The Ford Fiesta ST comes from a long line of fast ford Fiestas. It’s so much fun to drive and delivers weapons-grade thrills and value for money.

We like:

  • The engine
  • The handling
  • The grip

We don’t like:

  • That you can’t hear more of the exhaust note inside the thing
  • That we don’t own it
  • That we don’t own it (did we already say that?)

The new-for-Australia Fiesta ST (it went on-sale in Europe back in 2018) can trace its family tree all the way back to the 1981 Fiesta XR2. That thing might have been smaller than both the Golf GTI and Peugeot GTI but it was every bit as aggressive.

And this new Fiesta ST holds true to the philosophy of that original XR2 and, indeed, the eight generations of hot-shoe Fiestas that followed it, meaning it’s small, agile and a hoot to drive. Only this one turns things up to 11.

Ford Fiesta ST review

The Fiesta ST lists for $31,990 plus on-road costs which sounds like a lot for a small car but it’s on the money against key rivals, like the Volkswagen Polo GTI ($32,490+ORC and this thing is auto only) and, in my humble opinion, it even compares and competes favourably with bigger and pricier competitors like the Golf GTI ($46,990+ORCs) and Hyundai i30N ($42,910+ORCs).

Big call that, sure, but the Fiesta ST is as clever as it is mongrel. The 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, yes, three cylinders, makes 147kW and 290Nm of torque and can shut down a cylinder when it’s coasting. It’ll get to 100km/h in around 6.5 seconds but it feels faster than that and you don’t need to lift off the throttle when you shift gear.

With no other Fiesta available in Australia, you won’t ever mistake the ST for anything but a fast Fiesta. The low-profile rubber and red calipers peeking out, spoilers, skirts and ST badging help it stand out.

Does it feel sporty on the inside?

Sure does. And it does a much better job of feeling like a performance model than, say, the Hyundai i30 N which is a little too conservative. That car does its talking on the road, though. And the old Fiesta’s interior felt like it was made from old garbage bags and lunch boxes, not so this new one which has ratcheted up on quality and overall refinement.

The Fiesta’s front seats are anaconda-grippy and the flat bottomed steering wheel is chunky. And there’s even a smattering of faux carbon-fibre around the place because you can’t have a hot model without that stuff, it’s in the rule book.

Ford Fiesta ST review

Let’s stay with the front seats. They’re from Recaro which is well-known for its snug-fitting seats but the Fiesta ST’s seats take that up a notch. Now, I’m a fairly slender bloke and I’m no stranger to a pair of skinny jeans, but even I found the seats too tight around my bum. And I reckon you will too. This is the sort of car you get into for a good time, not a long time…unless you like a numb bum.

Ford Fiesta ST review

Away from that these pews do exactly what they’re meant to do and that is literally clamp you in place when you’re flinging the Fiesta ST around corners. So many hot hatches require you to brace yourself through the bends, not the ST, nope. And there’s excellent support and grip through the seat back too.

They offer plenty of adjustment, so getting comfortable behind the wheel isn’t a chore. Whether you’re tall or short, you’ll find a driving position to suit. And vision out the front, sides and to the back is excellent. Throw your head around to change lanes and you can see everything, even if the wing mirrors are a touch small.

Ford Fiesta ST review

Over in the back there are technically seats for three people, but the middle seat is just for looks or for people you don’t like much. Stick with two adults in the back and you’ll be fine. That said, this is a small car and those front seats are chunky so there’s not a huge amount of legroom but headroom is fine (and I’m six-feet tall).

Is there much storage space?

Enough. It’s not a big car, remember, but there’s enough room to stash your phone at the base of the dash, there are two cup holders near the gear stick and the centre console storage is deep if narrow.

Ford Fiesta ST review

The boot, like the back seat, isn’t huge and you won’t get suitcases for four in here, but you will be able to carry enough luggage for two or four in soft bags. And it’ll swallow a weeks’ worth of shopping no problem. If you’re a number cruncher, the boot offers 292 litres of storage space (to the roof) and if you fold forward the back seats you’ll get 1033 litres. Ikea, here we come. Quickly.

What about my phone?

Yep, not a problem. The 8.0-inch infotainment screen juts out of the dashboard is in your eye-line but doesn’t get in the way of forward vision. It’s got Apple and Android connectivity and runs Ford’s latest SYNC3 infotainment system which is good. The voice control is good too, having been adjusted to cope with the Australian drawl. And if you’re into your music, then the Bang & Olufsen sound system will blow you away. The clarity and quality is unbelievable.

A three-cylinder hot hatch, you say

Yep, three cylinders… believe me, I know that sounds wrong but this engine is IMPRESSIVE. The 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine makes 147kW at 6000rpm and 290Nm of torque at 4000rpm. It’s a smaller engine than the old Fiesta but the output is the same. It’ll get to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds but it feels much quicker than that. But that’s not the best bet because there’s so much more to this thing than a quick straight line sprint.

Ford Fiesta ST review

Fire up the Fiesta ST and it burbles and crackles at idle before hardening up as you start moving. Honestly, I defy anyone to tell me they can tell it’s not a four pot. And if you reckon you can, well, you’re telling porkies. The only thing that annoys me is the fact that Ford thought it a good idea to ‘enhance’ the exhaust note… sure, we all want a quiet cabin but, c’mon. Anyway.

The little three-pot has plenty of grunt from down low and will happily accelerate in too-high-a-gear which means you don’t have to keep rowing the gearbox to keep the thing moving. That’s another cool thing about the Fiesta ST and another difference to the old car…that one liked to rev; but this one doesn’t need to be revved to get the best from it.

The six-speed manual transmission (and, no, you can’t get it in an automatic) is pretty slick and perfectly matched to the clutch which offers an easy action and plenty of feel. And if you’re pressing on there’s no need to lift off the throttle either. The Fiesta ST has a ‘flat shift’ function that means you can keep your foot on the accelerator and it’ll hold revs between shifts rather than dropping off as you swap into the next gear. You probably don’t want to be driving like that all the time, but it’s pretty cool.

Ford Fiesta ST review

And then there’s the Launch Control… but that’s just a gimmick. Activate it with the clutch dipped and your foot on the accelerator and it’ll hold the revs and apply the brakes (like auto hold). Once the indicator lights illuminate you’re good to go, you lift your foot off the clutch, pic the throttle and cannon off towards the horizon.

It gets through corners alright, does it?

Sure does. And depending on your mode you can toggle between driving modes to calm the thing down or hype it up (Track Mode). Changing the mode tweaks the steering, throttle and exhaust. To be honest, I didn’t fiddle with the driving mode too much; if I was driving around town, Normal is fine, but on my favourite stretch of road, well, Sport wins here. Track is best left for the racetrack and for those with names that start with Craig and end in Lowndes…it switches off traction control and backs off the stability control threshold.

Ford Fiesta ST review

The Fiesta ST we get in Australia has all of the best bits and pieces you’ve got to pay more for if you live overseas. That means our cars get the Quaife LSD (I’ll explain what this is in another article) as standard and this thing is unbelievable. Turn into a corner and there’s simply no need to lift…ordinarily, if you did that, you get lots of wheel spin on the inside wheel wasting power and probably seeing you run wide in the corner. The Quaife LSD acts like a magnet, stopping the wheel spin and keeping the nose locked onto the corner like the, sit down for the cliche, like it’s on rails.

And it’s truly astonishing just how much speed you can carry through corners. Some reports I’ve read/watched have remarked on the steering saying it feels a little wooden, but I didn’t find that. There’s good weight and feel and the speed is spot on for the type of vehicle; doesn’t feel darty, just agile and ‘up for it’.

And the thing has a playfulness that’s being tuned out of a lot of hot hatches, ahem, Volkswagen. The Fiesta ST is happy to dance around. Back off mid-corner and the thing will happily cock a wheel and even get a bit of lift-off oversteer going if you’re really game.

Ford Fiesta ST review

Where the old Fiesta ST felt a little too stiff-legged all the time, this new one is much smoother. And that’s thanks to the clever suspension and dampers. Indeed, the Fiesta ST’s dampers are called, by Ford, frequency dependent dampers which is just engineering speak. It means it has all the benefits of adaptive dampers (firm when you’re pressing on and relaxed when you’re not) without the cost or weight. And it’s true. This is easily the most comfortable Fiesta ST ever if that’s not damning it with faint praise.

But the rear suspension set up is just as clever. Called force-vectoring springs these things are “non-uniform, non-interchangeable, directionally-wound”. What that means is that they’re angled outwards to improve rear end stability when hard cornering. And it works too. Push through a corner and you can feel the car pushing itself against the road urging you to give it just a little bit more.

And now for the important but dull stuff

The Fiesta ST is priced at $31,990 plus on-road costs and I reckon, given it’s the only Fiesta available now, it should hold its value quite well. More than that, there’s a lot of value in this car with an impressive standard features list. The warranty is five years and unlimited kilometres with servicing set for every 12 months or 15,000km.

Ford Fiesta ST review

How safe is this thing?

There’s no ANCAP rating for the Fiesta ST but don’t let that put you off. This thing is well equipped with active and passive safety features. Standard are autonomous emergency braking (low speed and pedestrian recognition), speed limiter, traffic sign recognition, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitor and airbags in the front and back.

2020 Ford Fiesta ST Specifications

Price $31,990+ORCs Warranty five years, unlimited kilometres Safety Not Tested Engine 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol Power 147kW at 6000rpm Torque 290Nm at 4000rpm Transmission six-speed manual Dimensions 4068mm long 1735mm wide 1469mm high 2493mm wheelbase Wheels 205/40R18 Fuel Tank 45 litres Fuel Type 95RON Thirst 6.3L/100km

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Price
Performance
Ride and Handling
Practicality
Fun Factor
Safety
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Isaac Bober has been writing about cars and 4x4s for more than 20 years, has worked on some of the country's biggest motoring magazines (remember what they were?), and launched Practical Motoring. Now he's back, back again... to share dad jokes and much more.

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