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Ford’s hot hatch is one of the most en­gag­ing per­for­mance cars out there, quirks and all DAVID McCOWEN

Fi­esta means cel­e­bra­tion. And that’s how hot hatch fans should feel about Ford’s new Fi­esta ST, an af­ford­able per­for­mance car worth celebratin­g in try­ing times.

Australia al­most missed out on the new model. Ford could not build a sen­si­ble business case for the stan­dard Fi­esta hatch­back, a car ef­fec­tively re­placed by the up­com­ing Puma baby SUV.

But the pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion Fi­esta ST was a hit with en­thu­si­asts and Ford un­der­stands the im­por­tance of niche ve­hi­cles, hav­ing tasted suc­cess with the Mus­tang and Ranger Rap­tor.

On sale in the UK since 2018, the Fi­esta is late to its own party. For­tu­nately, there are pre­cious few ri­vals in this class — VW’s Polo GTI is the ob­vi­ous al­ter­na­tive, while Toy­ota’s tur­bocharged and all-wheel-drive Yaris is likely to be more ex­pen­sive and the French have not read­ied suc­ces­sors to the dis­con­tin­ued Peu­geot 208 GTi or Re­nault Clio RS.

Priced from $31,990 plus on-road costs (about $36,000 drive-away), the Fi­esta ST costs a sub­stan­tial $6000 more than the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion model. But it does have more gear, in­clud­ing pretty LED run­ning lights, an 8-inch touch­screen with smart­phone mir­ror­ing, thump­ing 10-speaker Bang and Olufsen stereo and driver aids such as au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing and blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing.

Aus­tralian cars are loaded with kit that costs more on over­seas vari­ants, in­clud­ing heated Re­caro seats, Fer­rari-looka­like 18-inch al­loys and a tasty per­for­mance pack that adds a lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial and launch con­trol.

The only op­tions are a panoramic sun­roof ($2500) and metal­lic paint ($650).

Ford backs the car with a five-year, un­lim­ited-kilo­me­tre war­ranty. Ser­vic­ing costs $299 for each of the first four vis­its.

This hatch­back doesn’t make a strong first im­pres­sion on looks alone — par­tic­u­larly as the new car comes with an unas­sum­ing (though prac­ti­cal) five-door body shell as op­posed to the old car’s coupe-like three-door lay­out. The un­der­stated styling helps the Ford fly un­der the radar, save for pen­ta­gram wheels which hint at the devil in­side.

The cabin is spot-on, with deeply-bol­stered sports seats, a per­fo­rated leather flat-bot­tomed steer­ing wheel, well-placed (if pe­tite) ped­als and a six-speed trans­mis­sion with a short and crisp shift ac­tion.

A prod of the starter but­ton re­veals the most sig­nif­i­cant change — the un­mis­take­able off­beat purr of a three-cylin­der en­gine. Based on the 1.5litre turbo mo­tor in the Ford Fo­cus, the Fi­esta’s will­ing lit­tle three-pot makes 147kW and 290Nm. While not par­tic­u­larly big num­bers, this isn’t a par­tic­u­larly big car. It scoots down the road with un­com­mon en­thu­si­asm, war­bling a throb­bing un­con­ven­tional tune on the way to record­ing a sub-seven sec­ond dash to 100km/h.

It won’t win a lot of drag races or set lap records but it will win plenty of hearts with truly en­ter­tain­ing han­dling.

Light­ning-fast steer­ing com­bines with taut springs to help this hatch change di­rec­tion like a crazed ter­rier. It even cocks its leg when cor­ner­ing at pace, rais­ing an in­side rear tyre and slid­ing its outer wheel across the road.

You can’t help but grin when the wheel touches down be­fore floor­ing the throt­tle, pluck­ing an­other gear and siz­ing up the next cor­ner. That clever diff also helps make the most of its tur­bocharged torque, de­liv­er­ing im­pres­sive trac­tion com­pared with older fast Fords, which

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