is testament to the appeal of a well-sorted hot hatch.

And while the rear-drive Mazda might have the edge in power down adjustability, I know which would be quicker up a soaking Victorian backroad. It really is a giant killer, this little Ford.

ALEX INWOOD

REPORT THREE

FORD FIESTA ST

Price as tested: $32,940

This month: 519km @ 7.9L/100km