We drive the Blue Oval’s latest hot hatch full-tilt in the Green Heck
The all-new European-spec 2019 Ford Fiesta ST is the answer to questions few Americans seem to be asking. Like, “What’s the best car for shredding a narrow, crowned, potholed country lane?” Or, “Which car is easiest to squeeze through ancient alleys and street-park in small villages?”
Even, “Which car sips gas while delivering a rousing, muffler-bypassed exhaust note?”
If these were critical factors in the U.S., home of wide-open spaces, wide roads, and typically available parking, then perhaps this 2019 Ford Fiesta ST would be offered for sale here. But they aren’t, and it’s not. Ford has deemed that Americans want SUVs, not hatchbacks. The folks in Dearborn are correct, and it’s a shame because there are still a decent number of us hot-hatch fanboys who would cherish having the latest Fiesta ST in American dealerships.
So we went to probably the best place in the world for such a car to showcase its attributes: Ireland. It isn’t the cliched dynamic benchmark of the Nürburgring’s Green Hell. But country roads on the Emerald Isle are twisty and challenging, and buildings hard against village lanes often loom threateningly near to one’s side mirrors. Petrol is €1.39 per liter ($5.94 USD/gallon). Given those circumstances and conditions, the Fiesta ST is possibly the perfect solution for enthusiastic driving.
In the North America, we get the end-of-the-line Fiesta ST that we’ve seen since model year 2014—based on a chassis that made its global debut in 2008. But in the rest of the world, an improved model has dawned.
The new global 2019 Fiesta ST employs a chassis that’s 8 percent stiffer than before, providing a superior platform from which the suspension can do its work. It is available in both two-door and four-door hatchback configurations whose outside dimensions are identical. The car’s suspension is also upgraded in detail, though its fundamental layout retains the MacPherson struts in front and the twist-beam axle in the rear.
The global-spec ST (well, global except for us) gets new frequency-selective tuned damping in its twin-tube front struts and monotube rear shocks. That means their damping rates depend on how quickly the suspension is compressing or rebounding. In a low-speed event, the suspension could be moving in response to steering input, causing the car to lean—stiff damping can resist this.
But hitting a pothole causes sudden suspension movement; you want the car to be more compliant to avoid rattling the occupants. The Fiesta ST’s frequency-selective dampers account for these different situations without the complexity and expense of fully active, computer-controlled shocks.
Ford says the rear twist-beam’s roll stiffness of 1,400 Newton-meters per degree is the highest of any Ford Performance model. While flogging the Fiesta ST over Ireland’s rural byways, that same rear suspension faultlessly absorbed the pounding dealt by the undulating asphalt.
“We went through three times the normal number of suspension iterations to find a setup that delivered the exciting driving experience demanded of an ST model but also comfort and refinement for everyday driving,” said Leo Roeks, director of Ford Performance Europe. “The car’s sophisticated dampers self-adjust to tune out high-frequency road imperfections when there is limited demand for damping—like on the motorway—but adjust again to deliver optimized road-holding performance when driven hard.”
It’s easy for manufacturers to make such promises, but the Fiesta ST effortlessly cashes the checks Roeks is writing with his claims.
The ST’s optional front 18-inch wheels ride on a 1.9-inch-wider front track, and the 205/40R18 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires provide abundant grip. There’s no fashionable “Brembo” lettering on the red brake calipers peeking between the spokes of the aluminum wheels, but braking power is strong and linear with no grabbiness at light pressure or low speeds, as some performance brake systems exhibit.
The twist-beam rear suspension’s coil springs are “nonuniform, non-interchangeable, directionally wound force vector springs,” which Ford says improves both stability and agility.
They are mounted so that lateral forces are directed straight into the springs, improving stiffness in corners. This contributes to sharper response in turn-in and directional changes, according to Ford. We found the ST to be as light on its feet and agile through switchbacks as this technology suggests.
The layout saves 22 pounds (10 kg) compared to a Watts linkage setup that could otherwise be used to bolster lateral stiffness, and it has the benefit of working with conventional-style shock absorbers.
Beam axles are typical fare in the subcompact class, but they normally feel inferior and clumsy compared with the independent-link suspensions seen at the rear of most compact-class cars. Although fully competent on smooth pavement, beam axles seem particularly compromised over the kind of uneven pavement that is the norm on rural Irish back roads.
Yet here, the Fiesta ST shines, absorbing bumps at all four corners and keeping the Michelins on the road surface, doing their job at all times.
Ford says that the Fiesta’s 12:1 steering ratio is the quickest of any Ford Performance model and is 14 percent faster than that of the previous generation. This makes it especially easy to point the ST precisely, putting the inside tires right on the corner’s apex and keeping the outside mirrors far enough from those of oncoming traffic on these narrow lanes.
The biggest change for the new Fiesta ST is the engine. In place of the old 197-horsepower 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder is a 197-hp 1.5-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder, a version of the same engine that will be in the 2020 Escape this fall.
Despite the drop in displacement and the number of cylinders, the new engine actually makes more torque than the old one, at 214 lb-ft rather than 202. It also produces the thrilling three-cylinder growl that has made this engine configuration the signature of Triumph motorcycles, thanks to bewitching models like the Speed Triple.
Recognizing the irresistible appeal of the engine’s sound, Ford has added an active muffler bypass valve to the exhaust system, making the exhaust note more accessible when the ST is switched from Normal to either Sport or Track mode.
Those settings also adjust the amount of assistance from the electric power steering, the quickness of the throttle response, and the freedom permitted by the electronic stability control system. Additionally, in Track mode, the traction control is switched off.
The differences between the settings is subtle, but each of the racier modes makes the car feel just a touch crisper in response to throttle and steering input and makes the exhaust a bit more burbly.
The optional Quaife limited-slip differential helps put the tiny triple’s fierce power to the ground without lighting up the inside front tire every time you drop the hammer in a low gear. There’s even Shelby Mustang–style launch control for the dragstrip.
However, despite the limited-slip diff and a torque-vectoring system, torque steer is quite intrusive in the Fiesta ST. It manifests both in tugging the steering wheel to the side when accelerating in a straight line and in resisting the driver’s effort to straighten the wheel when accelerating out of corners.
The direct, accurate steering makes it easy to correct these intrusions, but it is nonetheless disappointing when the car is so exemplary in so many other dynamic respects and when the growling triple’s exhaust song is urging you to feed it more power.
So although it won’t be threatening any Nürburgring records, hammering through its ideal environment confirms that the new global-market 2019 Fiesta ST is 100 percent Green Heck certified.
|2019 Ford Fiesta ST|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 5-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.5L/197-hp/214-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 12-valve I-3|
|CURB WEIGHT||2,850 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||160.2 x 68.3 x 57.8 in|
|0-62 MPH||6.5 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||37/55/43 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||91/61 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.45 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Not for sale in the U.S.|