Just occasionally you get to enjoy a drive where everything falls perfectly into place. The right car on a challenging road, no traffic to get in your way. Just you, the car, the road and the blazing sun watching you from above. Yesterday was one of those days. Yesterday I drove the new Ford Fiesta ST around the mountains of southern France. Yesterday was a Very Good Day.
The roads around Nice are perfect territory for hot hatchbacks. Wide tarmac with fast sweeping bends and excellent visibility gives way to tight, technical sections lined by sheer rock faces on one side and perilous drops on the other. If there is a place to highlight the dynamic shortcomings of a hot hatch it is here, in Monte Carlo rally territory, where the Fiesta ST’s weaknesses would show through.
Right from the off the Fiesta ST is impressive. The body kit, 17-inch grey alloys wrapped with 205-section rubber, and 15mm lower ride height give it real attitude without it looking like it’s trying too hard. Climb inside and you’re greeted by Recaro seats that grip you in all the right places, a chunky leather-trimmed wheel, aluminium pedals and (optional) illuminated ST kick plates.
Just as the Focus ST has its exclusive Tangerine Scream paintwork, the Fiesta ST has a unique shade called Molten Orange. It’s a metallic paint that looks like a pale red until the sunlight catches it, and then it’s transformed into a glittering shade of orange. If that’s not to your taste you can pick from Race Red and Spirit Blue which are both exclusive to the ST.
What’s Under The Bonnet?
The small hot hatch market is highly competitive but the new Fiesta ST now has the firepower to take on its rivals. The new 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine has 180bhp and propels the ST to 62mph in as little as 6.7 seconds. There’s 240Nm of torque to play with from just 1,500rpm and an overboost function raises that to 290Nm in short bursts.
The Fiesta unashamedly sticks two fingers up at the dual-clutch automatic brigade by only offering a six-speed manual gearbox. Ford’s engineers looked at the possibility of a twin-clutch setup but dismissed it because of the understeer-inducing weight it would have added to the front axle. Good for them!
What’s It Like To Drive?
One word. Brilliant.
Most hot hatches excel in one way or another. Be it steering, handling, acceleration or braking, they usually have at least one strong point. The Fiesta ST excels in all areas.
Take the steering. It’s an electric system and that means numb and inert, right? Wrong. The Fiesta’s steering is perfectly weighted, quick and direct. Ford don’t subscribe to the thinking that electric steering has to be rubbish.
The new engine is smooth and gutsy. It’s strong in the lower reaches but spins enthusiastically to the red-line. Cruise around in sixth gear and it can be quick but drop it into third or fourth and it really comes alive. Make no mistake, the Fiesta ST is very quick when you really stretch its legs.
The EcoBoost sounds good too. Ford have added their Sound Symposer to pipe some extra noise into the cabin and it really does work. Prod the throttle from low revs and you’re treated to a deep burble which builds into a metallic-tinged howl at the top end.
You don’t have to worry about traction being an issue. You can put your foot to the floor early in a bend and the Fiesta throws all of its power down without fuss. No flashing ESP lights, no dramatic wheelspin, just acceleration.
The ace card is the suspension. Straight away you notice that the ride is firm but perfectly capable of absorbing harsh bumps. There’s barely a whiff of body roll or understeer. Throw the Fiesta into a series of bends at seemingly ridiculous speeds and it just grips and goes. It really gives you the confidence to keep on pushing. There’s no fancy suspension at work here either, it’s simply been setup properly by a team of engineers who know what they’re doing.
One absent feature speaks volumes about how well the Fiesta ST has been developed. There is no ‘Sport’ button. You can’t select an option to remap the throttle response, change the steering weight or make the suspension firmer. The Fiesta simply doesn’t need it because every control is in perfect tune with the car and its capabilities.
The Fiesta is a delight at low speed too. Around town the quick steering and light gearchange make it easy to thread through traffic, while on the motorway settles into a relaxed cruise. There’s no boominess from the exhaust or fidgeting from the chassis and steering. It’s a car you could easily live with every day.
How Much Is It?
There are two trim levels, the basic ST for £16,995 and ST-2 for £17,995. Standard trim gets you the full body kit, 17-inch wheels, cloth-trimmed Recaros, DAB radio and a Quickclear windscreen. There’s also Ford’s MyKey technology, handy if you’re prepared to let your kids out in the ST, and a Thatcham category 1 alarm to help keep insurance premiums down.
Upgrade to ST-2 and the Recaros come with heating and part-leather trim. The radio is swapped for a Sony DAB system and next to that you’ll find a start button for the Keyless Go system. LED running lights are fitted to the front and tinted glass appears at the rear. Is the upgrade worth £1,000? To my mind there’s not a standout feature that makes it a must-have upgrade but if you’re thinking of banking the £1,000 here is a word of caution. Roughly 80% of orders are expected to be for the ST-2. Do you want to be in the minority with a car that’s worth less and harder to sell?
Even in ST-2 trim the Fiesta beats almost all of its rivals in value. Only the Fabia vRS and Ibiza Cupra come close in price but they can’t match the Fiesta for sheer driving pleasure.
What’s Wrong With It?
If I had to pick a fault with the Fiesta it would be with the plain-looking dashboard. The little screen between the dials is very small and not the clearest. I’m also not a fan of the standard Fiesta’s radio and phone controls but at least with the Sony DAB system this is improved. The central LCD screen is still too small and on French roads the sat-nav wasn’t always clear at some of the bizarre junctions we came across.
I’ve received some tweets and Facebook updates criticising the styling. Some say the nose is too long, the grille too large and it looks too much like a Focus ST. You can blame crash regulations for the first point but really it’s just a question of taste. Personally I like the look of it.
The Final Verdict
Over two days and 200 miles the Fiesta ST did nothing but sparkle and entertain. This is easily the best fast Fiesta ever, eclipsing the last ST by some margin, and one of the all-time great fast Fords. The last ST sold 17,000 units over three years and Ford are hoping to sell 5,000 new STs a year. If value and ability count for anything it should easily beat that target.
It’s safe to say the new Fiesta ST has just leapt to the top of the class. It’s obvious that Ford have spent a huge amount of time honing every aspect of its driving dynamics and the hard work has paid off. It is that rare breed of car that manages to be incredibly rewarding to drive as quickly as you can and yet still feels good when you’re cruising.
I’ve been lucky enough to drive some very quick cars over the past year but this is one of the few that I would consider spending my own money on. Fast, fun and affordable. It’s exactly what a hot hatch should be.
Can the Fiesta ST reign supreme with a new Renaultsport Clio so near? It’s too close to call at the moment but the Renault is going to have to be very, very good to stand a chance against this hot new Fiesta.
Ford Fiesta ST Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Engine is powerful, gutsy and refined||9|
|HANDLING||Nimble, grippy, planted, and above all FUN!||10|
|AFFORDABILITY||Very competitively priced. It’s a bargain.||10|
|DESIRABILITY||Hasn’t got the cachet of a GTI badge but that shouldn’t matter||8|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||A pint-sized car that delivers huge grins||10|
Ford Fiesta ST Specifiations
|Engine:||1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power:||180 bhp @ 5,700rpm (200bhp with overboost)|
|Torque:||177lb/ft @ 1,500-5000rpm (214lb/ft with overboost)|
|0-60 mph:||6.7 seconds|
|Top Speed:||137 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||138 g/km (Band E)|
|Official Economy:||47.9 mpg|
|Price (OTR):||£16,995 (ST2 £17,995)*|
*Prices taken from Ford website, March 2013