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First Drive: Ford Fiesta ST

Is Ford’s latest Fiesta ST king of the current hot hatch crop? Jonathan Musk finds out…

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SECTOR Supermini   PRICING £18,995-£22,145   FUEL 47.1mpg   CO2 136g/km

If you fancy a hot hatch, more car makers than ever before are aiming to tempt you into their showrooms, with more choice on offer than ever before. Ford’s latest offering comes in the shape of the all-new Fiesta ST – building on the success of the UK’s best-selling car.

Volumes are significant; some 120,000 Fiesta units are expected to shift this year, with the ST accounting for an estimated 10% of them. Chief amongst its rivals include the Polo GTI and Suzuki Swift Sport. Although the latter is easily trumped by both in terms of outright on-road performance, Swift Sport offers the most compliant ride of the three and still has plenty of useable and rewarding power. The fourth and most obscure rival is the Toyota Yaris GRMN, though limited supply rules this out as a fair comparison, the ST could be thought of as an accessible alternative offering similarly impressive performance credentials.

The most important aspect of any ST is its beating heart, which for the first time in a Ford Performance vehicle is a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo “EcoBoost” unit that pumps out an impressive 197bhp and 214lb.ft torque. This translates onto the tarmac as 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds onto a top speed of 144mph. Despite the available performance, fuel economy is a rated at 47.1mpg on the combined cycle. In practice, with a leaden right foot you’re more likely to get mid-30s, though that’s still impressive for such a high-performance vehicle – and CO2 is just 136g/km.

Naturally, straight line speed is only fun if the car can handle the power and fortunately Ford has equipped the Fiesta ST with a variety of tricks to keep it on the road, including patented force vectoring springs and an optional Quaife limit-slip differential (LSD).

Three drive select modes: ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Track’, control the level of performance. Normal is adept at saving fuel, using the engine’s cylinder deactivation to seamlessly reduce consumption, while also allowing for stop start when in traffic and toning down the performance just a little. Sport mode disables much of what might save fuel, adds noise by way of cracks and pops from the exhaust, and sharpens throttle and engine response. Track – reserved for track-use only of course – ups the ante by disabling traction control and altering electronic stability control for the fastest lap times possible.

Inside, there’s not much to differentiate the ST from regular Fiesta, aside from close-fitting Recaro seats (that may prove uncomfortable for larger individuals). This means you get the same blend of practicality and quality as you would in any Fiesta, including Sync3 infotainment, with its 6.5-inch touchscreen display (or optional 8.0-inch screen).

There are three ST models to tempt you – the ST-1, ST-2 and ST-3 with a combination of three- and five-door variants. There’s little to choose between them, with minor incremental changes including different 17-inch alloys and a few interior trim details for ST-2, while ST-3 gets 18-inch wheels and a few extra toys like rear view camera and rain sensing wipers. Prices start from £18,995, making the Fiesta ST something of a bargain.

On the road, the Fiesta ST is a bit of a handful, but not in the sense that it’s difficult to drive, far from it. It’s easy to drive which makes you want to drive harder and faster. The three-cylinder engine is versatile and flexible, as are the gear ratios in the six-speed manual. Abundant torque makes it feel faster than it is too, not that it’s slow, and the ever-willing engine exhibits next to no turbo lag. The ride is almost race-car firm, which can make it a bit skittish on UK road surfaces – certainly far more so than the Swift Sport, which manages to skip across terrain without wanting to throw you into the nearest hedgerow. But the ST isn’t so harsh as to put you off or make it uncomfortable. The flip side of that race-car hard setup is flat cornering that inspires confidence. And, helping keep it on the road are now typical driver aids like Lane Keeping Aid, while Torque Vectoring Control and Torque Steer Compensation systems manage power and torque delivery, aiding traction particularly when cornering fast.

What we think
The Fiesta ST is astonishingly good, and we don’t say that lightly. It is slightly marred by an overly aggressive and skittish ride more suited to race than road, but is otherwise hard to fault. And it’s economical, returning an easy 37mpg from a mix of hard driving and fast B-roads – easily improved with a gentler right foot. Compared to its closest competition, it’s also something of a bargain too, offering a huge amount of car, and more importantly fun, for your money.

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.