New Ford Fiesta ST vs new Volkswagen Polo GTI

Is the Ford Fiesta ST still the affordable hot hatch to beat? This new one is here to prove that it is – but first it has to see off Volkswagen’s latest Polo GTI...

2018 Ford Fiesta ST vs Volkswagen Polo GTI

The contenders

Ford Fiesta ST 1.5T ST-3 Performance Pack 3dr

List price £22,345

Target price £21,242

The previous ST was one of the best hot hatches ever, so this new one has a lot to live up to.

Volkswagen Polo GTI 2.0 TSI GTI+

List price £23,020

Target price £21,358

The Polo GTI has the opposite problem: previous versions have never quite hit the spot.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” Bill Shakespeare wrote that for Twelfth Night, and there’s little doubt about which camp the outgoing Ford Fiesta ST belongs in.

It was born great, and such was the depth of its dynamic sparkle that the designers of this new Fiesta ST must’ve been riddled with “how do on earth do we follow that?” self-doubt. Thankfully, they persevered, and among the new ST’s highlights is a potent, 197bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and, for the first time, a limited-slip differential (LSD). It’s part of a new £850 Performance Pack option (tested here) and aims to improve traction out of corners.

What about the Fiesta’s rival, the Volkswagen Polo GTI? It’s fair to say it has never captured hot hatch enthusiasts’ imaginations to the same extent, but this is also a new model that resets the bar. Power is identical to that of the ST from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor, and unlike the manual-only Fiesta, it comes as standard with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. In range-topping GTI+ trim, you get a whole heap of extra equipment, to match the top-spec ST-3 Fiesta.

2018 Ford Fiesta ST



Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Both cars come with launch control systems designed to ping you off the line cleanly. The Fiesta’s works effectively; once it’s activated, you simply floor the accelerator, release the clutch pedal and you’re off. Being an auto, the Polo’s is instigated by releasing the brake pedal, but it then bogs down due to abrupt intervention by its traction control.

Despite this, the Polo wins the 0-60mph dash. Having seven gears to the Fiesta’s six keeps its engine boiling at peak power for longer, so it pulls out a 0.4sec lead. That’s halved when accelerating through the gears from 30-70mph, though, and the Fiesta pulls more vigorously from low revs.

Beyond the “mine’s quicker than yours” pub bragging rights, the Fiesta is the more bewitching car. Even when you’re not ragging it, its accelerator response is crisper and its fruity three-cylinder exhaust burble is more rousing than the Polo’s smooth yet colourless buzz.

Meanwhile, the Fiesta’s slick, stubby gearlever is a palpable joy to use. The Polo’s seamless shifts are impressive, but even executing them manually, using plastic paddles behind the steering wheel, is comparatively joyless.

The Ford-sponsored fun continues when you get the Fiesta onto a snaking country road, where it’s tauter and more agile than the Polo. Although the Fiesta’s steering is a little nervous just off the dead-ahead, with forced self-centring and a tendency to follow cambers in the road, its weighting becomes more predictable as you wind on more lock, and it’s far more alert than the Polo’s slower steering. There’s some initial body lean in both, after which the Fiesta finds greater balance, grip and composure than the Polo can muster. It’s also more playful at the limits of adhesion.

2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI

The traction generated by the Fiesta’s LSD out of corners is impressive, too. You can squeeze the accelerator earlier and harder than you can in the Polo, with its front tyres seeming to grow talons that dig into the asphalt and drag you around.

In an attempt to replicate the Fiesta’s LSD, the Polo uses clever electronics to limit wheel-spin, but it isn’t as effective; its front tyres scrabble for grip earlier and run wide of your chosen line sooner. As a result, its quickest lap time at our test track was one second behind the Fiesta’s best of 44.8sec.

However, the Polo is more comfortable. It comes with adaptive dampers as standard, and they deliver a pretty soft ride in Comfort mode. The Fiesta’s conventional dampers give a firmer, busier ride that never really abates, even on motorways. Some will find this wearing.

Next: Behind the wheel >

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