Ford's Fiesta ST takes a no-nonsense approach to hard-driving, hot hatch fun. Its 197-peak horsepower, 1.6-litre turbocharged EcoBoost engine is flexible and torquey, its chassis and running gear work beautifully together to connect you to the road and its stereo will read you vulgar text messages from your friends in a classy British accent. It's a winner. Gizmag spends two weeks with one of the real standout driver's cars of 2014.
Last year, I went through Germany for the first time since I came of driving age. Thus, naturally, I wanted to pop my autobahn cherry. The only hire car available at the time was a meek little Ford Fiesta, which I promptly plonked on the freeway and nailed the throttle to the floor for two and a half hours straight.
The tepid result was a sustained top speed around 170 km/h (105 mph), complete domination by all manner of Audi-driving grandmothers and … that's really all I remember about it. Which is funny, because the hot hatch version, the Fiesta ST, is anything but forgettable.
The kick in the pants starts with a 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine. Turbocharged and direct injected, it's capable of 197 horsepower (134 kW) for a maximum of 15 seconds of overboost, after which it drops about 20 percent. The idea here is limiting stress on the engine – and in the absence of autobahns, you're unlikely to keep the throttle nailed long enough to notice.
It's a fantastic engine, direct and very smooth for a turbo, with almost no discernible lag. Pickup is great throughout the rev range and the power is tempting and useable at all times. It sounds great in the cabin without being antisocial outside, by virtue of a "symposer" tube that pipes engine noise in from the engine bay. So when the revs come up and you're laying the gumboot in, it's a very involving experience.
The ST is a driver's car. It prioritizes feedback over comfort, and the feeling of connection to the road surface is fantastic. Every interaction with the main controls is a pleasure when you're driving hard, from the superb quick-ratio steering, to the snappy brakes and tactile clutch pedal.
The 6-speed manual gearbox (there's no auto option, and nor should there be) feels quick and super slick, although first gear feels too low, and fifth and sixth are very lazy overdrives. Second and third are where the action lives, especially on tighter roads where you can really let the ST shine.
The ST's dynamic stability control system works beautifully – throwing the car too hard into a turn and pinning the throttle will eventually cause it to lose grip, drift wide and understeer. At this point, stability control gently brakes the inside wheels, plonking you back on your line with a minimum of fuss. Well, your passengers might be fussing, there's no "Jesus bars" to hold onto.
Flipping the stability control into Sport mode gives you a fair bit more slip to play with before it intervenes, and you can turn the system off altogether if you want to play unhindered. It's an involving and confidence-inspiring car to thrash in the twisties, a barrel of monkeys that demands rough treatment and quietly un-buggers any ham-fisted cornering for you.
Standard fitment is impressive considering the price tag – auto headlights, auto wipers, keyless entry and button start, fog lights, climate control and part-leather Recaro sports seats are all well integrated. The giant Sony stereo won't blow audiophiles away, but its Bluetooth phone integration is very nicely done – it can be set to automatically dial emergency with your GPS co-ordinates after any crash that triggers the airbags, and I particularly enjoyed listening to its robo-voice reading me vulgar text messages from my buddies. Voice dialing also seemed to work better in the ST than in pretty much any other Bluetooth system I've tried.
The interior suffers a bit in comparison to, for example, the Volkswagen Polo GTi, which has a more adult and classy feel to it. The Fiesta ST feels like more of a young driver's car. It looks a bit space-shippy with its neon interior accents, overabundance of stereo buttons and molded dash. But it feels tight and solid – it's not a quality issue, just a matter of taste.
Ford rates the Fiesta ST at a miserly 6.2 liters per 100 km (38 mpg). In our two-week road test period we averaged 9.2 (25.5 mpg). That should tell you a little about how the ST likes to be driven. Yes, it's possible to drive smoothly and responsibly if you've got a soft touch, but it also begs to be thrown into corners, full throttle in second gear and pinging at the stability control, even when you're pootling around the back streets.
Competition-wise you're looking at the Renault Clio RS200, which is a bit quicker, feels a touch nicer inside and has a big, pretty touch screen and a bunch of different fake engine sounds to choose from. But the Clio only comes with a flaccid paddle shift, it costs significantly more and it just doesn't have the immediate, involving sense of hard-driving fun that you get behind the wheel of the Fiesta ST. Well done Ford!
Pricing and specifications vary by region, but you're looking at US$22,195 in the US, and AU$25,990 in Australia – that's a lot of car for the money!
To see more of this hot hatch in action, check out our Fiesta ST video review.