The 2020 Ford Fiesta ST has finally arrived in Australia, more than 12 months after the previous model disappeared from local showrooms, and almost two years after this generation went on sale in Europe.
It may look familiar, but the latest Fiesta ST is all-new from the ground up and, as with its predecessor, is made in Germany and was developed on the Nürburgring, the birthplace for most epic performance cars.
The previous model was available here as a three-door only, while the new generation is a five-door to broaden its appeal.
As before, Ford Australia has opted to import just one well-equipped model versus the three grades available in Europe and the UK.
The previous (WZ) Ford Fiesta ST made from 2013 to 2018 cost $27,490 plus on-road costs. The new model (WG) has gone up by $4500, to $31,990 plus on-roads – or about $35,000 drive-away.
The price increase means the new Ford Fiesta ST now rubs shoulders with the Volkswagen Polo GTI ($32,490 plus on-road costs), and is $5000 dearer than the other fan favourite pocket rocket, the Suzuki Swift Sport ($26,990 plus on-road costs).
Ford says the price premium has bought more technology and more high-performance hardware. This may be so, but it could also price the new Ford Fiesta ST out of reach of the target market.
The Ford Fiesta ST now comes with advanced safety technology such as autonomous emergency braking, speed sign recognition, lane-keeping assistance, blind-zone warning and rear cross-traffic alert, as well as basics such as a rear camera and rear sensors (though not front parking sensors).
The new model also has the convenience of a digital speed display, a choice of three driving modes (normal, sport and track, the latter two sharpening the throttle response and activating a bi-modal exhaust that crackles between gear changes), launch control, tyre pressure monitors, and a shift light in the instrument cluster.
A mechanical limited-slip differential – a $1700 option in Europe – is standard on all 2020 Ford Fiesta ST examples sold in Australia.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – as well as built-in navigation – are accessed via a high-resolution 8.0-inch touchscreen. A 10-speaker Bang and Olufsen premium audio system – optional in Europe – is standard in Australia, as are new, wider and lower manually adjusted Recaro sports seats.
Other handy touches are the clever pop-out protectors for the edges of the doors. Anyone who owned the previous model will likely welcome the shorter doors that make it easier to clamber in and out of the car in tight parking spaces.
Because the Australian car is based on the flagship of the range in Europe, it comes with some features we may not need, such as a heated windscreen, heated steering wheel and heated seats. The only options here are a panoramic sunroof for $2500 and metallic paint for $650.
The new body is a touch longer and wider than before, and the wheelbase has changed ever so slightly. Now, 18-inch wheels and tyres rather than 17s slot in underneath, and the net effect of all this is that the new Fiesta ST has a marginally broader footprint than before.As a result, the turning circle has increased slightly, from 11.0m to 11.2m.
The tyres are Michelin Pilot Sport 4 (205/40R18), the same type of rubber used on some Porsches and Ferraris. The switch to this size also opens up a much wider choice of semi-slick tyres for those who want to take part in weekend track days.
Despite the growth spurt, the addition of two extra doors and a lot of tech, the weight of the new Fiesta ST has only increased by 20kg, from 1197kg (DIN) to 1217kg (DIN). For car geeks, EU kerb weight adds 75kg to these figures for a driver and some fuel, which is why you may see different numbers on the internet for these cars.
The back seats have a 60:40 split, two ISOFIX child restraint mounting points on the outer positions, and three top-tether locators on the seat backs, so you can install a conventional child seat in the middle.
Boot capacity has grown from 276L to 311L, and the floor is slightly deeper than before.Under the boot floor is a space-saver spare tyre and a plastic spout for the fuel filler neck, in case you run out of petrol and need to use a jerry can.
The fuel tank is slightly smaller than before (at 45L versus 48L), even though the new engine is a touch thirstier than its predecessor according to the rating label claims (6.3L/100km versus 6.2L/100km before). And Ford would prefer you use 95- or 98-octane premium unleaded.
As with all Fords, the new Fiesta ST is covered by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.The service intervals are 12 months/15,000km, whichever comes first.
The first four routine services are $299 each and the fifth one costs about $400, though it was yet to be confirmed as this article was published, bringing the five-year maintenance tally to about $1600.
On the road
The big news is under the bonnet: a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine, with more power and torque than the previous turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder.
Some enthusiasts may initially be hung up about the switch, but Ford’s first three-cylinder hot hatch has a healthy 147kW and 290Nm – similar outputs to the 2.0-litre turbo four in the VW Polo GTI and up from 134kW and 240Nm before.
It sounds the business, especially in sport or track modes, even if some of it is artificially enhanced. The exhaust crackle between gear changes is the real deal, however.
It may be too subtle for some – it’s not as obvious as the exhaust blat from, say, the larger VW Golf GTI or Ford Focus RS – but I reckon it’s the right volume for daily driving. Anything more would likely draw too much attention.
As before, a six-speed manual is still the only transmission available. The ratios have changed to better suit the powerband of the new engine; however, the net result is similar: first gear runs out at 50km/h instead of 49km/h previously, and second gear is over by 92km/h instead of 90km/h before (GPS speeds, as tested by us).
It means you still need to shift to third gear to clip 100km/h, which blunts the 0–100km/h acceleration time. It’s also why the Ford Fiesta ST feels faster than what the stopwatch says. Ford claims it can complete the industry-standard test in 6.5 seconds, and UK magazines have reported 6.6-second times to 60mph (96km/h). The best we could get with and without launch control was 6.9 seconds – still no slouch, just not as fast as Ford’s claim.
Of course, 0–100km/h times tell only part of the performance story, and plenty of other front-drive hot hatches fall into this category.
As before, the Fiesta ST engine has elastic power delivery and is eager from low revs in any gear.It runs out of puff somewhere between 5000rpm and 6000rpm (peak torque is 4500rpm, peak power is 6000rpm), but a shift to the next gear drops you in the middle of the powerband again. It’s one of the reasons the Fiesta ST has such a fan base around the world: it’s geared perfectly for city driving as well as the open road.
Fuel economy during our time with the car ranged from 6.0L/100km in 80–110km/h zones, and 8.5L/100km around the city and suburbs, when we weren’t trying to hear the subtle turbo whoosh or the exhaust crackle.
To save fuel, Ford says the engine automatically switches to two cylinders when full power is not required. We either couldn’t detect the change because it was so seamless, or we weren’t driving economically enough to trigger it.
The driving position is thankfully set lower than before (though you can adjust the height if needed), and the heavily bolstered Recaro sports seats are a touch wider to accommodate larger frames.The previous-generation Fiesta ST’s Recaro sports seats were better suited to horse jockeys.
Visibility all around is good and the rear doors add to the convenience, even if to just throw a work bag or the groceries on the back floor or seat. But you can also fit two adults in the back pretty comfortably. If you need to carry three adults, it would want to be a short trip.
Where the Fiesta ST comes into its own, however, is on the open road well away from shopping centre car parks and the congestion of the city. The combination of sticky tyres and a mechanical limited-slip front differential – it’s the first Fiesta ST to get this hardware – means the car climbs out of corners even better than before.
The steering can follow the contour of the road in certain situations, and you can feel the wheel tugging under hard acceleration when the going is really rough, but it’s not as darty or as unpredictable as some hot hatches of years past. The Michelin tyres are quieter than the rubber fitted to its predecessor, but can still be a touch noisy on certain surfaces.
The new twin-tube suspension, though not adjustable, does offer better comfort over bumps. It can still feel busy at times (you can even feel some painted lane markings as you drive over them), but it’s not unbearable or uncomfortable. It’s the compromise for such agile handling.
As with the old one, you can feel the suspension squat when you hit the brakes. It’s one of the elements that makes you feel as if you’re wearing the Fiesta ST rather than sitting in it.
In tight turns, the rear torsion beam suspension can run out of travel, which is how photos of the car cocking a rear tyre come about. It happens when turning into steep driveways – and in tight turns.
You can feel when it happens, as we did when testing it at Sydney’s Eastern Creek Raceway, but at no point is it unnerving. The front tyres are doing most of the work, so the grip is always there.
The three driving modes – normal, sport and track – are accessed at the press of a button on the centre console; launch control is accessed by one button on the steering wheel and limits the engine to 3000rpm before take-off.
Sport and track modes sharpen throttle response and activate the bi-modal exhaust; track mode increases the threshold of the electronic stability control before it intervenes. In any mode, drivers have the option of ESC on, ESC limited and ESC off.
The new Fiesta ST retains electronic power steering assistance, and we’re happy to report it still feels natural and linear. It’s sharp and direct, but not too twitchy. Granted, the steering is not as heavy as before, but it still feels precise and well weighted.
Points for improvement? The brakes are more than adequate for on-road driving, but begin to fall short after a few laps on a racetrack. Other Ford Performance models are better equipped to handle such punishment. The brakes on the new Ford Fiesta ST are the same as before.
(For the tech heads, the front brakes are 278mm x 23mm discs clamped by a floating caliper with a 54mm piston, while the rears are 253mm x 12mm discs clamped by a floating caliper with a 36mm piston. The only subtle change is the thickness of the rear disc and a marginally bigger rear caliper piston).
We reckon a significant proportion of customers would appreciate a factory-backed brake upgrade option.
Other observations are relatively minor: the interior presentation of the new Ford Fiesta ST is a big step up – particularly with lashings of rather convincing faux carbon fibre – but some of the plastics, especially the door panels, don’t feel as upmarket.
The low-beam LED headlights have good coverage, but the halogen high beams don’t throw light quite as far down the road as do some other cars. In Europe, there is the option of Bi-LED headlights.
Full disclosure: I’ve owned two previous-generation Ford Fiesta STs. I missed the first one so much after I sold it, I had to buy another one. So, I feel that I know the car inside out – and likely a hard marker because the new one has big shoes to fill.
But there is little to fault with the new-generation Ford Fiesta ST. As with its predecessor, you can tell it has been made by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. It’s more comfortable and more civilised without losing its hot-hatch edge, and brings out the devil’s horns every time you get behind the wheel.