It’s cute, it’s zippy, it’s small and it’s fabulous.
The days of hot hatches are fast diminishing because even modest hatches are warmish. There so many contenders for frisky city cars and each claims to be better than the last. At heart, Ford’s Fiesta is a humble shopping cart. It’s a beginner’s car, or something empty-nesters might favour. Of course it was ripe for a warm-over, and Ford fancied a super-mini with a bit of bite.
The Ecoboost 1.6 4 cylinder manages 134Kw and 240Nm through a sweet 6 speed manual while using a mere 6.2L/100k of 91ron unleaded. That’s good news because the fuel tank only holds 48L. On the highway we managed about 5L/100k meaning you’d almost get from Sydney to Melbourne on that tiny tank.
Hot hatches of old had back breaking ride and seating from the hallway outside the principal’s office. It was so harsh that you’d need a chiropractor on speed dial. They hug you so tightly you feel like you can’t breathe. That’s great for a race day but more than an hour at the wheel would have you rear end passing out in sympathy.
Car makers have realised not everyone wants organs rearranged every time you hit a speed bump and more than walking pace so it’s all gone soft and comfy. Don’t think this means the handling is rubbish because it isn’t. Handling is achieved with decent tyres and clever engineering.
The outside gets 17”alloys with a 15” space saver spare, twin exhausts and power folding mirrors. It looks the business with that go-quick wedge shape we have come to expect of hot hatches which is topped off with a body kit.
The inside has those hip-hugging Recaro seats up front plus space in the rear for a couple of freeloaders. I normally dread the sight of Recaros but these are firm without feeling like a couple of builders planks have been sewn into the lining. Auto wipers and lights are standard but it is the audio system that’s a bit of a letdown. It’s integrated so very hard to upgrade and the sound, while adequate, is nothing to write home about. It struggles at anything above half volume and there isn’t much bass to speak of. Unlike her bigger sister, the Fiesta hasn’t had the midlife facelift so still has a rather fussy centre console with lots of button. The 4” LCD is so small that you have to rope down Hubble to read it. There is no reverse camera and no sensors in the front. This is a bit odd considering there is smart keyless entry and start so you key stays in your pocket. Of course Fiesta is entry level Ford and therefore the entry level of hot-hatch-dom so there is bound to be a few compromises. I could live with most of that were it not for the fact that the LCD is smaller than my phone.
Another annoying thing is that when you’re using the satnav, the voice prompts interrupt the audio by temporarily switching to “incoming call mode” for the announcement. The call ends once the announcement is finished and this constant changing of the readout on the LCD in the peripheral vision drove me mad. It is the first iteration of Sync and all of this was corrected in the newer version used in the new Focus. In Sync II, most of the buttons are gone and we can see this in the Focus ST we drove recently. The console is clean and neat and the screen is large and easy to use.
But, the Fiesta ST is about the drive which is so good, it goes some way to compensating for the shortfalls of the infotainment system. The steering isn’t quite as sharp as the Focus but has great feedback considering the electric power steering. Turning into a corner gives a great feeling of security. Switching direction has the sense of being stuck to the road and the cornering feels flat even as you cock a wheel in sharp bends. It never lets go no matter what you throw at it and that’s exactly the way it should be. The torque vectoring steering means the torque steer is noticeable but minimal and progressive, so is easy to predict and control. There is just enough power to be fun but not so much that you get all untidy the second you want to be more enthusiastic. The front wheels scamper for grip in moist conditions but the traction control takes care of most of that without too much fuss.
The clutch is super light and gear changes feel precise and sharp meaning you really have to be rough with it to get it to misbehave. It remains smooth with progressive acceleration as you work through the cogs. After a few days behind the wheel I found it more and more endearing. The foibles of the Satnav and audio system seemed to fade. It’s a willing package that gives and gives and I liked it a lot.
Once you’ve had your day in the mountains or at the track, you can cruise home in perfect comfort knowing the weekly shopping trip isn’t going to be a trial. Some of the super sporty coupes can fill you with horror when you think about a Coles car park. Fiesta is so easy to manoeuvre that parking is quick and easy. Because it is a hatch, entry and exit is easy too. The long doors with large openings give even the generously proportioned lads no trouble. The boot isn’t huge but certainly big enough for a couple of generous overnight bags with tons of space to spare.
What all this means is although there are a few short comings, the Fiesta is so easy to live with as a daily driver. I recently did a road trip in Toyota’s venerable 86 and although it is a much better drive than the Fiesta, getting in and out caused several slipped discs. Of course the 86 starts at around $34,000 on the road and the fiesta is $29,854 on the road in NSW, but for 4 grand I’d have to seriously consider my position. It would depend on the kind of car I really wanted, but it would be hard to pass up the base model 86 over smaller city hatch. Perhaps its horses for courses and the 30 grand price tag of the ST might suit some budgets more. Perhaps you prefer and hatch configuration and can’t afford the blindingly good Focus ST at $42,988. Of course the Focus Sport starts at $20,990 on the road and is a full step up in size. It is also a brilliant drive and has the newer Sync system so that’s in the mix too. If that’s all too much and all you want is a run-around, the base Fiesta starts at a smidge under 16 grand. It’s still a great drive but a trifle less power means your foot is either off the pedal or flat to the boards. That can be fun too.
The ST drive is thoroughly enjoyable so the question now is would I actually buy one? Yes, if I decided I couldn’t live with climbing down into the 86 and didn’t want a Focus. There are plenty of other city hatches on the market so Ford will want to sort that Sync I out ASAP.