The top-spec factory Fiesta promises to be a driving delight for those who like hot hatch thrills, but does its power deficit compared to key rivals hold it back? Our man finds out
We all know by now what the ST badge stands for – a fast Ford that’s not quite as focused as an RS. This is not a bad thing. The old second-gen Focus ST, for example, with its Volvo-derived five-pot engine, was a beautiful blend of decent driving dynamics with a relaxed character that lent itself to day-to-day driving. That is wasn’t as stupidly stiffly sprung as some rivals wasn’t a problem; there was an RS in the pipeline to deal with those upstarts.
Since the C346 Focus ST arrived though – the 2-litre blown four with the really big grille at the front that makes it look like a basking shark – I think there’s a harder edge to the cars that is, on the one hand, great for a committed blast down a deserted back road, but perhaps not so good for an ST’s everyday appeal. Indeed, if you look on these hallowed pages, you’ll find a review conducted by Messrs Williams and Charlesworth which is less than glowing for the third Focus ST. Mind, I drove one not long after m’learned colleagues and found it better than they did – maybe this was because they drove in the wet and I had a dry-day blast – but I will at least concede that the car felt sharper and more unforgiving than its forebear. Which potentially means that any forthcoming RS version will be a rock-hard, scary monster…
So it was with a little trepidation that I clambered into the Fiesta ST recently, at a venue somewhere on the edge of Wetherby. I know we’re not hugely on the ball here, but for various reasons all our opportunities to get into the hot Fiesta previously have been thwarted at the eleventh hour. Having read the reviews at the time, though, it seemed the littlest ST could be something of a winner.
And the good news is, those reports were not just your typical ‘new car hype’. I genuinely think the Fiesta ST is one of the very best hot hatches I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving (you need to get to the exalted levels of Focus RS MkII and Megane R26.R to beat it); I think it is also one of the most entertaining driver’s cars I’ve ever been behind the wheel of, no matter what price.
First up, let us dismiss the only real chink in the Fiesta’s armour, that of its relative lack of power in this marketplace. On the same day I drove the ST for the first time, I also drove one of its more muscular competitors, the Renaultsport Clio 200, and I didn’t particularly notice the c.20bhp deficit in the Ford. Its 1.6 EcoBoost engine is a beautiful little engine, wonderfully linear in its responses so you forget it’s forced induction, and also happy to rev. For a blown four-pot, it also sounds marvellous – growly throughout, when you near the 6500rpm redline it has a warbling cry (artificially augmented in front of the bulkhead, but not obviously so) to it that is somewhat reminiscent of the old five-pot Focus. High praise, indeed.
But even if it is slightly disadvantaged in a straight line, the ridiculous corner speeds this thing can carry rather negate that lack of grunt in practice. The ST is simply amazing in the bends. The steering is one of the very best EPAS systems I’ve ever come across, full of feel and supremely well-judged in the weighting, with a dearth of that infuriating dead-ahead vagueness that plagues its contemporaries. It is connected to a front-end that, if you’ll forgive the cliché, is pretty much telepathic in its responses. If there is understeer in the ST’s chassis, I am guessing the only people who would find it are suicidal folk who fancy trying an elaborate ST-themed way of offing themselves. In the dry, certainly, I couldn’t unstick the front rubber. The torque vectoring – using traction control to brake an inside wheel spinning away power – also plays a big part here, and is unobtrusive throughout any amount of hoonery.
Meanwhile, the rear end is already in the elite company of those very best rapid hatches that enjoy lift-off oversteer. But rather than being a spiky jab of the tail when you call on it, instead the Fiesta progressively tightens its line with a stance that is only the merest whiff of opposite lock beyond neutral. It is coupled to damping that seems to always be the perfect set-up for whatever road you are traversing – be that faster A-road with good visibility sweepers and a reasonably level surface, or a gnarled unclassified that has the sort of mid-bend compressions and camber changes that really tighten the old buttocks. Barrel into a curve at a speed that’s a gnat’s too high and you know you can rescue the situation with the Fiesta’s utter brilliance and ability to place it on a sixpence. That’s because, as well as steering and suspension that beggars belief, the ST has a super-slick six-speed manual and brakes that are beyond reproach, in terms of bite and pedal feel. Basically, Ford has given you all the tools you require to dismantle any road of your choosing in extremely short order.
I know it was a good car because I spent the entire drive grinning from ear to ear. And yes, I did drive it like a hooligan – what’s the point in holding back in a little tearaway like this? Whether it’s as good as a six-tenths car or not, I don’t know. I would suspect the suspension, which is excellent for the purposes of pushing on, might become a bit tiresome on a longer journey but I’m clutching at straws here. The only thing I can really criticise it on is its face; I actually think the pre-facelift B299 Fiesta (sixth-gen) was prettier than this newer example, which wears the gaping trapezoidal vortex of a grille that is now Ford’s signature conk. Still, it remains a handsome little hot hatch overall, especially in this £495 metallic paint option of Sprint Blue.
And that brings me to price. The ST retails at £16,995. This is what is colloquially known as A Massive Bargain, and for that you get what is dynamically one of the best-sorted moderns I’ve driven for many a year, plus genuine four-seat capacity, a biggish boot and a claimed extra-urban economy figure of 58.9mpg. Whether it can actually achieve that lofty peak or not, it’s clear that this small capacity turbo lark really does give you the best of both worlds – power and parsimony.
This car, in ST-2 trim for £17,995, also comes with decent standard kit for this level, including such delights as a DAB audio system with Ford’s SYNC technology, lovely 17in alloys, Recaro front chairs (which allow an excellent driving position, by the way, when coupled with Ford’s excellent dash ergonomics) and ST-branded addenda. In fact, unusually for a press car, this ST’s only other option beyond the blue bodywork was the ST Style Pack, which paints those Rado alloys grey, adds red brake callipers and illuminates the scuff plates, all for £275. All of which means that a car as brilliant as this very example could be yours for just £18,765.
And that’s all the reason you need to go out and buy one now. This is by far and away the best hot Fiesta yet built, it’s definitely among the very best of Ford – a company known for driving delights over the decades – and I think it stands up to comparison with many all-time legends. Finally, if that 180bhp figure really bothers you, Mountune does an official kit for just £599 to take it to 212bhp. That’s the only way you could improve on the perfection of the Fiesta ST – because it’s sublime in every respect.
Tech Spec Ford Fiesta ST
- Body Front-engined three-door hatchback
- Engine 1596cc 16v turbocharged inline four
- Transmission FWD, six-speed manual
- 0-62mph 6.9 seconds
- Top speed 139mph
- Max power 180bhp @ 5700rpm
- Max torque 214lbf.ft from 1500rpm to 5000rpm
- Fuel consumption 47.9mpg (claimed combined)
- CO2 emissions 138g/km
- Price from £16,995
The Truth & Nothing But…
Ford Fiesta ST
+ Epic steering, strong and charismatic four-cylinder engine, suspension from the top drawer, good looks (apart from that face), value for money, practicality… shall we go on?
– You might want a bit more oomph than 180bhp and the suspension might be tiring if you need to cover vast amounts of motorway miles. If it is, I suggest you go and buy yourself a BMW 318d and stop complaining
∴ Possibly one of the best hot hatches we’ve ever driven, and possibly one of the best performance cars of any ilk too. It really is that good.