Ford’s latest Fiesta ST is probably the best small hot hatchback on sale right now. Admittedly, the class isn’t quite as strong as it has been in previous years, but that shouldn’t take away from Ford’s achievement. The old ST was one of the best performance cars Ford has ever made – honest, exciting and the epitome of front-wheel-drive fun. It was a car capable of fighting right at the top of its class, but was excellent value for money, too, with entry-level models undercutting most rivals by thousands.
That meant the current car had some pretty big boots to fill, but Ford has managed it successfully. It has a tempting starting price of £19,495, and performance figures that beat the top ST200 version of the old car. The new 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine matches the old car’s output without resorting to an overboost function and the ST still offers three- and five-door formats (an increasingly rare attribute in modern hatches) and a six-speed manual gearbox.
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But the best news is that the new ST doesn’t just look good on paper. While it’s lost a little of the old car’s raw character and has become slightly more grown-up and complicated, it’s still an absolute riot to drive, from the ultra-quick steering to an engaging drivetrain and effervescent character. Since few buyers will opt for a bare entry-level model it's not the sub-£20k bargain it first appears, and the ST isn’t quite perfect as you’ll read in the following pages, but few other cars offer such accessible fun
Ford Fiesta ST in detail
- Engine, transmission and technical details – Three cylinders, 1.5-litres and a turbocharger – all fixed to a six-speed manual gearbox. Engine uses cylinder-deactivation tech for better economy. Suspension gets fancy directionally-wound "force vectoring" springs
- Performance and 0-60 time – Quicker than the old car and up at the sharp end for the class, with a 6.5sec 0-62mph time and 144mph top speed. Delivers an interesting noise thanks to both an active exhaust and digital enhancement.
- Ride and handling – Still one of the best small hot hatchbacks. Sharp steering and great body control give the ST real agility, though ultra-firm ride on some surfaces and the near-hyperactive steering response may deter some.
- MPG and running costs – No more frugal than its predecessor on paper or on the road. Running costs shouldn’t be too high, but keep an eye on those Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.
- Interior and tech – A big improvement over the old car. Grippy Recaro seats are welcome, improved dash and infotainment set-up even more so.
- Design – Three- and five-door options, with just enough aggression to mark it out as a performance model. Looks better at the front than the back, but the fancy alloy wheels leave you in no doubt as to which model you've bought.
Prices, specs and rivals
The Fiesta remains a decent value proposition, though ultimately few will go for the basic £19,495 ST-1 model. Just one per cent, according to Ford’s figures, with 28 per cent opting instead for the £20,700 ST-2 and a full 71 per cent for the £22,250 ST-3. Five-door versions – available on the ST-2 and ST-3 – cost an extra £650, and are expected to account for around a quarter of ST sales. The model itself will account for around a tenth of all Ford Fiesta sales in the UK.
ST-1 models get 17-inch wheels, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, air conditioning, keyless start, cruise control, Recaro seats, halogen headlights and selectable driving modes. ST-2s wear a slightly flashier 17-inch wheel design (with 18-inch optional), with climate control, heated seats, privacy glass, and a larger 8-inch touchscreen, while ST-3 upgrades to 18-inch wheels, navigation, a TFT screen ahead of the driver, a parking camera, leather trim and a heated steering wheel.
To this you can then add various option packages. Most popular by a hair will be the performance pack, with a fifth of buyers spending an extra £925 (on ST-2 and ST-3 only) to get a Quaife limited-slip differential, launch control and shift lights. B&O Play audio is £350 and LED headlamps (ST-2 and ST-3 only) are £600. Most ST buyers will also go for the car’s signature Performance Blue paintwork – a £750 option.
A new Performance Edition will set you back around £3000 on top of the ST-3 (full pricing hasn’t yet been confirmed), but does bring new (and more tasteful) 18-inch alloy wheels, saving 7kg of total weight, as well as adjustable coilover suspension, Deep Orange paintwork, and the standard fitment of items such as the Quaife limited-slip differential. Just 600 will be made.
The VW Polo GTI still exists however, but it’s a long way off the Fiesta in terms of fun or capability. It may well have the same 2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine as its bigger brother, the Golf GTI, but it’s not as fun, and it’s not as fun as the smaller Up GTI either. It starts at £21,660 (DSG-only) – less than an optioned-up Fiesta, but a lot more than that smaller Up.
You could go smaller of course, with that Up coming in at £14,530, or Suzuki’s current Swift Sport starting at £18,499. The Up is spectacular value for such a desirable car and it’s amusing to drive too, but lacks the outright ability of the Ford. The Suzuki has split the evo team’s opinion, and importation from Japan has hobbled pricing somewhat, but all of us agree that the Fiesta is again the better hot hatch.
By the time you’ve chucked a few grand at the Fiesta, you might also consider upgrading to a hot hatch from the class above. A 248bhp Hyundai i30 N starts at £25,995, and offers even more performance, capability, and of course space, while being easier to live with. The Fiesta is more instantly gratifying but does lack the Hyundai’s depth.