First Drive: Ford Fiesta ST
Sector: Supermini Price (March 2013): £16,995-£17,995 Fuel: 47.9mpg CO2: 138g/km
There’s a real sense of history repeating itself in the Fiesta ST. Just as Ford’s Model T made motoring accessible in the 1920s, and as in more recent history the likes of the Cosworth-branded cars and hot hatches of the 1980s and 1990s had a similar effect on the performance market, so this new Fiesta ST makes surprising financial sense for the company car driver.
The B-segment hot hatch has never been more relevant. Most are now big enough to comfortably carry four or five adults, while small kerb weights and downsized engines add up to palatable fuel economy, tax-conscious CO2 emissions and peppy on-road performance. The problem many of them have is they’re not significantly cheaper than the more accomplished C-segment hot hatches.
So Ford has kept the formula simple for the Fiesta ST. There are no complicated dual clutch gearboxes, and the engine is the same 180bhp 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol found in the Focus, C-MAX and Kuga, not to mention the Formula Ford racing series. It allows the Fiesta to break 62mph in 6.9 seconds, while returning 47.9mpg and offering 138g/km CO2 emissions. Figures which put it close to the 1.4-litre petrol in the pre-facelifted car.
It’s allowed this to be very competitively positioned. The Fiesta ST starts at £16,995, while the ST2 trim expected to take up 80% of UK sales adds only £1,000 extra, making this the cheapest hot hatch in its class. In turn, this means P11d pricing is actually lower than some versions of the 1.0 EcoBoost, while insurance ratings should be low and CAP has awarded residual values higher than the Polo GTI, 208 GTI and even the 183bhp Audi A1.
In the UK, where 50% of all European ST-branded models are sold, Ford is bullish about this car’s fleet potential. Corporate buyers expected to make up 20% of the 5,000 which will sell in the UK each year – that’s almost exactly the same sales split as the rest of the Fiesta range. Like the Focus ST, with its estate bodystyle, it’s designed to have real fleet appeal both from an emotional and rational standpoint.
The 1.6 EcoBoost is good fun in the Focus Zetec S, but with almost 200kg less weight to move around it’s a perfect fit in the Fiesta. While this isn’t the most powerful car in its class, mid-range throttle response is electric, overtaking is easy, and the soundtrack of whistling, chattering turbochargers and exhaust roar makes the experience thoroughly engaging.
So ubiquitous is the Fiesta that it’s easy to forget just how good the standard car is to drive. The ST builds on this with a quicker and even more communicative steering setup, 15mm lower ride height and modifications to the rear twist beam and stability programme. It’s a very easy car to pick up and drive, confident, positive and not overpowered by an overly brawny engine to upset the handling or risk your licence every time you stretch its legs.
Back off a little, and it shows an entirely different character. There’s a trade-off in ride quality from the stiffer suspension and larger wheels, but it’s plenty forgiving enough not to make long journeys back-breaking. There’s also very little noise from the engine at part throttle, while the driving position is perfect and the Recaro seats are supportive in all the right ways. It’d be just as easy to live with as any other Fiesta model, unless you need five doors.
Ultimately this is a slower car than a Focus ST, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining. It’s agile, infinitely controllable and a thoroughly enjoyable car to drive, which also happens to share the rational talents of its lesser-powered siblings. In a segment with plenty of newcomers, it sets the bar very high.
Striking good looks, usable performance and low running costs all add to the appeal of the ST badge’s heritage. The lack of a five-door version may be a drawback for some, but user-choosers seeking an affordable and entertaining way to get around will struggle not to fall for Ford’s fastest Fiesta.