Ford Fiesta ST v Peugeot 208 GTI v Nissan Juke Nismo v Mini Cooper S JCW v Renault Clio 200 Turbo - Ford Fiesta ST: Hot hatch group test

The Fiesta ST is the small fast Ford we've all been waiting for, but how well does it cope against its more powerful rivals?

I’ll admit it’s a relief to come back down to earth in the Fiesta. It helps that the ST makes a first impression that’s as reassuringly honest as looking you square in the eye and giving you a firm handshake. The steering wheel can be placed wherever you want, the pedals fall naturally under your feet, while the Recaro goes low enough and hugs your ribcage encouragingly with its side bolsters. The only downsides are that the plastics look a little scratchier than in the others and the dozens of tiny buttons for the radio, phone, CD player and so on appear to have been arranged with all the precision of an unguarded sneeze.

> Read the full Ford Fiesta ST review.

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Press the starter button, head up towards the hairpins, sweep wide into the first switchback with a little lift at the apex and the Fiesta merrily hoists a hind wheel like a dog on a lamp-post. It feels like the easiest thing in the world to do and it’s a sign of the fun to come. Its engine might be the least well endowed with bhp, but the 1.6 EcoBoost has the most natural response of all these turbo four-pots and loves to be revved. It sounds great, too, with a slightly metallic buzz right at the top, while the gearshift is happy to be thrown around the gate.

There’s a subtle bounce from the front end at lower speeds, but the ride is good and the feedback through the steering and chassis is glorious as you wind up the pace. The balance is reminiscent of the Clio’s (but without the weight – the ST is the lightest car here), with a nose that will turn and then turn some more, while the rear is lively but easily controlled. It’s quite extraordinary that the chassis can feel so chuckable and adjustable yet also quite calm as you reach the edge of grip. It allows you to take liberties and dance it through tricky combinations of corners, working the steering, brakes and throttle in one seamless flow as you launch it into bends and play with it endlessly.

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There’s a sharp crest up into three corners that you can either straight-line or not as you please, and in the middle of each turn is a small yump that seems to make the ST almost float through the direction changes. It feels amazing. Despite the lack of a diff, the Fiesta even has great traction when you chuck it into the long left that follows. I wish it wasn’t getting dark.

On the drive back to Rhayader and the comfort of the Brynafon Hotel’s bar, it’s wonderful looking in the Fiesta’s mirror and seeing the others strung out behind, lights gleefully skipping between corners as we head across the moorland. It really does look like heaven for a hot hatch.

Over supper, Vivian says that he can’t remember a group in which the four main protagonists were more closely matched for pace across the ground yet so diverse in their style of delivery. Harry looks more concerned with the salmon he’s ordered, and when we ask if he’s all right, he mutters that ‘the sauce doesn’t taste much like horseradish’. Will gently suggests that it’s probably because the menu said hollandaise. Harry wrinkles his brow and then says that he must find his reading glasses… which no-one likes to point out are sitting on top of his head.

Specifications

Engine In-line 4-cyl, 1596cc, turbo
Power 179bhp @ 5700rpm
Torque 214lb ft @ 1500-5000rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Front suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Torsion beam, coil springs, dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes 278mm ventilated discs front, 253mm solid discs rear, ABS, EBD
Wheels 7.5 x 17 front and rear
Tyres 205/40 R17 front and rear
Weight (kerb) 1088kg (claimed)
Power-to-weight 167bhp/ton
0-62mph 6.9sec (claimed)
Top speed 137mph (claimed)
Basic price £16,995
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