You like the manual-only Ford Fiesta ST, but you want an automatic gearbox. You dig the ST's exclusive three-door styling, but you need five-door practicality. With both of those boxes ticked, is the 2016 Ford Fiesta Sport the next best thing to buying Ford's baby hot hatch? It very well may be…
I was fortunate enough to have snagged some lap time in the much-loved and highly-revered Ford Fiesta ST at CarAdvice’s recent Fun Car Mega Test. Now, despite getting to pants (a technical term) a solid, and diverse, handful of some of the best ‘hot’ or ‘near-hot’ cars under $60k, it was the most affordable car on offer that impressed more than most – the $25,990 (before on-road costs) Ford Fiesta ST.
It’s worth noting at this point too, that I’m not married, don’t have kids, am I strident manual gearbox supporter, and generally prefer three-doors to five. So, why then do I reckon a five-door, automatic-equipped Ford Fiesta Sport is a good thing? Simple. Because it is – to drive anyway.
Priced from $20,525 (before on-road costs) for the five-speed manual and $22,525 (before on-road costs) for the six-speed dual-clutch automatic tested here, the 2016 Ford Fiesta Sport – as it did in 2014 – sits between the Trend and flagship ST.
Back then, Matt Campbell was quick to point out the model’s “sizeable starting price”. Well, here we are at the start of 2017, and with pricing unchanged, our Aurora Blue automatic Fiesta Sport is dearer than an equivalent Mazda 2 Maxx ($19,690) and Volkswagen Polo 81TSI Comfortline ($21,190), and still more expensive than either top-spec Honda Jazz VTi-L ($22,490) or Toyota Yaris ZR ($21,920). So, it ain’t cheap and hasn't become any cheaper.
Short of any major stand-out features, standard equipment includes front fog lights, cruise control, partial leather sport seats, a leather-wrapped multi-function (rake-only adjustable) steering wheel, front and rear power windows (one-touch up/down reserved for the driver’s), ambient lighting, and an eight-speaker Sony-branded ‘premium’ audio system with Sync, a CD player, AUX/USB inputs, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, and a 4.2-inch dash top-mounted display screen.
A sports body kit, sports rear spoiler, and 16-inch alloy wheels help the warmed-up model look more the part, as does its lower, firmer, sports-tuned suspension and rear-end ‘S’ badge.
An optional $1000 ‘sports executive pack’ – which Matt stressed in 2014 really should be standard – was fitted to our tester, pushing its price up but adding keyless entry and a push-button start, single-zone automatic climate control air conditioning, automatic headlights and wipers, rear parking sensors, and a perimeter alarm. A rear-view camera – as found as standard on the Mazda 2 Maxx, and even base-model variants of the Volkswagen Polo, Honda Jazz, and Toyota Yaris – continues to be unavailable, even as an option. Same goes for any autonomous emergency braking (AEB) tech.
Other safety is addressed, however, with seven airbags, two ISOFIX-compatible outboard rear seats, hill-start assist, and Sync’s ‘Emergency Assistance’ feature, plus the Fiesta’s five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Under the bonnet lies Ford’s multi-award-winning turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder GTDi EcoBoost engine.
Delivering strong numbers for its class, the 92kW/170Nm three-pot also claims the best fuel consumption figure for the Fiesta range, regardless of transmission (4.9L/100km manual, 5.3L/100km auto). And on the road, the flexible little engine immediately impresses with its torquey and relatively responsive nature, and positive, linear power delivery.
Making short work of zipping in and out of urban streets and laneways, you can happily punt the Fiesta Sport around between 1500-2500rpm without trouble, occasionally lifting the analogue tachometer’s needle north towards 3000-3500rpm, but you don’t need to chase down the 6500rpm redline to get decent performance.
The dual-clutch ‘PowerShift’ automatic transmission, on the other hand, is well, less good.
Inseparable from audible buzzing and clunking, the transmission – when left in ‘Drive’ – is hesitant and unsure, with low-speed scenarios such as consecutive speed humps, roundabouts, and sets of traffic lights, as well as general stop-start traffic driving, exacerbating the problem and frustrating those on board.
Often indecisive with when to shift gears, the transmission is also slow to react to throttle inputs.
Markedly better when out on some more flowing, higher speed, country backroads, the catch is, the Ford Fiesta is a ‘city car’ specifically designed for gallivanting around town, and that means it's likely to spend more time in those low-speed situations the transmission does not deal so well with.
On the plus side, drivers can slip the gear selector down a notch to select ‘Sport’ mode – allowing the use of the Fiesta Sport’s slightly naff gear lever-mounted shift buttons.
Making the switch doesn’t suddenly transform the humble little Fiesta Sport into a fire-breathing Focus RS-type experience, but it does help the engine and transmission work better together, kicking revs up a touch and improving throttle response no end. And, provided you don’t mind the resulting impact on fuel consumption, this keener, more proactive mode, endows the Fiesta Sport with a welcome hit of enthusiasm, making an already entertaining car even more fun.
Ironically, the Fiesta Sport can be enough of a hoot to hustle along that, if you’re happy stirring your own cogs, you might be best suited to opt for the slightly cheaper five-speed manual variant.
Regardless, what shines brightest is the Fiesta Sport’s strong dynamic ability.
The cloth and leather seats are basic but comfortable, and offer enough bucketing and bolstering to keep you in the seat. There’s good room up front and sufficient room in the back. Vision is a positive, while storage is reasonable, and the Fiesta’s 276-litre boot (expandable to 960L) is more than adequate – if a bit on the small side compared with some class rivals. But, whether you’re city- or country-bound, the Ford Fiesta Sport will handle the majority of surfaces and tasks with aplomb.
Tested with the model’s 195mm-wide, 50-aspect Continental tyres set to manufacturer-recommended pressures (31psi front, 26psi rear), the 1127kg Fiesta Sport, while firmer than a lower-spec Ambiente or Trend, is impressive in its compliance and body control.
Be it negotiating tram tracks, speed humps, and even harsher surfaces such as cobblestones and the like, the little Ford remains composed, confident, and under control. Make contact with a pothole or a man-hole cover, and while you will feel the impact, the little Ford isn’t troubled, and will willingly stay on line.
Although 100km/h-freeway cruises are attached to quite a bit of road and outside traffic noise, with surface changes easily perceptible from within the cabin, it never gets raucous in there, and the car remains flat, planted, and stable on the road.
A touch light and a fraction more remote than it could be, the Fiesta’s electric power-assisted steering is still one of the best going around, providing drivers with enough accuracy to make getting through town or some twisties a cinch – aided by a U-turn-friendly 10.2-metre turning circle.
Further, provided you’re not trying to drive your Fiesta Sport as you might a Fiesta ST, the standard brakes (comprising 258mm discs up front and old-school drums out back) will remain progressive and communicative, making brake pedal modulation easy.
Overall, while not a lot of the current Ford Fiesta is earth-shatteringly cool or new or cutting-edge – we’ll have to wait and see if/when elements seen in the European 2017 Fiesta filter down into Australia’s Thailand-built Fiestas – everything just sort of works, and works well.
Plus, with Ford’s lifetime capped-price servicing scheme, annual services, required every 12 months or 15,000km, are priced at a respectable $250 per service for the first three years or 45,000km. That said, the Blue Oval’s three-year/100,000km warranty is now somewhat short compared with some others being offered, and fixed prices don’t include “additional service items” such as brake fluid replacement (required every two years, costing $80.00), a valve clearance check (required every eight years or 150,000km, costing $1085, coolant replacement (required every 10 years or 150,000km, costing $90), and a timing belt and/or drive belt replacement (required every 10 years or 240,000km, costing $1160).
The 2016 Ford Fiesta Sport might not hold a candle to the Fiesta ST in terms of outright performance potential, but for those looking for a more practical, five-door, Fiesta that can still make you smile – and be had with a self-shifting gearbox – the Sport is a well-sorted, impressively dynamic little package.
Of course, with value for money ever-high on the list, shop around, be smart, and do your best to squeeze for a bargain. Alternatively, go elsewhere, and you’ll easily find more gear and more tech, for less.