Dave returns to Sandown Raceway for another weekend warrior track test, but this time in the most affordable car yet...
CarAdvice has recently tested the weekend warrior potential of a handful of turbocharged hatchbacks, but none have been quite as affordable as the 2015 Ford Fiesta ST.
Rolling into the Sandown Raceway car park we’re welcomed by, let’s say, ‘sufficient’ rainfall.
The track – notoriously slippery when wet – is already suitably drenched. Perfect.
Starting at $25,990, the Ford Fiesta ST can be had for little more than a Suzuki Swift Sport ($24,490) and less than a Peugeot 208 GTi ($29,990), Renault Clio RS200 ($29,490) and the newly updated Volkswagen Polo GTI ($27,490).
Strictly available with three doors and a six-speed manual transmission, the five-seat Fiesta ST comes with a turbocharged direct injection 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine putting out 134kW of power at 5700rpm and 240Nm of torque between 1600-5000rpm.
Significantly more power and torque than is offered up by the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre Swift Sport, the Fiesta ST needs its overboost function – increasing power to 147kW for 20 seconds between 1600-6000rpm – to equal or better the Polo GTI, Clio RS and 208 GTi.
A 290Nm overboost peak helps the Ford (momentarily) surpass the French pair's respective maximum figures of 240Nm and 275Nm, but even with the short-lived boost spike, the ST can’t challenge the 320Nm attached to the new six-speed manual 1.8-litre Polo GTI (the dual-clutch DSG GTI being limited to 250Nm).
Back at Sandown to again take part in a Driver Dynamics Level 3 High Performance driver training day, we patiently absorb the ins and outs of a driver briefing, get allocated a group and head back to the car to remove all loose items (read: camera gear).
Fortunately for us, the weather has – for the time being anyway – eased, and several patches of the 3.1-kilometre circuit are beginning to dry out.
Thankfully, given the grey and overcast conditions, the smallest sporty Ford comes standard with fog lights and LED daytime running lights, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
Further helping fellow participants spot our Performance Blue Fiesta are bright red ‘ST’ badges front and rear, a neat rear spoiler, a twin exhaust and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Excited to head out for our opening laps, there’s a problem: not a mechanical one but rather ergonomic. Unfortunately – as was the case in the Fiesta ST’s bigger brother the Focus ST – the headrest is fine when driving without a helmet but chuck on a scone protector and the headrest uncomfortably and unhelpfully insists on pushing the back of your head forward.
Not brilliant, and particularly annoying on a so-called ‘sporty’ car to say the least, the issue is more frustrating because the rest of the well-bucketed cloth Recaro sports seat is a gem. Super comfortable and highly supportive, simply put – other than the headrest issue – they are excellent.
Slightly compromised seating position aside, we file out of pit lane and onto the patchy circuit.
The ST is instantly fun. The sportiest standard Fiesta money can buy, the ST claims a 0-100km/h time of 6.9 and a top speed of 220km/h. Thanks to its multi-award-winning EcoBoost engine too, the little guy claims to be able to suck down around 6.2 litres of premium unleaded fuel per 100km on the combined cycle.
More importantly, though, it weighs 1197kg – that’s not a lot. And while many people say Sandown is a high-speed circuit best suited to big-horsepower cars, that’s not entirely the case.
With its light weight and compact dimensions, zipping around Sandown’s 11 turns, the Fiesta ST is very nimble and very agile. Changes of direction are without a doubt this little Ford’s bread and butter.
Compared to the likes of the recently tested paddle-equipped Renault Clio RS, the flagship Fiesta – no doubt helped by its requirement for drivers to shift their own gears – is wholly engaging and alive in your hands.
Tip into Turn One, let the car run out wide to the right. Hold third gear until moving left to set up for Turn Two, then snick the slick-shifting six-speed ‘box into second. Negotiate Two, sight Turn Four and punch through Three.
Apart from sounding terrific – a perception enhanced by Ford’s ‘sound symposer’ piping intake noise into the cabin – the engine is impressively gutsy and terrifically responsive. Freely revving out to its 6500rpm rev limit, the force-fed four-banger offers good pickup from below 3000rpm and strong pulling power anywhere north of 4000rpm, meaning wringing its neck isn’t always necessary. On track though, using all the revs is, of course, a lot of fun.
Flat out of Turn Three, dab the brakes to shift some weight onto the front wheels and turn into the tight-ish Turn Four left-hander using all the road (and a little curb) on exit.
Already ‘working’ the tyres, the 205mm-wide 40-aspect Bridgestone Potenzas are proving to be goodens – as are the 278mm front/253mm rear brakes and the firm pedal attached to them.
A little spin of the front wheels reminds you that, while the Fiesta ST is equipped with Ford’s ‘Enhanced Torque Vectoring Control’ (ETVC) system, the track is still far from dry and doesn’t have its infamous wet-weather reputation for no reason.
No substitute for a ‘proper’ limited-slip front differential like you’d find in pricier gear such as the Renault Megane RS (mechanical) or Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance (electronically controlled), ETVC does an admirable job of reducing or limiting wheel spin and understeer. At the same time, it does so without ever really feeling intrusive or restrictive.
Onto the back straight, wind out second gear, then third gear, then into fourth until nudging just over 180km/h. Spot your braking marker then smoothly squeeze on some brakes just before ‘floating’ the car down into Turn Six. From Six, fire as straight as you can down the hill through Seven and Eight and into Nine. A favourite section, here you get to enjoy an always-fun double quick-shift from fourth to third and third to second before sighting the exit of Nine.
Boasting a sportier model-specific tune of the Fiesta’s electric power-assisted system, the ST’s steering is precise, responsive and full of feedback. A little on the heavy side around town compared to other city-sized rivals, on track, the ‘compromise’ is superb.
Despite the Fiesta ST’s solid torsion beam rear axle, body control and balance too are excellent. Few cars out there could match the little Ford in terms of overall handling prowess, and even fewer, if any, at this price. Even negotiating high-speed corners, the car continues to have properly good poise, just encouraging you to go harder and harder…
Push wide on the exit of Nine (again using some curb) and head full noise towards the sponsored archway. Shift things left and set up for the final two corners. A quick right/left and, managing a little more wheel spin, you’re back onto Sandown’s 900-metre-odd-long main straight giving the turbo-four full beans once again.
A few more sessions and several more laps under our belt and the tyres, while definitely getting plenty warm, are holding up well to the day’s punishment. Equally, the brakes too are still confidently pulling up the ST.
Keen (read: brave) drivers can entirely kill the car’s stability control safety net by depressing the ‘ESC off’ button, though, and potentially a better and smarter move, is to use the same button to activate an available ‘Sport’ mode. Far from dulling the experience, the mode instead simply gives a little leniency to overly enthusiastic driving – no bad thing.
As a daily driver, the Ford Fiesta ST has already proven itself to be an entertaining yet practical runabout. Being driven with genuine gusto on the racetrack though, it’s just a super dooper little car. Fun and exciting, the sharp and lively ST proves, once and for all, that you don’t need big power or high speeds to enjoy a day on track. Further, for just under $26K, it also hammers home its legitimate performance credentials and serious value.
Note: CarAdvice attended the day at Sandown Raceway as part of a Driver Dynamics Level 3 High Performance driver training day.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2015 Ford Fiesta ST images by Tom Fraser.
Videography by Igor Solomon.