Paying more for less usually works out poorly for the punter. But that's exactly what buyers need to do if they want to get themselves behind the wheel of the new Ford Fiesta Sport.
Ford’s new second-tier model in its city car range starts off with a sizeable starting price of $20,525, but has a tiny 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine.
Yes, we know – Sport hardly seems a fitting nomenclature for a car with just three cylinders. But the Fiesta Sport’s zesty turbocharged EcoBoost triple is a willing thing, wrestling out 92kW of power at 6000rpm and a thrusting 170Nm of torque from 1400-4500rpm. To put that in context, it boasts 10kW and 30Nm more than the bigger 1.5-litre four in the cheaper Trend version (priced from $17,825). Still, it doesn't look all that sporty with its prominent chrome grille.
We tested the Sport six-speed dual-clutch automatic (priced from $22,525), which is the first three-cylinder model sold by the brand in Australia to come with a self-shifting gearbox. And the good news is that it does quite a good job of things.
The transmission offers generally smooth and quick gear shifts, particularly under mid to heavy throttle, and there’s very little in the way of low-speed hesitancy that can so commonly plague transmissions of this kind. However, our test car did exhibit a tendency to clunk between gears under light throttle and at low speeds – the solution to which, one must assume, is to make the car live up to its Sport name and push a little harder on the right pedal.
The engine is a burly operator, with a decent shove of torque when you do plant your foot, and a nice thrummy note to accompany its swift progress.
There’s only a slight hint of turbo lag in certain situations, and some uninitiated drivers may find the rumbly nature of the engine somewhat disconcerting at first.
Ford claims the Fiesta Sport uses 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres in the manual version, while the dual-clutch auto has a claimed usage of 5.3L/100km, and can run on regular 91-octane unleaded. During our 150km test loop across an array of disciplines we saw an indicated fuel use figure of 6.8L/100km.
The Fiesta Sport also lives up to its name in the way it drives. Riding on stiffened, slightly lowered sports suspension, the 1127kg five-door hatch corners adeptly and with agility, feeling tied down and offering good balance. The ride is on the firm side, but it never feels uncomfortable over bumpy roads, and the body remains well controlled over larger inconsistencies. Its Continental Conti Premium Contact 2 tyres offer good cornering traction, though we did notice a squeal or two under pressure.
As with all Fiesta models, the steering is one of its highlights, offering progressive action, darty direction changes, a chuckable feel and decent feedback to the driver’s hands. We noticed some steering rack rattle over mid-corner bumps, though, and – being a Thailand-built Fiesta – there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel.
There was a hint of wind noise above 80km/h, while a noticeable amount of road noise was evident in the cabin over coarser surfaces. During a spirited downhill stint, we noticed the brakes – discs up front and old-school drums in the rear - started to fade after just a few kilometres.
Inside, the Fiesta has a few improvements, including sporty new comfortable seats with leather bolstering and an ambient lighting strip across the passenger-side dash, which improves the mood at night.
Storage is well sorted, with a plethora of cup/bottle holders for front-seat passengers, and deep front door pockets. Although there is no covered central storage and only a small glovebox, a handy drawer under the front passenger seat allows you to hide loose items.
The rear seat offers reasonable space for shorter occupants or children, though anyone upwards of 170cm will likely find their knees touching the seats in front. Headroom is reasonable, though.
The boot is deep enough to fit suitcases easily but with only 276 litres of capacity it struggles with oddly shaped items like prams or golf bags; however, the 60:40 split-fold seats increase the load space to 960L. There’s no spare wheel; buyers must make do with a repair kit.
The dash design still feels somewhat dated compared to more contemporary rivals, with a fiddly stereo system teamed to a tiny dash-top screen and far too many buttons in the age of the touchscreen.
Standard equipment for the Sport model includes an eight-speaker Sony stereo system with USB input and iPod integration, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming with voice control, steering wheel mounted audio controls, cruise control, a multi-mode trip computer, manual air conditioning and front door scuff plates. Safety is sorted with seven airbags (dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver's knee).
The exterior sees styling updates such as a body kit with rear spoiler, 16-inch alloy wheels and chrome trim enhancements.
Buyers are also asked to fork out another $1000 for some of the luxury items that should really be standard in a $20K-plus city car. The Sports Executive Package is only available on the Sport, and adds single-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, an alarm system, and keyless entry with push button start.
Ford has long-term ownership credentials on its side, with a strong seven-year capped-price servicing scheme which has an average annual fee over the period of just $276. Services are required every 12 months or 15,000km. However, Ford’s three-year/100,000 kilometre warranty is shorter than key rivals such as Hyundai and Kia.
Despite its name the Fiesta Sport is a choice option for buyers who are after a few driving thrills and a punchy little engine. Alternatives include the Volkswagen Polo 77TSI, which is due to be updated mid-year, or if you want the full hot-hatch experience (without the bling-encrusted nose), spend the extra few grand and buy the excellent Fiesta ST.