Ford Fiesta ST 2020 road test review

Front side view of a blue Ford Fiesta ST 2020 car in motion on a road with a mountainous backdrop

Tim Nicholson

Posted September 17, 2020


Tim Nicholson gets behind the wheel of Ford’s slick new Fiesta ST.

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to performance cars. Hot hatches like the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Renault Megane RS have been popular for years, but smaller pocket rockets like the Volkswagen Polo GTI and the Ford Fiesta ST have also built their own following.

The Fiesta ST became a cult classic when it launched in 2013, earning rave reviews for its nimble dynamics and go-kart handling. For this generation, the ST is the only Fiesta being offered in Australia. Ford elected not to import non-sporty versions of the hatch given the tight margins and declining interest in light cars.

Thumbs up

Brilliant three-pot engine, slick manual gearbox, well-balanced chassis, and loads of standard gear.

Thumbs down

Has lost some of the raw edge of the previous model, tight rear-seat space.

 

Ford has opted for a five-door body style instead of the three-door of the previous generation – earning a big tick from those who value practicality.

Manufactured in Germany, the new Fiesta ST has an all-new 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine. It’s built on an updated version of the previous model’s platform and improvements under the skin include revised MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension. It also gains a Quaife limited slip differential to aid traction and grip when cornering, plus torque vectoring and launch control.

Pricing starts at $32,290 plus on-road costs and just two options are offered – premium paint ($650) and a panoramic sunroof ($2500). Ford has stuffed the Fiesta ST with standard gear, including the Sync3 infotainment system and the latest active safety features.

 

The ST’s only direct competitor is the VW Polo GTI from $32,490. Renault is yet to confirm an RS version of the new-generation Clio, while Toyota’s Yaris GR doesn’t arrive until later this year.

The wheelbase has grown marginally over the previous model but it’s longer overall by 93 millimetres, liberating more interior space. Boot space is up by 21 litres to 311 litres. A space-saver spare tyre lives under the boot floor.

It feels more spacious compared with the old model, but it is still a small car, so if you need something bigger, Ford can sell you the Focus ST. The driver’s seating position feels pleasingly lower than the old model and visibility is good, but rearward vision is impeded by the large C-pillar.

The leather and suede Recaro sports seats are snug, which is good for cornering, and they look schmick. The sports theme continues inside with carbon-fibre dash inserts, a grippy flat-bottomed (heated) steering wheel and alloy pedals.

The Fiesta’s dash layout is fine but generic. Ford needs a better interior design language – there’s nothing about the cabin that identifies the blue-oval brand. Ford’s Sync3 infotainment system is simple to use and the voice recognition is excellent, but brands like Mazda have moved the game forward with their modern and intuitive system.

 

The rear seat is tight and while it is fine for kids, adults should only use it for short trips. A lack of air vents in back and minimal storage is unsurprising for a light hatch like this.

The three-cylinder turbocharged engine pumps out 147kW of power and 290Nm of torque – the VW Polo GTI makes 147kW and 320Nm. Ford claims the ST can dash from 0-100kmh in 6.5 seconds, marginally quicker than the Polo at 6.7 seconds.

Acceleration from a standing start is certainly quick, but doesn’t force you back in your seat. You’d need something bigger and more powerful for that sort of performance. But the Fiesta ST is about much more than just outright speed.

Weighing in at just 1217 kilograms, the lightweight ST is nimble, and it can be punted into tight bends at speeds larger cars couldn’t handle. This was what so appealed in the old Fiesta ST. You can’t help but have fun when you’re behind the wheel. The inclusion of new powertrain tech means the Fiesta ST isn’t as raw as its predecessor. It’s a little more clinical, but now even more capable.

Thanks to grippy tyres, the new differential and tweaked dampers, the ST is a joy to carve through twisty and challenging roads. Road holding is impressive on good-quality tarmac and it keeps its composure on uneven surfaces. The chassis remains flat and balanced darting through bends and there is zero lateral movement. It’s tight and feels unshakeable.

 

The Fiesta ST’s fast steering rack is a perfect match for this car – it turns in sharply without hesitation. It does, however, have a massive 11-metre turning circle so it’s not as easy to manoeuvre in tight urban areas as you might expect.

The smooth six-speed manual gearbox with its short throws is exactly the sort of transmission a hot hatch deserves. And the suspension-damping improvements have paid off in spades. The harsh ride of many a hot hatch (hello Renault) is not evident at all. It’s a touch busy on pockmarked B-roads, but doesn’t crash over potholes. Switch to Sport mode and the steering gets heavier, the throttle response sharper and exhaust note louder. The ride is firm, but it’s a car you could live with day to day.

Aside from tyre roar on coarse chip roads, the cabin is well insulated, but you can still hear the lovely thrum of that sweet three-pot engine.

Ford’s fuel economy claim is 6.3 litres per 100 kilometres, and we recorded a final figure of 8.3L/100km after a week of mixed driving.

The new-generation Fiesta ST might be more refined and sophisticated than its much-loved predecessor, but it retains its winning formula of lightweight, joyful driving in an adorable and affordable package.

 


The verdict

More polished than its predecessor, but still delivers on the promise of lightweight, playful motoring at its absolute best.

 

Ford Fiesta ST 2020

Pricing

List price: $32,290 plus on-road costs.
Price as tested: $32,940 plus on-road costs.
Model range: $32,290 plus on-road costs.

Drivetrain

1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive.
Power: 147kW@6000rpm.
Torque: 290Nm@1600-4000rpm.
Wheels: 205/40 R18.

Fuel

95 RON, 42-litre tank.
Consumption: 6.3L/100km (government test), 8.3L/100km (RACV test).
Emissions: 144g/km CO2.

Standard safety

Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, traffic-sign recognition, rear parking sensors, reversing camera.

Standard features

Leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Recaro sports seats, heated front seats, 8.0-inch touchscreen with DAB+ digital radio, sat-nav, Sync3 with voice control and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

Warranty

Five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Capped-price servicing for up to four years/60,000 kilometres. Servicing intervals every 15,000 kilometres or 12 months.


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