Cars

Even Better Than The Focus RS

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Remember how great the lively little Ford Fiesta ST was? Then remember how Ford decided to stop selling small cars in America? That sucked. And it’s going to suck more when you realize the new, 200 horsepower Fiesta ST—which you Americans cannot buy—takes what the old car did and builds on it in the best possible way.

(Full Disclosure: Ford wanted me to drive the new Fiesta ST so bad it invited me to drive it on the Goodwood Motor Circuit and its surrounding roads. The guys put me up somewhere ace and filled me with food and drink so I didn’t die.) 

Photo: Ford

What Is It?

The Fiesta has been a European mainstay since the ’70s. Americans might associate Ford with big trucks and V8 Mustangs, but in Europe small fast cars have always been a highlight of the range. It’s something Ford has been doing for a very long time (Lotus Cortina, anyone?) and has turned into a fine art: take humble family hatch/sedan, give to people who like making average things go fast, profit.

The latest Fiesta, a brilliant car without Ford Performance’s mitts all over it, was always going to be ST-ified. Some worried that the 1.5 liter turbocharged three-cylinder EcoBoost motor planned for it wouldn’t be enough to make it shine as brightly as its successor did. They were wrong.

Photo: Ford

Ford’s team of people who like making stuff go well fast has fiddled with the base car to create something more focussed, more adaptable, and more exciting than anything that preceded it, yet also kept the thing that makes the Fiesta great: it’s useable.

For the first time, this year’s Fiesta ST has driving modes (the last one’s “Sport Mode” was your right foot). Normal is for you daily fun, Sport knocks traction control down a notch, ups the noise, and sharpens throttle response, while Track turns your traction off and lets you exploit the car to your heart’s content.

Its tiny three-pot motor has cylinder deactivation, so some of the time you’ll find yourself running on two cylinders(!) and using fewer emulsified dinosaurs while you pick the kids up from school.

Those who go for an ST, though, are unlikely to have economy at the top of their lists. They’ll care more about how fast they can go in the thing.

Photo: Ford

Suspension has been given an overhaul–force vectoring springs for stability and twist-bear rear suspension help lateral stiffness at the back, and trick dampers to aid body control. Basically, engineering magic has been used to save 22 pounds and make it sharper than the base car. As you’d hope, really.

If you’re really down with making the little Fiesta go fast you can spec a performance pack that adds an all-important limited slip differential. In the UK it doesn’t add that much to the price, so it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t…

Oh, and it’s got freaking launch control. Launch control. On a Fiesta!

Photo: Ford

Specs That Matter

To get you going there’s a 200 HP and 213 lb-ft 1.5-liter three cylinder EcoBoost engine. Ford claims it’ll punt you from 0-62 mph in 6.5 seconds and up to 144 mph.

Thanks to the tiny motor and its cylinder shut-off tech, Ford reckons the new ST will manage 31 mpg in the city and 46 on the highway. Weighing in at 2,782 pounds, that actually seems pretty feasible.

Being a city car it’s kind of small: just 160 inches long and 70 inches wide. You’d barely notice it in the U.S., but in the UK it’s getting on the larger side for a car in its class. More space for safety kit, tech, people, and stuff I suppose.

Photo: Ford

What’s Great

The drive is pretty stellar, and we’ll get into that shortly.

In pictures, I thought the look of the thing was off-putting. Too top heavy and egg-shaped to pull off “sporty” with any clout. In the metal it’s far more convincing. It’s all hidden lines and angry grilles. It works really well.

Inside there’s not too much ST branding as to make it tacky, but enough to let you know what you’re driving. It’s also really well laid out, aiding the “useable” part of the ST’s brief. Displays are easy to read, there’s enough storage for all your daily guff, and the controls are in easy reach. The driving position has been fettled by Ford Performance for best hooning, which is a neat touch.

Changeable drive modes are a welcome addition–they allow the car to be more things to more people. Most will likely keep it in “Sport” most of the time because noise. Normal will be enough, mind.

Photo: Ford

What’s Weak

I am not an obese person, so the tighter than tight seats were a surprise. They’ll either put a few people off or encourage them to hit the gym.

Then there’s the infotainment system, SYNC 3. Just… SYNC 3. Admittedly it’s the first time the GPS has worked in my favor in a Ford (the UK and SYNC GPS units have had fights before. Well, I’ve screamed at it and taped my phone to the dash so Waze could light the way), but it’s still a faff to use and not as sharp as other cars. Though I reckon Merc’s COMAND system still takes the wooden spoon, so all is not lost.

The brakes are made of paper (not literally, legal team). After 15 minutes of hard laps in the hands of journalists with much faith in average ability (bar a chosen few, most car hacks are average drivers and hate to admit it. I ain’t no Senna.) around Goodwood’s track the brakes had cooked themselves. This was less than ideal to discover just after you’ve clocked 114 mph in the run up to St. Mary’s corner. In fairness to the car, Goodwood is a very fast track. And any time you need to drop anchor you need to do it hard. But still, this is a small and light performance car. It shouldn’t have any issue stopping over and over again.

Photo: Ford

Also… the changeable drive modes have their downsides. I praised them, but, well, they’re a good and bad thing. The old car’s simple “right foot sport button” nature was wonderful. It meant that the car you bought was comparatively uncomplicated, but now you have to press buttons and fiddle with settings to get the car you want out of it. Choice is great and all, but simply being presented with “the best car we can make” as a single package is better. Sorry for the contradictions.

Casual Driving

In the towns around Goodwood, the Fiesta was a perfectly fine little city car. Its 1.5 liter motor happily puttered around providing torque enough to win traffic light drag races. You can see out of the Fiesta really well, bar the tiny rear window, which is a bit of a pain.

Its manual gearbox is easy to use and has a subtle notch to it. A neat hint to its performance tendencies, and also makes you feel like you’re actually doing something.

Photo: Ford

As it’s comparatively small, it’s easy to navigate around small lanes and the like. In part that’s down to its steering. Not too heavy, not too light, and with enough feedback to confidently place the car.

Throw it out to the highway and you aren’t punished for being in “the fast one.” It’s calm and composed at speed, the visibility helping you spot asshats trying to race you and idiots doing idiot things up ahead. The motor doesn’t break a sweat, either.

Photo: Ford

Aggressive Driving

In reality, the vast majority of people who’ll go for the quickest Fiesta will rely on it as the day to day wagon, but live for its perceived chuckability. They, much like Batman, will be mild mannered and fine most of the time, then transform in to an adrenaline-fueled rage monster when the mood takes them. The Fiesta ST is designed for just these occasions and it kicks ass doing it.

The car’s “Normal” mode is, according to Ford, still a full ST experience. And it’s pretty entertaining all told. The steering sharp, throttle decently responsive, all fun and games. But “Sport” combined with a backroad and some fury to vent is utterly hilarious. The test car I was in had the performance pack fitted, which means a limited slip differential is on board as well.

Now, with “Sport” engaged everything’s set to “angry.” The gas pedal becomes sharper allowing finer control. It’s smooth and oh so easy to play with–especially mid-bend. Need more nose in? Adjust and you’re away. The steering comes alive when you’re on it, as well. It can feel a little springy at first, but boy is it direct.

Photo: Ford

That little 1.5 liter motor likes to rev hard and fast, slinging you from ratio to ratio at a deliciously alarming rate. It does mean that you get a bit of torque steer if you boot it from a standstill. ‘Tis the price you pay for front-wheel drive cars with lots of power and lots of torque. Temper yourself and you shouldn’t have too many problems.

Photo: Ford

It’s frantic, furious, and in my opinion, actually a bit more fun than a Focus RS. The Focus’ weight, abundance of power and kind of terrible ride make flinging it around a back road a serious proposition. You start doing silly speeds and playing with the limits of physics quickly in the RS, but the little Fiesta feels eminently more flingable.

Taking a shiny new hot hatch to a track is something people do, and should be applauded for. This is where “Track” mode comes in. You’re let off the chain, the car leaves the traction off and allows for all of the fun that’ll land you in prison on the public highway. I had the chance to play on the Goodwood Motor Circuit a place with long straights and cock all run off, so mistakes would be punished.

Photo: Ford

Because you need to scrub off large chunks of speed quickly, it can be heavy on the brakes. While the car’s powertrain and suspension set up shone there–easy direction changes, plenty of go–the brakes suffered. After 15 minutes they were on their way out, another 15 minutes and braking distances had to be lengthened. It may be a different case on slower circuits, but at Goodwood we had Brake-B-Que for lunch.

Value

Starting at the equivalent of $24,925 for the base ST1 (basic car, not too many toys) and climbing to $28,205 for the ST3 (B&O Play audio, leather seats, etc) it undercuts a Mini Cooper S rather nicely. Remember that cars don’t exactly translate across currency changes and prices vary from market to market, but that should show the range this one’s in.

And drives better than a Mini as well. If you need a car that’ll do everything a fast car person could feasibly want, the Fiesta ST’s price point shouldn’t make you wince.

Verdict

Cooking the brakes aside, the new Fiesta ST is staggeringly quick for its price and size. A reminder that hot hatches aren’t simply “a bit more power and a sticker” jobs any more. Serious engineering has gone in to making it a truly excellent car. One that not only betters its own predecessor, but even (for my money at least) edges out the Focus RS.

You may have to wait 25 years to import one to the U.S., but it’ll be worth the wait.

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