The Ford Fiesta has been a favourite on British roads for nearly 45 years, and while its sheer appeal to the masses has been a success in itself, there’s a slightly different reason evo holds the supermini to such high esteem. When it first arrived in 1976, the concept of the hot hatchback was at an embryonic stage, but Ford quickly realised a sporty version would hold great appeal, and it’s a recipe Ford has been consistently reimagining with great success ever since.
Almost half a century later and with the near-200bhp Mk8 ST on our roads, that's still very much the case. Below you'll find five of the best fast Fiestas, and we explain just what made them so special.
Subscribe to evo magazine
The Supersport wasn’t technically the first sporting Fiesta – that was the 1300 Sport – but it was very much the precursor to the XR2 that followed in the second generation.
With 89bhp from its 1.3-litre engine and a 775kg kerb weight it was certainly lively by the standards of early 1980s shopping cars, and like the XR2 the styling still looks great today – think stripes, spotlights, chunky 13x6in alloy wheels, and a matching front lip and tailgate spoiler. Values today are rising rapidly for the rare survivors.
Fiesta Zetec S
After years in the doldrums, this is the car that showed hot Fiestas were still worth our attention. Not that it was particularly hot, even by the standards of the day – its 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine produced 102bhp and the 0-62mph dash took a full 10.2 seconds.
But in a 15-car hot hatch test in issue 20, it was talented enough to reach the final six – including Peugeots 106 and 306 GTi, the Citroen Saxo VTS and most notably, the Renault Clio 172. Ultimately it lost out on power, but we noted that ‘once up to speed the Fiesta will live with any of the others through the corners’ – high praise indeed.
Fiesta ST (Mk6)
The chunky styling of the Mk6 Fiesta was a breath of fresh air after the slightly unhappy-looking car that preceded it, and in ST trim it was especially appealing – not least because stripes, inspired by those on the contemporary Ford GT, were on the options list.
To drive it never quite delivered the same thrills as the Renault Sport Clios on sale at the same time, and its 2-litre, 148bhp Duratec four-cylinder didn’t have the same punch either. That was soon made up for by firms like Mountune however, and the Ford’s chassis was as good as we’d come to expect.
Fiesta ST200 (Mk7)
The Mk7 Fiesta ST was already an outstanding hot hatch in standard form, but the range-topping ST200 took it that one step further, creating a true future classic. Boasting a near-identical output to even the current ST, it’s almost comically tail-happy handling balance, superb body control and screaming engine were unmatched at the time.
Power came from a more potent 197bhp version of the 1.6-litre, turbocharged four-pot in the regular ST, and defined the ST200’s character with a verve at the top end of the rev range the standard car lacks. Other changes were few – there’s not even a limited-slip diff – but presented all the fantastic driving elements of the standard ST, just a little quicker.
Fiesta ST-3 (Mk8)
Moving to the present day we have the latest iteration of the Fiesta ST, a model that once again claimed the title of ‘best small hot hatchback on sale’ in our review. It might have lost a cylinder over its predecessor, but the new 1.5-litre three-cylinder still produces 197bhp and 214lb ft of torque, which is enough for a 6.5sec 0-62mph time and 144mph top speed.
It’s the Fiesta’s chassis that’s most impressive though, with impressive bite from the front axle and huge reserves of traction thanks to the limited slip differential. The steering is pin-point sharp giving you great confidence in placing the car precisely, while the superb adjustability that’s able to be dialled in from the rear axle makes it a lairy, but not intimidating little hatchback. The ride is firm, yes, but it also keeps the body composed over difficult sections of tarmac, while not being so iron-fisted to become unpredictable as speeds rise. It might be a supermini, but like many of its predecessors the development process doesn’t feel half-baked. It is a truly superb little performance car.