FORD’S PINT-SIZED FIESTA ST hot hatchback has long been a favourite of ours. In fact, it’s been our overall top hot hatch for five years in a row. So this third-generation model is in a prime position to carry on that winning streak.

However, Ford has ditched the ST’s peppy 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine and replaced it with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder unit. That may seem like a backward step, but the new engine promises improvements in performance and fuel economy compared with its predecessor.

Like other third-generation Fiesta models, the ST is slightly larger than the car it replaces. It will be available in a choice of three-door and five-door forms, making it a more practical proposition than rivals such as the Vauxhall Corsa VXR and Seat Ibiza SC Cupra, both of which can be had with three doors only. The Fiesta ST will also need to fend off competition from classier, technology-laden rivals such as the Volkswagen Polo GTI.

Increase in power
The biggest change for the new Fiesta ST is the new turbocharged 1.5-litre engine, which forms part of the same Ecoboost line-up as the sprightly yet frugal 1.0-litre unit that works well in the outgoing second-generation Fiesta.

With an output of 197bhp, the 1.5 Ecoboost produces 17bhp more power than the old 1.6-litre engine. Ford claims the ST can sprint from 0-62mph in 6.7sec – an identical time to that of the Ibiza SC Cupra and fractionally quicker than the Corsa VXR. It’s not all about performance, though; the new engine also has a cylinder deactivation system (a first for a three-cylinder unit) that helps to keep CO2 emissions down to an anticipated 114g/km.

For the first time, the Fiesta ST features selectable driving modes that let the driver choose between Normal, Sport and Track settings to alter the responsiveness of the engine, steering and stability control system. Selecting Sport mode speeds up throttle response and adjusts the electrically assisted steering to give more feedback. Switching to Track mode sharpens up responses even more and turns the stability control off. Switching to either of the sportier driving modes also amplifies the Fiesta ST’s exhaust note.

More modern on the inside
Although the new Fiesta ST’s exterior styling is similar to the previous model’s, it has a wider front mesh grille, narrower headlights and horizontal rather than vertically stacked tail-lights. Three trim levels are likely to be offered, and all will come with Recaro sports seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, exclusive ST 18in alloy wheels, air conditioning and an automatic emergency braking system with pedestrian detection. More personalisation options than ever will be on offer, including a range of styling packs to help tailor the look of the car.

The new Fiesta’s dashboard has been given a refresh that means it’s classier and more modern than before, with far fewer buttons, a digital display for the instruments and a tablet-style infotainment screen that measures 6.5in or 8.0in, depending on the trim level. Ford’s latest Sync3 infortainment software is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The system can be used via the large touchscreen or by voice commands. Buyers can also add a Bang & Olufsen Play sound system with a subwoofer in the boot.

How will it compare on price?
Ford has moved the Fiesta range upmarket to distance it from the smaller Ka+, and we expect the new ST to be priced slightly higher than the outgoing model, which starts at Ј18,145. That means the new ST should still look competitive against the Ibiza SC Cupra (Ј18,465) and the Ј19,425 Corsa VXR.