The Ford Fiesta ST sees the end of a five-year sabbatical for a high-performance version of the Blue Oval company's city car.
Ford hasn’t offered a hot Fiesta since the last generation XR4 went off sale in 2008.
The XR4 was a brilliant hatch, and at $24,990 was a performance bargain. But it wasn’t held in the esteem of the then $38,000 RenaultSport Clio but was easily the best hatch below it.
Now, Ford’s upped the ante. For starters, the XR name has gone – with the Ford Fiesta ST adopting the same Sports Technologies badging as the Ford Focus ST hot-hatch.
Arriving with the new faclifted Fiesta range, which has given all models an Aston Martin-like gaping front grille, the 17-inch wheels on our UK test car fill the guards nicely, and there’s a properly integrated body kit as well as a neat roof-top rear spoiler giving the ST extra muscle on the outside.
It looks more aggressive than the Focus ST, and far more cohesive than the relatively plain Peugeot 208 GTi that we’ve also driven recently.
Climb in, and it’s not quite as boy-racer as you’d expect. There’s a pair of excellent colour-coded Recaro seats up front, with ST logos pushing the famed Recaro font down the sides of the bolsters, which hold you in superbly.
The rear, too has the Recaro treatment, while there’s an ST steering-wheel partly covered in perforated leather. In terms of kit, there’s Ford SYNC, with Bluetooth and voice control that actually works, as well as cruise, sat-nav and a USB port.
At the wheel, the dash layout of the Ford Fiesta ST is identical to the top-spec Fiesta, with not a jot of tacky chrome or brightwork added. That’s because the ST doesn’t need to shout about its role as top-dog: there’s no mistaking its brilliance on the road.
It starts with its superb engine. The ST’s main rivals are all turbocharged now, so Ford decided the fast Fiesta needed one, too. The 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is one of the company’s EcoBoost powerplants, so it’s loaded with tech such as lightweight aluminium, direct fuel injection, and the turbo is the latest, most efficient twin-scroll variety.
Power is up a massive 34 per cent – to 147kW – over the XR4’s 2.0-litre engine and identical to that in the Renault Clio RS200 and 208 GTi, which, coincidentally or not, are also 1.6-litre turbos. Some pundits may claim 132kW for the ST, but it has a 15-second overboost function (as in the Mini Cooper S JCW) where it achieves its highest numbers.
That goes for torque, too, which on overboost jumps from 240Nm to a staggering 290Nm – a figure you needed a V8 Holden to beat two decades ago.
While there’s a Sound Symposer duct – as in the Focus hot-hatch – to give the Ford Fiesta ST a nice, warm burble at idle, there’s nothing artificial in the way it pulls off the line. The 6.9 second 0-100km/h time is line-ball with its main rivals, but it’s so torquey that you can sweep through the six-speed manual gearbox without taking a breath.
As with the 208 GTi, however, there’s not automatic option, with both the Peugeot and Ford contrasting with the VW Polo GTI and Clio RS that come with dual-clutch gearboxes only.
Traction off the line is superb, and the three-mode stability control (On, Sport and completely off) doesn’t dampen progress by cutting in violently, but provides subtle interventions to keep it all together. Once you’re up and running, you can stab the throttle in any gear, even sixth, and the ST responds for effortless freeway overtaking.
Show it a winding, country road, and you’ll see the Fiesta ST at its best. The firm yet not uncomfortable ride keeps you connected to the road, with superbly weighted electric steering from the driving position that instantly feels natural.
Attack a corner, and the turn-in is super sharp, the front wheels bite and – even with stability control off – you can nail the throttle early for a quick exit.
Body control is tight, road holding exemplary, and the whole package feels bank-vault tight as the seats hold you firmly but comfortably in place. You’ll easily lift an inside rear wheel around tighter corners, but the whole affair doesn’t feel violent or forced: everything is so well connected, so well balanced, that it’s a breeze to drive at breakneck speeds.
It’s not a huge surprise that it’s a great hatch to drive. The Ford Fiesta may be a humble city car – or ‘superminis’ as they call them in the UK where it’s the best-selling car – but it’s already the dynamic benchmark in its class.
The abilities and execution of the Ford Fiesta ST, however, is still far beyond expectations.
It’s lost none of its ability to hit the supermarket, but is the sharpest, most competent and entertaining Fiesta ever built and punches way above its weight.
It makes the new Peugeot 208 GTi look conservative and could threaten the Clio RS’s crown as king of the pocket rockets.
Expect the waiting lists in Europe to be duplicated when the Ford Fiesta ST arrives down under in August.
Ford Fiesta ST
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo
Power: 147kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 290Nm @ 3500rpm
0-100km/h: 6.9 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 220km/h
Fuel economy: 5.9L/100km (combined)
Price: $26,990 (estimated)
On sale: August