As a non-native manual driver who’s more at home doing the supermarket run than laps of the track, I figured the 2020 Ford Fiesta ST wouldn’t necessarily be my speed (pardon the pun).
How wrong I was. In my week with the Fiesta ST, I tackled everything from errands in the rain to dirt roads and winding beachfront freeways, and never had to sacrifice the car’s inherent sense of fun.
We already knew this pocket rocket was fun around the track (read Josh’s review for more on that), but I was tasked with finding out if it was tenable as an around-town car.
Offered in Australia as a single specification – the turbocharged, manual number I’m reviewing here – the Fiesta ST kicks off at $32,290 before on-road costs.
In terms of competitors, it’s a small yet fierce field, including the Suzuki Swift Sport and Volkswagen Polo GTI, or the more premium-positioned Mini Cooper S, and the still compact but more ballistic Toyota Yaris GR at the more expensive end of the market.
The first two are closely matched to the Fiesta ST in price, while you'll need at least $40–$50K to get into a Mini or GR Yaris.
Developed on the Nürburgring, the Fiesta ST brings serious performance credentials to the table with its turbocharged 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine producing a maximum of 147kW and 290Nm, and paired to a six-speed manual transmission.
But there’s also a hearty helping of practicality. For starters, you get five doors instead of the three offered on its predecessor, which is a godsend for taller folk who are sick of clamouring in behind poorly folded front seats.
I was seriously impressed with the Fiesta ST’s cabin, which is both comfortable and incredibly well equipped.
The Recaro sports seats, finished in a soft suede-like fabric, are fantastically comfortable, and even without electric adjustment or lumbar support they mould to your body perfectly.
Those in cooler climates will also be appreciative of the heating function, which extends to the leather-wrapped steering wheel, too.
It’s a cosy interior, but not a centimetre of space is wasted. The door bins are sizeable, there are two cupholders and several small trays for knick-knacks, plus a sunglasses holder.
I particularly loved how all the storage dishes contained little removable rubber mats, so you can well and truly get any dust and dirt out of them.
My mum’s one main complaint was that the car was entirely lacking in any panic straps for her to hold onto – possibly more of a reflection of my driving enthusiasm than a genuine criticism of the car.
Elbow room in the front isn’t great if you have a large passenger up front, meaning their arm can occasionally get in the way of the gearstick.
Additionally, the placement of the USB port for smartphone connection via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can mean your gearstick gets tangled up in a cord.
I drive quite far forward in a manual, so with the front seat in my regular position, I found the back seat actually offered about 5cm of knee room, 2cm of toe room, and a surprisingly excellent amount of head room.
However, the window line is up past your shoulder in the back seat, so despite the airy head space, you might still feel a little claustrophobic.
Back seat occupants miss out on air vents, armrests and cupholders, but the Fiesta ST wins points for accommodating two child seats with its ISOFIX points and top-tether restraints. Although, you wouldn’t want to make a habit out of putting two child seats in the back.
The rear seats also have headrests that stow away in case you need the extra visibility.
|2020 Ford Fiesta ST|
|Engine configuration||1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power and torque||147kW at 6000rpm, 290Nm at 4000rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim (combined)||6.3L/100km|
|Fuel claim on test||5.4L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Unrated|
|Servicing costs (12 months/15,000km)||$299 for the first four services (conditions apply), $375–$635 per visit thereafter|
|Main competitors||Mini Cooper JCW, Toyota GR Yaris, Volkswagen Polo GTI|
|Price as tested||$32,290 before on-road costs|
All the way back in the boot, the floor is impressively low even with a temporary spare under there, meaning you’ll be able to squeeze taller items in on their side if need be. There are elastic and velcro restraints, and a cargo cover in there too for added practicality, on top of 311L of storage.
All in all, it’s a really thoughtfully constructed cabin, which feels expensive yet comfortable – the carbon fibre-esque trim elements throughout are a particularly nice touch.
Another nice touch are the door protectors that pop out as you open the door, which are offered as standard on the Fiesta ST. It’s nice to know you won’t cause any damage with a particularly hard slam, but it also takes some time to get used to the strange sound and sensation they create – sort of like you’re shutting the door on your seatbelt.
Before I get to behind-the-wheel feel, a slight diversion. My dad told me a story once about a woman who collected a rental car to drive from Sydney to Brisbane, not realising it was a manual, even though she only knew how to drive automatic.
Unsure how to operate it, but determined to make the trip regardless, she just drove the entire way in second gear.
I, for one, would like to pay tribute to that woman’s blind confidence, and the fact she didn’t just take the rental car back and ask for another. However, her life would have been made much easier if she were in the Fiesta ST.
For starters, it helpfully offers a little guide in the instrument cluster called ‘Performance Shift Light’, which instructs you when to shift up or down for ultimate performance – a feature I came to really rely on and appreciate.
It also has a handy hill-hold function for those particularly terrifying hill starts, and is all around a really user-friendly manual car, despite also targeting seasoned fanatics with its track qualifications.
Around town, I appreciated the fact the exhaust note is demure but noticeable enough to satisfy your race-car urges. You can up the ante if you whack it into sport or track mode.
The steering in the Fiesta ST is fabulous around town. It’s flexible and compliant yet very accurate, so it makes navigating smaller streets feel like a cinch, but it also means traversing winding roads is a hell of a lot more fun.
During my time with the Fiesta ST, I took it down the Great Ocean Road and it put on a gutsy performance, with swift acceleration, precise steering and smooth gear changes adding up to a dynamic, engaging package.
In a word – fun! Tons of it.
Of course, the trade-off is that the ride is hard, but not unbearably so, and in a car of this size and type it’s probably to be expected.
I never felt compromised when it came to visibility either. Obviously, there’s less on hand than in larger cars, but the rear and front windshields are large enough, and your line of sight is positioned perfectly to take advantage of both.
At higher speeds, tyre noise can get a tad louder, drowning out some of the softer audio elements from the 10-speaker B&O Play sound system, like Taylor Swift’s gentler guitar strums. Otherwise, the sound system is sensational – it vibrates the car doors even at a moderate volume and does justice to your favourite tracks.
Speed management is crucial in a car like this, and the Fiesta ST works to ensure you don’t come home to any unexpected speeding tickets. For starters, there’s a small digital speedometer in the digital display between the instrument cluster and speed sign recognition, too.
I missed active cruise control on longer trips – the Fiesta only maintains speed, but won’t slow or keep a distance from the car in front – but the intelligent speed limiter on offer went a way to compensate.
If you set it, it will clock the limit and then actively slow the car if the limit changes. Unfortunately, it occasionally reads the signs wrong, meaning it can drop you from 100km/h to 60km/h for no reason.
There’s also a lane-keeping system that can alert you if you drift out of your lane and nudge you back in, but it won’t steer for you.
Other necessities such as rear parking sensors and a crisp reversing camera, auto high beam, a driver alert, a cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring are all standard, but the Fiesta ST remains untested by ANCAP.
A pleasant surprise was the Fiesta ST’s fuel economy. Ford quotes a combined consumption figure of 6.3L/100km, but I recorded a real-world figure of 4.9L/100km after two hours of freeway driving and 5.4L/100km as my overall figure for a week of combined-cycle driving.
At minimum, Ford advises 95RON, so it’s a little pricier to fill up than less performance-oriented compact cars, but a very unobtrusive idle-stop system manages to keep consumption low.
For eligible buyers of model-year 2020.25 Fiesta ST variants onwards, Ford is offering a maximum of $299 per service for the first four years or 60,000km, whichever comes first.
Ford’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty is offered as standard, while servicing beyond the four-year mark is between $375 and $635 per visit.
The Fiesta ST really was full of pleasant surprises for me. It’s a performance car with city credentials, a compact hatchback with plenty of comfort and practicality, a hot hatch with driver assistance and safety support, and a manual I found impressively easy and enjoyable to drive.