One of the most hotly anticipated cars of the year, the Ford Fiesta ST is both a proper hot-hatch and one of the most fun cars available for five-figure sums.
That may seem like a big call, but the ingredients used to create the Fiesta ST means dishing up something this near-perfect should come as no great surprise – take a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, install into an 1197kg three-door hatchback, sprinkle with some renowned Ford of Europe engineering magic, and serve for $25,990 plus on-road costs.
On the outside the Ford Fiesta ST comes with standard 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, projector headlights with LED daytime runners, dual exhausts, rear diffuser, spoiler and side skirts.
It’s no stripper model inside, either, with the equipment list extending to part-leather Recaro sports seats, single-zone climate control, eight-speaker Sony audio with colour screen, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear view mirror, auto headlights and ‘smart key’ auto entry.
Because the Ford Fiesta ST is imported from Cologne, Germany – the regular Fiesta comes from Thailand – it uniquely gets soft-touch cabin plastics and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, in addition to the height adjustment found in the Ambiente, Trend and Sport grades.
Also because of that importing decision, however, the Fiesta ST can only be sold here as a three-door hatchback, as the five-door is reserved for the US, where it is singularly built. Although our local market traditionally likes to have back doors with their hot-hatches – just ask Volkswagen about the Polo GTI sales split, or Renault, which anticipates a big increase in Clio RS sales when it dumps three doors for five early next year – Ford insists that at the performance end of the hatchback market, buyers still like front doors only.
In addition to a healthy equipment list, the Ford Fiesta ST also gets an industry-first feature sure to keep parents happy. Should a flat-capped teenager upgrade from a skateboard to a Fiesta ST, for example, Ford’s MyKey technology means one of two smart keys can be programmed to: cut the vehicle’s top speed to 140km/h; provide a fixed speed warning alert; disable the audio system and continue a chime if seatbelts aren’t on; and keep the stability control setting in its highest intrusion setting.
An Emergency Assistance package is also standard, which, if a mobile phone is connected via Bluetooth, will automatically call an ambulance if the car is involved in a severe crash.
Should that happen, as with all Fiestas, occupants are blanketed by seven airbags including one for the driver’s knee. Also as with all Fiestas, the ST gets five seatbelts and a decent-sized boot with a split-fold backrest, so – lack of back doors excepted – it is as practical as the regular car, and with the technology available, even safer.
The Ford Fiesta ST is economical, too, rated at just 6.2L/100km on the combined fuel consumption cycle, although it prefers 95 RON or higher to standard 91 RON.
So, practical, safe, well equipped and economical. Rising above all that, however, is that the Fiesta ST is an absolute peach to drive hard.
The baby 1.6-litre turbo engine – which we should see in the Focus sometime in the next decade... – is a star performer. Although it produces 134kW of power at 5700rpm and 240Nm of torque between 1600-5000rpm, the engine can also provide overboost for 20 seconds to provide up to 147kW/290Nm; almost exactly what a 2006-09 VW Golf GTI produced.
As with the Focus ST, a pipe funnels intake noise into the cabin, so the engine has a strident, almost single-pitch warp from about 4000rpm that makes it sound like a lower-octave version of a Porsche Boxster/Cayman 2.7-litre flat six-cylinder. It sounds fantastic, although we’d have to fit a fruitier exhaust to match it; the Fiesta ST certainly leaves plenty of room for a Fiesta RS in the burnt-fuel noise stakes.
There’s proper, hot performance on tap with the Fiesta ST to match, too, and the turbo four pulls hard both off the line, through each gear and whenever the tachometer is above about 1500rpm.
If there’s a slight deviation from a perfect performance scorecard for this light hot hatchback it’s the fault of the six-speed manual transmission, the engine’s soft cut out, or a combination of both.
It’s brilliant to have a manual in this kind of car – take note, please, Renault Sport – and the shift quality is slick, although the throw between each gear may be too long for some. The problem centres around the gap between second and third gear, compounded by a soft 6400rpm cut-out, which leaves the Fiesta ST over-revving in the lower of those two gears or not close enough to maximum power (5700rpm) in the taller one.
See it as irony or just being picky, but I wished for the super close-ratio gearbox and 7500rpm-plus limiter of the outgoing, non-turbo Clio RS; yet the former was only installed in the Renault to make the porky 1280kg hatch feel peppy, because the unassisted 2.0-litre struggles in anything below the mid-to-high rev range, and the Fiesta shines all over.
Okay, picky, then.
For the absolute most part, however, the Fiesta ST engine and transmission gels intimately with the cracking dynamic package.
The electro-mechanical steering in the Fiesta ST is perfect, with an ideal blend of sharpness and progression through the quick (2.4 turns lock to lock) ratio, backed by a consistent mid-weighting.
The stability control system in the Fiesta ST, too, is equally flawless. Even left in the ‘on’ position, it is so subtle and sure that it wouldn’t absolutely have required a Sport mode. Yet Ford has given it a three-stage system anyway, with 'off' really being off, and Sport being so silent until the rear end is really wagging that an enthusiastic steerer couldn’t hope for more.
And wag the tail does. The 205mm-wide, 40-aspect 17-inch Bridgestone Potenza tyres start squealing surprisingly early, although they hang on nicely, particularly at the front end.
It doesn’t even take a big throttle lift mid-corner to feel movement between front and rear with this chassis. Late and deep braking into a corner will, for example, unhinge the rear by just enough to get the front tyres pointing in the opposite direction of an understeering line. Do run in to a corner hot on the throttle, though, and be prepared to feel the Fiesta ST step out.
When Peugeot claimed at the 208 GTi launch that they couldn’t truly build a modern day 205 GTi that neatly oversteered, the engineers obviously hadn’t driven a Ford Fiesta ST (or a Honda CR-Z, for that matter).
Yet if that all sounds a bit dangerous – as Peugeot claims – then don’t worry, because the Fiesta ST chassis is always on your side. It is nothing short of communicative and playful, yet predictable right at the limits of tyre adhesion and driver ability.
Then there’s the engine, steering and stability control calibration to back that chassis…
Even without a mechanical limited-slip differential, the Fiesta ST rarely flares an inside wheel when using lots of power and torque on the exit to a corner. It sits flat, and therefore keeps that inside wheel pinned to the bitumen.
It’s also that flatness that prevents the Fiesta ST from getting a perfect score. The ride quality is very firm, bordering on hard and unsophisticated. Having driven both the 208 GTi and the new Clio RS200, it is safe to say that the Ford delivers less bump compliance and fidgets more than either of them. Commendably, however, the Fiesta ST soaks up big hits better than its jiggly urban ride indicates, and it doesn’t buck and heave off line on bumpy country roads.
While the Peugeot is a sweet little warm hatch, there’s no doubt the Ford is much higher on the Peri Peri scale. The new Clio RS is possessed of truly magic dynamics, matching the Fiesta ST for steering and handling while eclipsing it for ride and interior quality, yet it comes undone with its average dual-clutch gearbox (that gearbox also means the new Clio can’t touch a circa-2005 RS182 as the best-ever Clio, either, I reckon). A comparison test will be epic, but at the very least Renault will struggle to come close to matching the Ford’s sharp pricing.
For $26K, with heaps of kit, a sub-seven-second 0-100km/h, perfect steering and stability control, and laugh-out-loud handling, the Ford Fiesta ST is one of the best cars currently on the market, one of the best cars released all year and almost certainly destined for future-classic status.