Why this could be the best hot hatch
Pint-sized city cars are an endangered species.
The Holden Barina, Nissan Micra, Hyundai Getz and Peugeot 208 have all been discontinued and the Honda Jazz has been read the last rites.
Ford's Fiesta remains but it has been relegated to a single model, the ST hot hatch, which sells more on sizzle than size.
At about $36,000 (or $650 more if you don't want white or red) it's far from a bargain hatchback, especially considering it's a size smaller than Toyota's Corolla.
The emphasis is firmly on performance, although Ford has also loaded it with a generous list of equipment typically reserved for fancier models.
The 10-speaker audio system, for example, is by Bang & Olufsen. There are Recaro seats with smatterings of leather and a suede-like trim. Side bolsters are firm and aggressive, arguably too much so around the upper thighs for bigger drivers.
Metal pedals and faux carbon trim spice up the visuals against the backdrop of some hard plastics on the dash and doors.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are displayed on an 8.0-inch touchscreen and there's digital radio tuning.
Ambient lighting covers the cupholders and door pockets with a nice glow, reinforcing the efforts to justify the price tag.
Plus, there's smart key entry, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, reversing camera and parking sensors, satnav and stylish 18-inch wheels.
There's the occasional hint of penny-pinching, such as the lack of overhead grab handles.
The ST is more about the driver than occupants. The tight-fitting front seats are a constant reminder of that.
So, too, are the compact dimensions. Head and leg room in the rear is more suited to children than adults and there are no air vents. At least the back seats have the same classy finishes.
But storage is strong. The boot is surprisingly deep and practical, split-fold functionality adding to its usefulness.
Finding homes for phones and accessories is also a snip. There's a covered centre console, bulging door pockets and a sunglass hidey-hole in the roof.
Wherever you are, though, you'll feel the bumps. Suspension is tuned to the sporty side, so there are plenty of jolts and lumps.
The ride is busy over anything but smooth bitumen, so be prepared to be jiggled around.
The Fiesta has plenty of driver assistance tech, including auto braking in forward and reverse, lane departure warning, blind-spot warning and speed-sign recognition. Tyre pressure monitors are handy for an early warning of a puncture and there are seatbelt reminders front and rear.
Launch control and race car-like shift lights give a hint of the thinking behind the ST.
There's a turbocharged engine with hot-hatch power levels, just don't mention the T word. T for three, that is.
It seems Ford isn't keen to point out that the engine powering the Fiesta ST has one fewer cylinder than most expect in a hot hatch. There's no mention of how many cylinders it has (or doesn't have) on the Ford website or in the brochure.
Instead, the focus is on "EcoBoost", Ford's marketing term for a turbo.
There's nothing to be embarrassed about with the Fiesta's engine, though.
The 1.5-litre triple pulls strongly from way down in the rev range and the standard six-speed manual (there is no auto) snicks nicely between ratios. First gear is quite short for slick take-offs.
There's a full 290Nm of torque and a heap of it is available from 1500rpm, so third and fourth gears are surprisingly useful for pottering around town, albeit with some characterful vibrations.
Settle in for a freeway cruise and there aren't many hills that will require you to drop out of sixth gear.
The 147kW power peak is also a fun accompaniment, upping the character as the engine strives towards its 6500rpm limit.
You'll need to ply it with premium unleaded and you'll likely use more than the claimed 6.3 litres per 100km.
A limited slip differential and tricky electronic torque vectoring make getting that grunt to the ground easy. They're helped by terrific Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, which hang on tenaciously.
They also make the most of accomplished dynamics. The ST points towards a corner brilliantly and it hangs on ridiculously well. There so much grip it sometimes feels as though it's lifting an inside rear wheel, yet at the same time it's planted and well behaved.
Who would have thought three cylinders could be this much fun?
I'm happy to compromise on size for driving excitement. The ST is all of the hot hatch fun in a condensed package at a cheaper price.
It's not the fastest car in the world, nor the most powerful, but it will make you smile without threatening your licence.
VW Polo GTI from $35,000 drive-away
The maturity, cabin elegance and everyday liveability of a Golf GTI in a smaller package.
Hyundai i30 N-Line from $29,990 drive-away
Bigger and more sensible. More warm than hot, but still a sensible way to add some turbo fun to a five-door hatch.
FORD FIESTA ST VITALS
Price: From about $36,000 drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 5 years, unl'td km, $1196 for 4 years/60,000km
Engine: 1.5-litre 3-cyl turbo, 147kW/290Nm
Safety: Not rated, 6 airbags, AEB, rear auto braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, driver monitor
Spare: Space saver
Originally published as Why this could be the best hot hatch