ANOTHER week, another three cylinder hot hatch, or so it seems, with just about every major car maker switching their small performance car to a tri-cylinder layout, including the 2021 Ford Fiesta ST.
After almost a year since its predecessor disappeared from Ford’s local menu, the new Fiesta ST delivers with a DNA developed on the legendary Nürburgring, and credentials that put it at the forefront of a tasty list of compact hot hatches.
With just one spec level in Australia and a price of $31,990, the Ford takes on the Volkswagen Polo GTi at $32,490, Toyota’s new GR Yaris (at a significantly higher price), Suzuki’s Swift Sport and Hyundai’s soon to arrive i20 N.
Ford has positioned the Fiesta ST with all the fruit and technology in the box, which includes the latest safety goodies, including autonomous emergency braking, speed sign recognition, lane-keep assist, blind-spot warning and cross-traffic alert at the rear.
We didn’t think we’d like the whole three cylinder thing because we’re old enough to remember a similar powerplant in a Daihatsu, a car only a mother could love, but the Fiesta ST is different. It has a real performance edge.
It’s 1.5-litre turbocharged engine delivers 147kW of power and 290Nm of torque, which is phenomenal really. It’s an exciting little engine that oozes performance charisma, with an exhaust that pops and crackles and really slingshots the car down the road.
This is helped by the three mode switching that delivers a choice of Normal, Sport or Track performance levels. Even in Normal mode, the Fiesta ST can be a very rewarding drive, with plenty of torque on tap across the rev range.
The Sport and Track modes sharpen the throttle response while the bi-modal exhaust switches to a slightly louder more rorty note that delivers those tell-tale pops and crackles between shifts and in throttle off situations.
It also boasts a shift light and launch control, and a digital speed readout, making it a special for track days and high performance driving situations. There’s a mechanical limited-slip diff as well, if you were ever in doubt of its performance credentials.
Fitted to the smart looking 18-inch alloy wheels are amazing 205/45R18 Michelin Sport 4 tyres that lifts the road holding and sure footedness of the Fiesta to another level. The only transmission available is a six-speed manual.
This time around though, the Ford engineers have slightly lengthened the ratios, but acceleration times are pretty impressive, if you believe Ford’s quoted 6.5 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint. The best we could get was 6.8, but who’s going to quibble over that.
The reality is, the Fiesta ST’s mid-range oomph and flexibility makes it a joy to pilot along a challenging and twisty road. It’s strong torque from low revs means you are never really lacking grunt, and a quick snick to a lower gear puts you back in the torque band.
The electronically assisted power steering is precise, with a nice linear feel, and most importantly, it’s not nervous or twitchy like so many small hot hatches. Working in consort with those grippy Michelins, the package is a rewarding driving experience.
The little Ford features twin-tube suspension, which offers very good control, and although it is on the firmer side, it’s not too uncomfortable and is quite easy to live with. Let’s face it, it’s a sporty little rocket, and is never going to offer an armchair ride.
When you jump on the stop pedal, the braking bites down hard and the car squats, with a controlled and assuring grip on the road, slowing it and setting you up for the next corner. It is an element that makes the Fiesta so much fun to drive.
Punch the launch control button on the steering wheel, set Track on the performance mode control in the console and it’s 5,4,3,2,1 – we have lift off, with the electronics taking over to limit wheel spin and deliver optimum launch down the road.
It is too much fun not to try!
You would imagine that fuel economy wouldn’t be an issue in a 1.5-litre three potter, and you would be right. Our time in the car saw economy ranging from as low as 6.2-liters/100km at cruise speed, and a worst of around 8.7-litres/100km in the city.
And if you thought three cylinders was starting to sound like a motorcycle, well then wait till you hear that the Fiesta donk actually cuts out a cylinder and runs on two at cruise and when full power isn’t needed.
It is virtually imperceptible and we struggled to know when the fuel saving measure kicked in. You’ve got to love modern electronic engine control.
Behind the wheel of the Fiesta ST, you are cossetted in a pair of extremely comfortable Recaro buckets that offer superb support and a great driving position, with good adjustment.
The interior has a strong sporty feel, thanks to some nice touches around the cabin, including an 8.0-inch high definition touchscreen infotainment system, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, integrated satellite navigation, and a Bang and Olufsen audio system.
The Fiesta boast a big front windscreen too, and delivers great visibility all around. Unlike its predecessor, this Fiesta ST is a four door, and that adds a whole lot more convenience when it comes to letting back seat passengers in and out.
There’s a surprising amount of room back there too; enough for two reasonably sized adults. Load space is practical too, with a capacious 276-litres with the back seats up, or 311 litres if the 60:40 split fold rears are in the fully down position.
Unfortunately, like so many small cars ( and a few big ones), the Fiesta only gets a space saver spare. We understand the dilemma faced by engineers in designing small cars, but in a country like ours, space savers just don’t cut the mustard.
Even run flats are better than the dangerous compromise of a space saver. That aside, Ford offers a 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty, with 12 month or 15,000km service intervals.
Ford tells us that for the first four services are set at $299, while in year five you’ll be up for $400, which is not too bad, in the grand scheme of things.
Overall, we loved the little Fiesta ST for a whole lot of reasons. For a start, it’s got a great little three cylinder engine, tight and rewarding handling, sharp steering, great brakes and well, how could anyone not love those all-encompassing Recaro buckets.
Our test vehicle was provided by Ford Australia. To find out more about the 2021 Ford Fiesta ST, contact your local Ford dealer.