ROAD TEST: 2019 model Ford Fiesta ST hot hatch
MEET Ford's first three-cylinder hot hatch. The latest generation of its pint-sized pocket rocket, the Fiesta ST, is powered by a tiny engine but has big shoes to fill.
Any concerns about a lack of oomph quickly evaporate once behind the wheel: it's immediately apparent the 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder packs more power and torque than the previous 1.6-litre turbo four.
The engine is surprisingly responsive from low revs and loves to scream at high revs.
Ford has changed the ratios in the six-speed manual - and in the front diff - to better suit the character of the engine and make the ST's power delivery incredibly elastic.
As before, first gear runs out at about 50km/h and second gear is done by about 90km/h. This ensures the engine is always in its peak power band.
Most performance cars are designed to eclipse 100km/h in second gear because it trims 0-100km/h times but Ford is more interested in acceleration once on the move.
Ford claims the Fiesta ST can hit the speed limit from rest in 6.5 seconds but the best we could get was 7.1 seconds, a fraction faster than the outgoing model in real-world tests.
The engine has a distinctive growl via a bimodal exhaust - which can be muted at the press of a button - and an electronic sound enhancer via the audio speakers. From inside and out, it sounds like a bigger, angrier engine than it really is.
For the first time there are three settings for the steering, stability control and throttle response: normal, sport and track.
The car feels best in normal mode. In the other settings the steering feels too heavy and unevenly weighted, the suspension too firm. Extra responsiveness from the accelerator - it quickens the pedal movement rather than delivering more power - is a welcome addition.
For now, the three modes can't be separated. The ideal blend would be normal mode for steering and suspension, matched to the quicker throttle.
Conspicuous by its absence is the lack of rev-matching technology for downshifts, available on the Honda Civic Type R and even Toyota's HiLux.
The brakes - vented front and solid rear discs - are the same size as before and feel as precise and reassuring as ever, even though they are pulling up a slightly heavier car (up by 65kg, now 1262kg).
They're fine for road driving but in our experience can't handle repeated track-day punishment; Ford is considering an optional brake package down the road.
The Recaro sports seats finally have the capability to tilt and lower the bottom cushion - a first for the tiny-tot hot hatch class, says Ford - addressing the too-high seating position of the outgoing model.
Completing the package are sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, as used on BMW M cars among others.
The test cars were equipped with optional 18-inch alloys (17s are standard). Despite the low-profile rubber they were surprisingly supple over bumps.
Ford says the switch to Michelin enabled engineers to develop more forgiving suspension bushes, another ingredient in enhancing ride comfort.
The biggest asset of the new model, however, is the optional limited-slip differential.
The Fiesta still tries to wriggle the steering wheel out of your hands when powering out of corners but the diff finally gives it the extra traction it sorely needed. A test car without the LSD felt as if it wanted to run wide in corners.
Ford is yet to decide what equipment will be standard, and whether it will import three- or five-door versions or both.
Customarily, three-door hatches handle better because the body is stiffer but Ford engineers insist there is no discernible difference in the driving experience.
A five-door body might broaden its appeal. However the Fiesta ST will likely remain an enthusiasts' car, given it is manual only.
VERDICT: 4 stars out of 5
The Fiesta ST is built by enthusiasts for enthusiasts.
The RRP will be announced closer to showroom arrival next March. Ford is yet to decide on the three-door or five-door hatch. Given the extra tech it will likely be dearer than the current three-door ($27,490). The lack of an auto means it needs to be cheaper than the coming auto-only five-door VW Polo GTI ($30,990).
Autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping, speed sign recognition, auto high-beam, and blind zone warning are safety additions. Digital speed display, large touchscreen with built-in navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bang & Olufsen audio are among interior highlights.
For the first time a mechanical limited-slip differential is optional, enabling it to claw out of corners. Sports-tuned suspension, sticky Michelin tyres and patented "torque vectoring springs" claim to improve agility.
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo has been replaced by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo with more power and torque (up from 134kW/240Nm to 147kW/290Nm). As before, it's backed by a six-speed manual but the ratios and final drive have changed to suit the new engine. Bi-modal exhaust and electronic sound enhancer add to the aural delight.
It might look familiar and the dimensions are almost identical to its predecessor but this is a clean sheet design from the tyres up. The boot is a bit bigger (up from 276L to 311L), there's a touch more room in the cabin and there's the latest Ford infotainment.
AT A GLANCE: 2019 FORD FIESTA ST
Price: $27,490 and $30,990, estimated (average)
Warranty/service: 5 yrs/unlimited km, 12 month/15,000km, $1050 over 3 years (good)
Engine: 1.5-litre 3-cyl turbo, 147kW/290Nm (perky)
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, speed sign recognition, lane keeping, rear camera and sensors (good)
Economy: 6.0L/100km (ok)
Spare tyre: Space-saver or inflation kit (not ideal)
Boot space: 311L (good)
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling