Let’s be clear. If you harbour any doubts as to the Ford Fiesta ST’s hot-hatch credentials, dispel them now, because this car is, in every way, a genuine hot hatch. There is nothing ‘mild’ or ‘warm’ about it. Instead, the Fiesta ST provides a level of performance found in other hotties much higher up the pay-scale ladder.
The hot-hatch recipe is a simple one. Take an already lightweight B-segment passenger car, throw some engineering at it to extract plenty of power from a lightweight and all-new engine, let the geometricians loose on the dampers, springs and struts, add some go-fast-looking bits to the body for added street appeal, et voila.
Ford of Europe has followed this recipe closely, and the result is the all-new 2019 Ford Fiesta ST. And right from the outset, it’s a winning recipe concocted by the chefs at Ford’s Cologne kitchen.
The Fiesta hot-hatch concept dates back to 1981 when Ford released the original XR2. By today’s standards, its meagre outputs of 62kW and 125Nm and 0–100km/h sprint time of 10.1 seconds seem positively pedestrian. But the XR2 proved a fun and dynamic car capable of providing thrills. Fast-forward through seven generations and we arrive at today’s Fiesta ST with outputs of 147kW and 290Nm of torque, capable of hurtling the 1262kg (kerb weight) three-door hatch from 0–100km/h in a scant 6.5 seconds. That’s in the ballpark of larger (and more exy) rivals such as Volkswagen’s Golf GTI.
A lot has changed under the skin of the Fiesta ST since the last new model made its debut in 2013. And it’s for the better. Gone is the 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine in favour of Ford’s all-new, all-alloy 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder EcoBoost unit. Despite losing a chamber and 100cc, it provides more power (147kW over 134kW), more torque (290Nm against 240Nm) and is a claimed 0.4s quicker to 100km/h.
But those are just numbers, and numbers are clinical and raw and don’t tell the complete story. For that, we need to get behind the wheel for some seat-of-the-pants assessment. Which is exactly what we did at the global launch in the south of France last week.
The new Fiesta ST has a lot to live up to, with the outgoing model it replaces arguably one of the best in the small hot-hatch segment. And from the moment you push the starter button, this new car does not disappoint.
There’s an endearing thrum from the three-pot that warms your heart, even at idle. It’s at once soulful and joyful, raspy little burbles and bubbles of joy.
The six-speed manual gearbox is a delight, with a nicely weighted clutch pedal combining with a precise gate action that is as engaging as you want a manual ’box to be. Select first and you’re off and the crescendo rises, that little 1.5-litre of happiness under the bonnet singing as you climb through the revs and the gears.
This car is happiest in the 3000–4000rpm range, with a noise and character, not to mention performance, all of its own. Acceleration isn’t manic, but it’s plenty fast enough to put a stupid grin on your face. Off throttle and downchanges are met with satisfying pops and crackles that make you laugh out loud.
And that 290Nm of torque comes into its own, the ST happily pulling away even when cruising in fourth gear and needing a sudden push, well, just because.
The roads around the foothills of the French Alps invite spirited driving, with twists and turns perfectly suited to this car. No wonder Ford chose this location to launch its newest hot hatch on to the world. And being midweek, the roads are largely devoid of traffic, meaning we can really explore what the Fiesta is capable of.
And it’s capable of plenty. The chassis is beautifully balanced, with minimal body roll and an unwavering devotion to staying on the right line.
No doubt, the tricky Quaife limited-slip diff helps in this regard, keeping the Fiesta on a pure line thanks to its distribution of a dollop of torque to the wheel with most grip, while at the same time limiting torque to the wheel with least grip. Wheel spin is reduced, and to be honest, not once was I able to induce wheel spin despite some reasonably spirited cornering.
There is also torque vectoring at play, applying brake force to the inside front wheel during cornering, helping to reduce understeer. And again, despite my best efforts, I was simply unable to induce any understeer, such is the dynamic ability of the little Ford.
Simply, it handles beautifully, propelling from corner to corner with a voracious appetite, all while that raspy 1.5-litre sings its aria of automotive delight. It’s impossible not to giggle.
Out on the highway too, the Fiesta ST displays exemplary manners, offering a quiet and refined cruising experience. Sitting at 130km/h (the legal limit on France’s motorways before the nannies wade into the comments section), the Fiesta hums along in sixth gear with barely a ripple. The ride is every bit the Goldilocks experience, neither too soft nor too firm. Cabin noise, too, is minimal, despite sitting on 18-inch alloys with low-profile Michelin Pilot Super Sports all ’round. A stretch of coarse-chip road did up the noise ante, but not to an uncomfortable or tiresome level.
And dropping the drive selector into Normal mode – there are three drive modes: Normal, Sport and Track – and the pops and crackles become muted, although the thrummy three-pot still sings along like a Siren.
A large part of the reason the Fiesta ST is so adept at being hustled ferociously without missing a beat, while also offering a refined highway experience, is due to Ford’s patented force-vectoring springs. Simply, Ford claims improved stability, agility and responsiveness from the rear twistbeam suspension, which Cologne’s engineers have used in place of the more common Watts linkage set-up. Ford claims a 10kg weight saving too.
In fact, Ford’s clever suspension geometricians have tweaked and fettled every corner of the Fiesta ST. The front features independent MacPherson struts with Tenneco twin-tube RC1 dampers and a 22.5mm anti-roll bar. At the rear is the aforementioned twistbeam set-up with toe-correcting bush and force-vectoring springs and Tenneco mono-tube RC1 dampers.
Ford claims the overall design offers sharper turn-in and response to steering inputs and directional changes, yet also having the ability to offer a level of refinement on the highway. I’ll happily stake my reputation on that Ford claim, and state Ford has nailed it. The Fiesta ST is at once dynamically adept, with the road-holding abilities expected of a hot hatch, while also providing a level of comfort often not found in similar hot hatches. This is, in short, a no-compromise level of dynamics.
There’s a lovely feel to the ST’s steering too, nicely weighted and direct, thanks to its electronic power assistance. You’re never left guessing as to what the front wheels are doing, although, unsurprisingly for a front-wheel-drive car, there is just the merest hint of torque steer on hard take-off. It’s by no means manic, though, totally manageable and, if I’m honest, almost a bit of fun.
Toggling through the three drive modes adds a level of engagement. Normal is as normal does, a reasonably benign set-up optimised for city driving and highway cruising. Engage Sport mode, however, and throttle response is sharpened while steering feel is enhanced. And that lovely engine note is further enhanced with open exhaust valves adding pops and crackles that are as glorious as they are raucous.
There is a Track mode too, which I didn’t sample on France’s public roads, but it sharpens throttle response even more while also disengaging traction control and dialling back electronic stability control to allow for some side-slippin’ fun. Allegedly. The ST also features a Launch Control function that again remained untested on public roads.
The interior of the Fiesta ST is a big improvement over its predecessor too. Gone is the piddly and fiddly 3.5-inch display that was, let’s face it, a bit dated. In its place, the Fiesta ST scores an 8.0-inch touchscreen carrying Ford’s latest Sync 3 infotainment system. It’s not, however, integrated into the dash, instead coming in the shape of a dash-mounted tablet-style screen. It looks, if I’m honest, a bit aftermarket, but Ford claims it’s been placed there to offer the best user experience for the driver, and to that end I take their point.
The sat-nav works a treat, only sending us on a wild goose chase once by asking us to take the third exit of a roundabout when it should have been the second. And once committed, there was no backing out. Still, if you’re going to get lost, it might as well be in the south of France in springtime. She did, eventually, get us back on track though.
The interior of the Fiesta ST is quite refined, with Recaro sports seats that are, for the first time, height-adjustable – something the ST’s bolder, bigger, meaner and nastier brother, the Focus RS, cannot boast. That makes finding the perfect driving position a cinch. So too the tilt- and reach-adjustable steering wheel.
The seats offer plenty of support, as you would expect from Recaros, and you’ll need every bit of that support when you’re throwing the Fiesta around like she enjoys being thrown around. Which brings me to a gripe, albeit a small one. There are no grab handles to be found, none. And when you’re the passenger and your co-driver is properly hustling, that becomes a glaring omission. It’s a small thing, but it’s also an obvious thing.
The back row too is best reserved for short trips. There’s not a lot of room back there for an average-sized adult, and there are no amenities such as cupholders, a fold-down armrest or anything really. But then, this ain’t no people mover, so we’ll forgive it those omissions. Getting in and out of the back row in the three-door isn’t too bad. A bit of contortion is required, but I’ve experienced worse. There is a five-door Fiesta ST available in Europe, and it may well make its way Down Under. However, Ford Australia is remaining tight-lipped on the exact specification we are likely to see when it launches locally in the first quarter of 2019. The smart money is on the three-door winging its way to Australia, but that’s just an educated guess.
And it’ll feature plenty of standard kit, including a suite of active safety aids such as lane-keeping assist and autonomous emergency braking. There’s also a full complement of airbags covering both rows.
In fact, Ford Australia couldn’t, and wouldn’t, reveal much about the ST’s final pricing and specification, but a representative did state categorically it will land locally under $30,000. How much under? We won’t know until closer to the date, but it's safe to say it will be somewhere between the $27,490 (plus on-roads) of the outgoing model and that $30K upper limit. What the Blue Oval’s local arm did confirm is that the Fiesta ST will be covered by Ford’s all-new (and permanent) five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty announced earlier this week.
There’s no doubt the Ford Fiesta ST, in whatever form it takes, will be hotly anticipated ahead of its local launch early next year. The chefs in Cologne have taken what was an already superlative-laden – and affordable – hot hatch and made it even better. From its thrummy and perky turbo three-pot that sings like a choir of angry angels, to the beautifully balanced chassis that does exactly what’s asked of it, the Fiesta ST is every bit the proper hot hatch.