The previous generation Ford Fiesta ST held a special place in the affections of evo. Combining punchy performance, acrobatic handling and a bargain basement price tag, the pocket rocket Ford was one of our favourite small cars. It was arguably the best go-faster model the firm made, offering far more entertainment than any of its quicker and more expensive siblings.
So, there’s a fair amount of pressure on the new car, particularly when you consider it features a downsized three-cylinder engine. Knowing what’s at stake, Ford handed development of the ST to its Ford Performance division, which was responsible for the current Focus RS. To this end the new hot Fiesta features trick dampers, a novel rear suspension layout and the option of limited slip differential.
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It certainly looks the business, with its deeper and heavily sculpted front bumper, deeper side skirts, tailgate spoiler and a rear diffuser that houses a twin exit exhaust. All versions get 17-inch alloys as standard, while our car was fitted with the optional 18-inch rims, which do a fine job of filling the arches.
Inside, it’s the typical fast Ford makeover, with a pair of heavily bolstered and hugely comfortable Recaro seats for the driver and passenger, a thickly padded three-spoke steering wheel and metal-topped gearlever. Like the standard Fiesta, the rest of the ST’s interior is a vast improvement over the old car’s, with more soft touch plastics than you can shake a stick at and a dash layout that looks classier and is far easier to operate.
As with the standard Fiesta, the basic structure of the old car has been carried over. However, the suspension and steering have been treated to a fairly comprehensive makeover. For starters, the electrically assisted steering features a 12:1 ratio, making it the quickest rack on any Ford Performance model. Also new are the force vectoring springs. Developed and patented by Ford, these are fitted to the torsion beam rear suspension and have non-uniform, non-interchangeable directionally wound springs that are claimed to absorb both vertical and cornering forces. This means that engineers have been able to boost lateral stiffness at the rear without resorting to a hefty (around 10kg extra) Watts linkage.
Another innovation is found in the dampers, which feature Ford’s Ride Control 1 valving to create what is essentially a passive-adaptive set-up. Depending on the frequency and load of compression and rebound the damper valving changes to compensate, creating greater control when pushing on, but improved comfort at a cruise.
There are also driving modes – a first for the Fiesta ST. Normal, Sport and Track feature, with each affecting the throttle response, steering weight and stability control intervention.
Engine, transmission and 0-62mph
There’s a big change under the bonnet with the arrival of a downsized 1.5-litre three-cylinder motor. The all-aluminium unit packs 197bhp and 214lb ft of torque, which is roughly the same as the Mountune tweaked version of the old 1.6-litre four-pot. Alongside the turbocharging and variable valve timing tech, it also gets port and direct injection systems, which work in conjunction with cylinder deactivation to boost efficiency with no loss in power. Finally, there’s a sports exhaust with active valving, which is designed to deliver a ‘soundtrack that will speak to petrolheads whatever their language’. As before, the engine’s mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, but now there’s the option of a Quaife torque-biasing limited slip differential, too.
Performance is well up to class standards, with the 0-62mph sprint dusted in 6.5 seconds, while the top speed is a very respectable 144mph. On the move it’s the generous low and mid-range torque that dominates. There’s no lag to speak of, meaning the ST has that wonderfully elastic delivery of a light car powered by a muscular engine. Work the engine harder, though, and it’s clear it doesn’t have the old car’s appetite for revs, with the last 1000rpm or so producing more noise, but very little extra urge.
Flicking to Sport mode adds extra urgency to the throttle, but Normal is so well calibrated that the gains are marginal. That said, Sport does bring an aural improvement. The hi-fi augmented engine note is more convincing than most, but it’s the change in exhaust tone that’s most noticeable – a flap in the silencer opens to deliver a satisfying rasp under acceleration and a barrage of pops and bangs on the overrun. Even so, the increase in volume and fireworks can’t hide the thrummy three-cylinder backbeat.
What’s it like to drive?
On smooth roads the Fiesta corners fast and flat, flowing down twisting Tarmac with incredible poise and pace. The well-weighted steering (Normal is best as Sport feels a touch synthetic in its heft) is quick, precise and uncorrupted, allowing you slice through corners quickly and accurately – although there’s some stiffness to the rack out of tighter bends as the differential works hard. Up the pace and the ST responds eagerly, delivering strong turn-in bite that’s assisted by some very slickly integrated torque vectoring, giving you confidence to lean hard on the front tyres. The new car has lost just a fraction of the old car’s agility, but there’s a real sense of the front and rear axles taking equal share of the loads.
With the ESP in Sport, or switched off completely, you can start to explore the Ford’s natural balance, subtly altering your line with either a lift of the throttle or a dab of the brakes.
Throw in some bumps and broken tarmac and things get a little busier, however, particularly where the steering is concerned. Accelerate hard out of corner on a heavily crowned or corrugated road and the Fiesta’s nose takes on mind of its own as the diff sends torque this way and that as it attempts to make best use of the torque. It never gets out of hand, but it’s at odds with the otherwise slick steering.
As before the ride is firm, but the revised dampers help take the edge of the worst of the impacts. Factor-in lower wind and road noise and the Fiesta is a more soothing daily companion than the old car.
Price and rivals
In entry level guise the Fiesta ST is priced from just £18,995, a generous amount less than the Renaultsport Clio 200 and Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport. Classically, the entry-level model has also been the least popular, but against less capable rivals like the new Suzuki Swift Sport, represents exceptional value at the bottom of the hot hatch class.
The middle and top ST-2 and ST-3 models will be closer in price to the Renault and Peugeot, but we’d forego the extra kit a plump for the mechanically identical base model. In this guise the Fiesta represents staggering value for money, delivering a performance per pound ratio that rivals can’t match. No it’s not ultimately as fun as the old car, but its broader spread of abilities make it a more usable proposition for more people, more the time.