The Ford Fiesta is forty. That it's reached the four decade mark is impressive on its own. That it's been one of the biggest-selling cars in the country for that entire time even more so.
But there's another side to the Fiesta: Performance. When it 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.
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Forty years later and with the Fiesta ST200 hitting the streets, 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.
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.
The badge that defines hot Fiestas even today. Okay, the XR2 was never as tasty as its French or German rival GTIs in the way the ST is today, but XR2 is a much cooler badge than ST and in Mk2 form it’s quite a looker too.
Go-faster addenda here included “pepperpot” alloy wheels, deeper bumpers front and rear (with de rigeur red stripes) and a black spoiler that encircled the tailgate. Inside was a sporty two-spoke steering wheel, and under the bonnet you got a carb-fed 1596cc CVH with 96bhp. The 0-60mph time was 9.3sec – quicker than the Mk5 Zetec S below.
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.
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.
The latest Fiesta is the hottest production Fiesta yet, and while you pay handsomely for the privilege at £22,745 (there’s little doubt the standard ST is better value) you’ll struggle to find a better small hot hatchback right now. Only the Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport gets close, which is something of an accolade considering Peugeot’s own illustrious hot hatch heritage.
Power comes from a 197bhp version of the 1.6-litre, turbocharged four-pot in the regular ST. Other changes are few – there’s not even a limited-slip diff – but it’s as great to drive as the standard ST, just a little quicker. ‘This is a stupendously fun car to drive, one that goads you into committing ever harder’ said Dan Prosser in his recent review.