Home Car Reviews Hatchbacks 2020 Ford Fiesta ST – Car Review – Hot Hatch Heaven

2020 Ford Fiesta ST – Car Review – Hot Hatch Heaven

Who doesn’t love a hot hatch? For hot hatch lovers, at last we get the latest Ford Fiesta ST. That’s not to say the last Fiesta ST was not a good car – far from it. But when I say we get it, well the first shipment sold out, and Ford are taking orders for the next.

So the new model…Ford have taken away a piston, and given the new ST the excellent 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine. We saw this engine recently in the Ford Focus Active, which it puts out 134kW of power. In the Fiesta ST, that rises to 147kW, and torque lifts from a decent 240Nm to a huge 290Nm. In an SUV, that might not raise eyebrows, but in the 1,300Kg Fiesta, that’s a massive amount.

Can the chassis handle that much power and torque, or is it going to be crazy town?

The Range

Want to buy a Fiesta? It’s an easy choice – there’s just the ST model available in New Zealand now, and even then it’s a 6-speed manual only, so no automatic gearbox option. SUVs rules sales, so gone are all the other models of Fiesta.

It’s fitted with Ford’s excellent 1.5-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost engine. So a turbo triple is the order of the day, and in the ST that means 147kW of power, and a decent 290Nm of torque.

For your $35,490, you’ll get cruise control, LED projector headlamps, LED front fog lamps that double as cornering lamps, LED taillights, puddle lamps, rear privacy glass, red brake calipers, tyre pressure monitoring system, SatNav, 18” alloys, heated front seats, partial leather, an 8” centre touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Qi wireless phone charging, alloy pedals, ambient lighting, climate control AC, auto headlamps, Launch Control, leather handbrake and gearshift gaiters, all windows auto up/down, automatic wipers, a unique ST leather steering wheel, Perdestrian and Cyclist Detection systems, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, hill start assist, lane keeping aid, lane departure warning, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, traffic sign recognition, and unique ST suspension. That’s a reasonable amount of kit for that sort of money.

For audio, there’s B&O Play. This premium level 675-watt audio system supposedly delivers a rich, powerful sound via a 10-speaker, woofer and subwoofer inclusive set-up.

You do get to choose from 5 colours for your ST; Agate Black, Silver Fox, Frozen White, Race Red, and lastly Ford Performance Blue, that our test car was finished in.

You can read more about the Fiesta ST on Ford New Zealand’s website.

First Impressions

This is a good-looking small hatch – made all the better by those 18” rims. There’s no mistaking that it really stands out as a shrunken Focus, but that’s not a bad thing.

On the ST side of things, there’s a few hints, other than the rims. There’s an ST badge on the grille and another on the boot, and side on, there’s some red brake callipers to catch your eye. There’s some subtle dual exhausts at the rear, too.

I got a lot of positive comments on the ST while I had it – that Ford Performance Blue really sets the car off, and it’s certainly the colour I would buy. The car certainly has a stance about it, just one look and you know it means business.

The Interior

On opening the door, your eyes are drawn to those Recaro seats. You know they are Recaros, since they have a massive ‘Recaro’ embossed on the sides. With leather outers and suede centres, and with the bright red ST logos on the front pair, they look sporty and awesome.

The seats also have some contrasting stitching, and that’s carried over onto the doors, and handbrake and gearshift gaiters. There’s some bits of fake carbon fibre on the dash and console to raise the level of sportiness, but such a shame there’s so much hard plastics splattered around the interior. It seems everywhere you touch is a black, flat, hard plastic. The doors have a token padded arm rest, but otherwise it feels cheap.

The ST is all black inside – seats, doors headlining, pillars. In many cars, this would be overkill, but in the ST it seems to suit the sporty nature of this little hatch.

Rear legroom is acceptable for the size of the car, while headroom is at a bit of a premium. Thankfully, the boot has a win here with a deep, usable area. It’s surprisingly big for the size of the car, at 311 litres – that’s over 100 litres more than a new Corolla hatchback.

The Drive

Before you can drive the ST, you have to get into it. Luckily, since I have a smaller butt I can slide into those Recaro seats without too much issue, but be warned, they are pretty tight, and there’s no adjustment for the bolsters. That said, they make you feel snug, and ready to drive it on some rally stage. The seats have manual adjustment only, and there’s a knob to adjust the lumbar support at least.

Turning the car on, the centre display lights up with a big, fat ST logo in full colour. The same appears on the dash when you turn the ignition on, and then there it is, dead centre of the dash is the ‘Launch Control’ option. This comes up every time you stop the car – at the lights, at a stop sign, at a pedestrian crossing. Come to a stop and the car is asking you if you want Launch Control right now. You can switch this off, but it’s quite cool to leave it there. You wanted a Ford hot hatch, and Ford delivers it with these two words.

As a throwback to rallying, or maybe as a cost-cutting move, there’s a manual handbrake in the ST, so no fancy electric brakes here. It does mean if you were on a track or somewhere private you could practice your handbrake slides, and I can neither confirm nor deny that is does them very well.

Our test car is a UK import, so the speedo is in MP/H, and the maps are not loaded. Of course, New Zealand cars will have the correct speedo and maps.

There’s alloy pedals at your feet, and they’re almost perfect for heel-and-toe gear changes. I read somewhere that the accelerator pedal is too low, but the thing is, once you start to brake, the pedals are lined up beautifully if heel-and-toe changes are your thing.

To the left is the shortish shifter, that feels nice under your hand. The gearbox itself is very good, but I did find the shifter was just that little bit more forward than it should be. It didn’t quite fall under my hand without reaching for it, and it shouldn’t be that way. It’s only slightly more forward than I want, but since everything is so well placed on the car, this is something that stood out. The changes are not knife-through-butter, but more leaning towards the sporty and notchy side, like an MX-5, where you do need to be direct with your changes. Still good though, and thank God Ford didn’t put an automatic ‘box in the car. The clutch feels good too, just heavy enough to give you some good feel, but not overbearing.

Heading off, the first thing that grabs your attention is the steering; it’s pretty heavy, even in Normal drive mode. It’s not too much, but after every other car, you can really feel the steering in the ST. The second thing that’s going to grab your attention? Exhaust noises. We loved the Focus Active we recently tested and the sounds that car makes, but the same engine with more power in the ST? Even better. It burbles and crackles and throbs. It is so good, I double-clutched all over the place just to get some more of that noise. The Active Valve Exhaust is a new to the Fiesta ST, and apparently it creates a deeper rumble and roar based on the amount of throttle you apply. I can testify that yes, that is true. Unfortunately, the Fiesta ST also has some ‘Electronic Sound Enhancement’ in the engine noise department but don’t panic – with the windows open and only listening to the engine, it still sounds bloody great.

Hitting the road, you will notice the very sticky Michelin Pilot tyres; they don’t like coarse chip seal, and protest quite a bit about it. At 205/40/18, they’re not a super low-profile tyre, but they perfectly suit the ST in the handling department.

I’m trying to get the few things I didn’t like about the ST out of the way, so we can get to the good stuff. Bear with me, but one of those things is the ride – it is jiggly at best, annoying at worst. You feel every single bump in the road. It is what it is, and it is firm. That’s all I’m going to say about the ride, as I want to try and forget it.

So on the Daily Drive, the ride can be on the firm side, but for everyday driving, most other things are much better. The dials are nice and clear, even if our test car was in MP/H, and the steering wheel controls are standard Ford fare; simple and straightforward. There’s traffic sign recognition, and that is always welcome. Along with TSR is blind spot monitoring, all windows are auto up down (yes!), and there’s also a heated steering wheel and front seats. At last, a brand does it right – if you’ve turned the heated wheel or seats on and then leave the car, they come back on again when you get back in and start it up. Great for those winter days.

That swept-up rear end does make visibility out the rear quarter a bit tricky, but on the plus side, there’s dynamic reversing guidelines, and even a colourful ST logo that appears on the centre screen and the dash when you start it up, to remind your passengers they’re in something a bit special. That central screen is nicely high-resolution, with crisp and clear screens, and an average amount of lag between them. So overall, it’s a decent Daily Driver if that’s what you want it for.

It’s definitely a snug cabin though, with average rear legroom and rear headroom. Weirdly, there’s no adaptive cruise control, and also no USB ports for rear passengers – there’s just one up front, along with a 12-volt socket.

I wonder if some people have given up reading this far, since I haven’t got into the real driving of the ST. If I was to sum it up in a few words, those words would be, “it’s bloody brilliant”. This was really rammed home to me when I took the car out for photos and it was a quiet weekday, with zero traffic. Time to test the ST out. Changing into Sport mode, the engine immediately sat up like a meerkat, waiting for me to press that gas pedal. You can feel the change in the engine instantly on hitting the Sport mode button – it’s ready to go, now. That steering gets a little heavier, and the feel from it? Excellent. Testing out Launch Control, there’s a whole heap of axle tramp as the front end tries to get some grip, with some not very nice noises happening up front. Memories of the Honda Type R and Hyundai i30N here, with bangs and crashes coming from the front end. But it’s to be expected, launching 147kW only through the front wheels. Once it gets some traction, it does really launch itself forward. So much torque in such a little engine. In first gear on full throttle, the rev limiter comes up in a flash, and it’s straight to second. This engine revs hard, and quick.

Enough of acceleration, time to take it around some bends. The ST nails them, time after time, and it goes around corners faster than a front-wheel drive car should, eager and willing. I simply couldn’t get the rear tyres to break traction, ever. Those Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres at 205/40/18 are as sticky as hell, and are a perfect match for the car. How sticky? No matter how you’ve driven it, whenever you get out of the car, the tyres are covered in little stones. That sticky.

Bumpy corners can upset the car a bit, but the control is still there. Well, that was until I tried it in Track Mode, when the rear end stepped out on me on a particularly bumpy bend. Track mode will give you a slightly louder exhaust note (yay!), switches the traction control off, and gives you a little ST light on the dash when you hit the rev limiter, and slightly more steering feel.

There’s Enhanced Torque Vectoring on the ST’s suspension, and it works, along with a limited slip diff. The way this car tracks is mind blowing, as is turn-in. It simply falls into the corners, with the rear wheels following you like they’re on rails. I know lots of people have gone on and on about the handling of the ST, but it’s for good reason – it is incredible on the corners. I felt myself comfort braking when I simply didn’t need to – the ST was laughing at me, wondering why on earth I thought I needed to brake, when it could go even faster. I’ve got to stop going on about the handling, steering and braking of the ST, but it’s hard not to. Man, it’s good.

Speaking of brakes, they are superb too, and the feel you get from that pedal is perfect. Steering is incredibly quick, and the ST apparently has the quickest steering of any Ford Performance model. Weirdly, there’s no rev matching in the ST, so you’ll need to do it old school.

You’d think being a sports car with such a willing engine, fuel economy would suck. When we recently tested the Focus Active – with a less powerful version of this motor – it gave us 7.5L/100km. The Fiesta, while 200Kg lighter, but with a manual ‘box (automatics are supposed to be more economical) gave me 6.8L/100km over 700km of driving. That’s a win in my books. Ford suggests a combined rating of 6.3L/100km.

The Competition

Brand/Model Engine Power/Torque
kW/Nm
Cargo capacity, litres 0-100km/h Fuel L/100km Base Price – High to Low
Honda Civic Type R 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo-petrol 228/400 420 5.7 8.8 $59,990
Hyundai i30N 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo-petrol 202/353 381 6.1 8.0 $54,990
Mini Cooper JCW Hatch 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo-petrol 170/320 211 6.3 6.6 $54,990
Alfa Romeo Guilietta Veloce 1.7-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo-petrol 177/340 350 6.0 6.8 $49,990
Hyundai i30 N-Line (automatic) 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo-petrol 150/265 395 7.2 7.5 $43,990
Volkswagen Polo GTI (DSG) 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo-petrol 147/320 351 9.5 4.7 $38,990
Ford Fiesta ST 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder, turbo-petrol 147/290 311 6.5 6.3 $35,490

The Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
Fun factor off the charts
Value for money
Engine noises
Handling
Steering
Braking
Fuel economy
Very firm ride
Snug front seats

The Verdict

The Fiesta ST is phenomenal. It goes, sticks, stops and sounds. And that’s for under $36,000? A total bargain. At the cheaper end of the range is the spunky little Suzuki Swift Sport. We love this car, and hey it’s only $28K brand new, also with a 6-speed box. But I can’t see a Swift Sport buyer even considering the Fiesta ST. Where the Swift Sport is cheeky and peppy, the St is a balls-out hot hatch.

What about the Type R and the i30N? They are so close to the ST, it’s not funny – but you are looking at a $20,000+ difference. That’s a huge gulf to get over, if you were leaning towards one of those cars.

The ST can walk all over the Hyundai i30N-Line in performance and fun, too. We liked the i30N-Line, but it’s almost $10,000 more, and it’s automatic only.

So really, that leaves the VW Polo GTI. At just under $39,000, it’s the closest in price to the ST, and an extremely similar car – except that it too is DSG-automatic only.

If you want a manual hot hatch at a bargain price, there’s just one player in the market worth considering: The 2020 Ford Fiesta ST.

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2020 Ford Fiesta ST
5.0 Chevrons

Vehicle Type 5-door, sports performance hatchback
Starting Price $35,490
Price as Tested $35,490
Engine 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder turbo petrol
Transmission 6-speed manual
Power, Torque kW/Nm 147/290
Spare Wheel Pump only
Kerb Weight, Kg 1,217
Length x Width x Height, mm N/A
Cargo Capacity, litres 311
Fuel Economy, L/100km Advertised Spec – combined – 6.3 Real World Test – combined – 6.8 Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Fuel tank capacity, litres 45
Towing Capacity
Kg, unbraked/braked
N/A
Turning circle, metres N/A Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
  Warranty 5 years unlimited KM 3 years, unlimited KM Roadside Assistance
ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Star
Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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