Tiny turbo triple de­liv­ers over­sized fun fac­tor

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

T’S A CHEEKY move by Ford to stage the launch of its third-gen­er­a­tion Fi­esta ST in France, given La Republique is home ground for scorching B-seg­menters like the Clio RS and Peugeot 208 GTI.

Yet here we are, on one of the twistier por­tions of the Route Napoleon, sit­ting in­side the Blue Oval’s new­est and most af­ford­able per­for­mance car. The Fi­esta is well and truly be­hind en­emy lines right now, but it’s clutch­ing a garotte in one hand.

Ford’s Euro­pean arm knows a thing or two about mak­ing com­pact hatches go fast. This 2018 model might be the third gen­er­a­tion of car to wear the Fi­esta ST moniker, but the lin­eage stretches all the way back to the 1981 Fi­esta XR2. Those decades of ex­pe­ri­ence are man­i­fest in the way the lat­est Fi­esta ST drives.

“What we wanted to achieve was to im­prove in four ar­eas,” says Leo Roeks, di­rec­tor of Ford Per­for­mance’s Euro­pean op­er­a­tion. “One was the pow­er­train, the en­gine. Power ob­vi­ously, but also CO emis­sions. Then

2 there was the seat­ing po­si­tion.

“An­other thing that’s very im­por­tant is ride, han­dling and steer­ing, and the other thing is noise. Does a three­cylin­der ac­tu­ally work for a sports car? I can guar­an­tee you; yes, it does.”

Prov­ing naysay­ers wrong will be the Fi­esta ST’S great­est chal­lenge. The de­ci­sion to de­ploy a three­cylin­der with just 1.5 litres of swept vol­ume makes it an out­lier in a seg­ment pop­u­lated by four-pots and will no doubt have spec-sheet fiends scratch­ing their heads, es­pe­cially given it weighs more than the old car and its Polo GTI ri­val now boasts a big-block 2.0L. But Roeks and his team have equipped the Fi­esta with an arse­nal of go-faster tricks to com­pen­sate for its smaller heart.

The ST suf­fix stands for ‘Sport Tech­nol­ogy’, and there’s plenty of both in the fastest Fi­esta. Tech helps coun­ter­act the re­duc­tions in ca­pac­ity and cylin­der count, with the new triple’s 147kw of peak power and 290Nm of max­i­mum torque ex­ceed­ing the of­fi­cial stats of the out­go­ing 1.6 by 13kw and 50Nm re­spec­tively. In­ter­est­ingly, those num­bers also line up with what the sec­ond-gen ST gen­er­ated when op­er­at­ing in over­boost, which could only be done for 20 sec­onds at a time.

High-pres­sure di­rect fuel in­jec­tion (work­ing in con­cert with port in­jec­tion), vari­able in­take and ex­haust cam tim­ing, and clever tur­bine ge­om­e­try are re­spon­si­ble for the 1.5’s prodi­gious mus­cle, and also help mit­i­gate turbo lag. The re­sult of all this is a 6.5sec 0-100km/h sprint, 0.4 sec­onds faster de­spite the new car’s 90kg of ex­tra mass.

Amaz­ingly, the ST also has cylin­der de­ac­ti­va­tion. By de­cou­pling the rocker arms for cylin­der num­ber one, the Fi­esta ST’S three-pot can morph into a two-pot to curb its thirst on light-throt­tle cruis­ing.

The tech story con­tin­ues un­der­neath. The rear sus­pen­sion is a me­chan­i­cally sim­ple tor­sion beam but it’s aug­mented by what Ford Per­for­mance calls ‘force vec­tor­ing’ springs. Ba­nana-shaped in pro­file and, wound in op­po­site di­rec­tions to each other, they work to in­crease the rear axle’s lat­eral stiff­ness with­out re­quir­ing a Watts link­age – thus net­ting a weight sav­ing of 10kg. The front knuck­les have St-spe­cific ge­om­e­try, and no mat­ter whether you spec the stan­dard 17-inch al­loys or their more at­trac­tive 18-inch coun­ter­parts, the new ST rolls on grippy Miche­lin Pi­lot Su­per Sports – rub­ber that’s more com­monly found on things like BMW M3s, rather than sub-$30k hatches.

Launch con­trol also fea­tures, but the most trans­for­ma­tional im­prove­ment is the ad­di­tion of a Quaife lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial to the six-speed transaxle. It’s a proper me­chan­i­cal unit rather than

the brake-based vir­tual LSDS used by ev­ery other B-seg­ment hot­tie, and while it’s op­tional in Europe, Wheels un­der­stands it’s likely to be stan­dard-is­sue in Aus­tralia. Help­ing it out is brake torque vec­tor­ing, which varies braking force between the left and right wheels to aid turn-in re­sponse and mit­i­gate un­der­steer.

MEAN­WHILE, back to the Route Napoleon. It’s As­cen­sion Day, a pub­lic hol­i­day in France, and ev­ery­one with a fast car or mo­tor­cy­cle seems to have grav­i­tated to­ward this road. Lit­tle won­der, con­sid­er­ing the ex­cep­tional mix of fast sweep­ers and tight cor­ners that can be found on the route around the town of Castel­lane. Prime hot-hatch ter­ri­tory. We’re in a three­door ST equipped with the LSD and 18s – the light­est, most fo­cused con­fig­u­ra­tion – and it feels ea­ger to at­tack.

The rub­bery shifter isn’t es­pe­cially pre­cise, but the vague fric­tion point that plagued the old car’s clutch pedal has been ban­ished for good. Tip­ping in the throt­tle, the first im­pres­sion is that the en­gine is far gut­sier than ex­pected of a 1.5-litre, and the swell of torque from just off idle en­dows it with out­stand­ing tractabil­ity. In sport mode with the muf­fler flaps flipped open, the three-cylin­der has a meaty bur­ble – and sur­pris­ingly vo­cal crack­les on the over­run.

And the more revs you give it, the bet­ter it be­comes. It’s torque-rich, yes, but it doesn’t mind chas­ing the red­line ei­ther. Keep the nee­dle above 3000rpm and re­sponse is swift up un­til 6000rpm, where thrust be­gins to ta­per off ahead of a 6200rpm red­line.

That straight-line go is matched by a prop­erly tied­down front end. The Miche­lin/lsd combo lays power down beau­ti­fully, with just a smidge of torque steer when at greater steer­ing an­gles. And while the Quaife diff is yet to be locked in for Aus­tralia, the pro­found

im­pact it makes on per­for­mance en­sures that it ought to be. We had a punt in an open-diffed five-door and, while fast, it lacked the al­most ef­fort­less trac­tion of the Lsd-equipped three-door, and was slower as a re­sult.

Both cars feel ex­cep­tion­ally alert through the steer­ing wheel though, with a fat leather-wrapped rim con­nected to an ul­tra-sharp and in­cred­i­bly di­rect steer­ing rack, with a crisp 12:1 ra­tio. As with its pre­de­ces­sor there’s vir­tu­ally zero slack in the steer­ing, though now, thanks to new ge­om­e­try, those forcevec­tor­ing rear springs, fre­quency-se­lec­tive dampers and im­proved sus­pen­sion bush­ings, there’s a level of pli­ancy and flu­id­ity to the Fi­esta ST’S ride and han­dling that helps it cope with chop­pier roads. In other words, it’s ac­tu­ally com­fort­able.

And that marks it apart from the Frenchies. With a chas­sis that’s more con­tained and sporty than the 208 GTI yet not as sin­gle-mind­edly firm as the Clio RS, the Fi­esta ST eats up French roads with ease, dis­play­ing peer­less trac­tion and few, if any, com­pro­mises.

Its limpet grip on the tar­mac is hard to breach, but with enough in­er­tia, the slacker ESC of the ‘Race’ drive mode, and a sharp lift of the throt­tle and flick of the steer­ing, the Fi­esta ST’S rear end goes light and ro­tates around. It’s not the flam­boy­ant kind of pirou­ette that the Clio RS ex­cels at, but at the same time it feels far more ap­proach­able, pro­gres­sive and pre­dictable when driven at the limit. Quite like its big bro, the Fo­cus ST.

It’s hard to dis­cern a dy­namic dis­tinc­tion between the three-door and five-door, in case you were won­der­ing. With just 21 kilo­grams sep­a­rat­ing them and iden­ti­cal length, track width and wheel­base, the two bodystyles per­form vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cally.

Prob­lems? Very few. The ped­als are still a lit­tle awk­wardly spaced for neat heel-toe down­shifts, and there’s no down­shift rev-match­ing – or au­to­matic op­tion – to counter that. The shift gate it­self could also be tighter, and the lid for the cen­tre con­sole box gets in the way when se­lect­ing sec­ond, fourth or sixth.

As with the out­go­ing car there’s a pair of Re­caros up front, but this time they’re mounted on rails with plenty of height adjustment, while the steer­ing col­umn has greater range of move­ment in both reach and rake. Get­ting comfy be­hind the wheel of a Fi­esta ST is no longer an er­gonomic chal­lenge. And while the sec­ond­gen ST was let down by a dated in­te­rior that boasted Nokia aes­thet­ics in the iphone era, its re­place­ment suf­fers no such ail­ment. The new ST’S box-fresh in­te­rior lifts the sense of cabin qual­ity significantly while also flaunt­ing Ford’s lat­est SYNC3 in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem on an 8.0-inch tomb­stone-style screen (6.5in on low-spec Euro mod­els) sur­rounded by much nicer plas­tics.

The worst part is that we’ll have to wait for it. While it will have al­ready launched in Europe by the time you read this, the Fi­esta ST isn’t com­ing to our shores un­til the end of Q1, 2019. The fi­nal spec­i­fi­ca­tions of our cars have yet to be locked down, too. For bodystyle, it’ll be a hard de­ci­sion for Ford Aus­tralia to make: to bring in the more overtly sporty, bet­ter-look­ing and some­what self­ish three-door, or ca­pit­u­late to the de­mands of the pub­lic and give them the one with bet­ter ev­ery­day util­ity – the five-door. With the Fi­esta ST be­ing the sole Fi­esta to go on sale in Aus­tralia (see sidebar), it’s un­likely that we’ll re­ceive both. Profit mar­gins must be main­tained, and amor­tis­ing the cost of an ad­di­tional bodystyle will be a chal­lenge for a low-vol­ume car.

And while the ex­cel­lent Quaife dif­fer­en­tial should be a sure-fire in­clu­sion for Aus­tralia, it’s less clear whether we’ll get the 17-inch al­loys or the slightly sharper han­dling 18-inch items in­stead. Price is still an un­known, but a re­al­is­tic win­dow lies between $27-30K. With the new Polo GTI lob­bing at $30,990 with an auto trans­mis­sion as stan­dard, the fast Fi­esta will have to be priced well un­der that mark.

But what­ever the price, be thank­ful that we’re get­ting it at all.


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