Published on Sunday 1 May 2016 20:21
Ten Second Review
Want to know just how much fun it's possible to have in a ferociously fast small supermini? Then try one of these - Ford's Fiesta ST. It's been developed like a proper performance car - and drives like one, ready to paint a smile upon your face corner after corner. Of course, for not much more than the affordable prices Ford asks, you can buy more power. But after a drive in one of these, you probably won't want to.
We've never had a truly great sporting Ford Fiesta. The Blue Oval brand has tried of course, building up a hot hatch legacy around this model that goes all the way back to the XR2 of 1981, with a history subsequently embellished by the more powerful RS1800 and RS Turbo models that followed it. All though, were eclipsed by French hot hatch rivals, first a series of small Peugeot GTis, then in more recent years, the Renaultsport Clio. Today's Fiesta ST - this car - must once again take on ever more sophisticated versions of those same two rivals, along with a whole host of other similarly powered shopping rockets offering anything between 170 and 200bhp. It's going to have to be good.
But it just might be. For one thing, it's based on the best-handling supermini of its kind - which has to help. For another, Ford has had an awful long time to get it right. This seventh generation Fiesta dates all the way back to 2008, but it was the Spring of 2013 before this, the first of the properly quick versions, hit the market.
Designed by enthusiasts to be driven by enthusiasts, this fast Fiesta's poised, priced to sell and, with 182PS on tap, plenty quick enough. Potentially, it's the best car of its kind that Ford has ever brought us. And we're going to put it to the test.
The engine used here is a 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol unit developing 182PS. Which is impressive, but still not quite up to the 200PS level offered by both this model's closest two rivals, Peugeot's 208GTi and the Renaultsport Clio 200. Or at least it is on paper. In practice, there's no difference at all thanks to the fact that this Fiesta's has an overboost function enabling it to deliver 200PS for 15 second acceleration bursts, just when you want it. That's why its 0-62mph sprint time of 6.9s is virtually identical to that of the two rivals I've just mentioned. The top speed of 137mph isn't too far shy either.
So lack of power to properly compete at the top of the junior hot hatch sector isn't actually the problem I thought it might be coming into this test. Quite the opposite actually. Mountune, the people who engineered the Ford GT supercar, have developed a factory-approved engine pack that, for only a few hundred pounds extra, increases the output to 215PS and boosts torque, pulling power, from 290 to 320Nm, enough to shave nearly a second from the all-important 31-62mph 4th gear acceleration increment.
But power of course is nothing without control - which is exactly where this Fiesta really shines. The suspension features stiffer springs and has been lowered by 15mm. There's a brilliantly slick 6-speed gearbox. All-round disc brakes (a Fiesta first). And clever eTVC torque vectoring that helps you get the power down out of the corners. Plus a neat 'Sound Symposer' system that filters the most attractive noises from under the bonnet and delivers them into the cabin under hard acceleration, a stimulating soundtrack for a stimulating drive.
Design and Build
It's easy to go overboard and get all Max Power when it comes to a car of this kind, a temptation Ford has thankfully resisted here. This isn't the prettiest junior shopping rocket you can buy but the ST bodykit makes it playfully purposeful in demeanour.
Things aren't quite so overt once you take a seat inside. Go for a base-trimmed version and you don't even get the two things that most set the cabin apart - the (rather hidden) steering column starter button and the lovely, grippy Recaro seats you get on the plusher ST2 model. Other ST-specific features are a little more subtle: there's alloy trim for the gearlever and pedals and ST badges on the steering wheel and front door scuff plates. Oh and the traction control function is given its own prominent position on the centre console.
And rear seat space? Well, it's better than the claustrophobically rising beltline of this three-door-only design might lead you to expect. True, the heavily bolstered Recaros do slightly hinder your access into the back, but once you're there, the Fiesta surprises with headroom manageable even for a six-footer - though his or her legs will be crushed pretty snugly against the seat in front. There's also a 276-litre boot.
Market and Model
Looking for a junior hot hatch with around 180PS on tap? Then you'd expect to be looking at list pricing somewhere in the £18,000 to £19,000 bracket, the norm for a shopping rocket of this sort. But not here. Ford chose to undercut most of its key rivals by between £1,500 and £2,000 by launching this car at around £17,000. So if you're looking at one, you might well have enough left in your budget to find the extra £1,000 necessary to stretch to the plusher ST2 version. There's only a single three-door bodystyle on offer.
Standard kit includes most of the things you might expect: 17in alloy wheels, a body styling kit with a chromed dual exhaust pipe, a Quickclear heated windscreen, front fog lights, a Thatcham Category 1 alarm, a leather-trimmed ST steering wheel and gearshift knob with red stitching plus a decent quality stereo system incorporating a DAB digital radio. You also get a 'Sound Symposer' to emphasise the engine note, Ford's SYNC system for in-car connectivity and emergency assistance. And the 'MyKey' set-up which enables owners, when allowing others to drive the car, to set maximum speed and audio volume limits and ensure that safety features are not disabled.
For an extra £1,000, the plusher ST2 version adds halogen projector-style headlamps with LED daytime running lights, privacy glass, a power starter button, an upgraded Sony audio system and, probably most importantly, a lovely grippy set of Recaro sports seats. There's also an ST3 version which for a £2,000 premium on top of the price of the base model includes sat nav, keyless entry, cruise control, auto headlamps and wipers, power folding mirrors and electronic climate control.
Cost of Ownership
The whole point of sporty Fiestas has been to offer a generous slice of fun coupled with modest running costs, a trend which continues with this generation ST. Even with 182PS on tap, you'll still see 47.9mpg on the combined cycle with emissions pegged at a very reasonable 138g/km.
The inherent efficiency of the EcoBoost 1.6-litre engine certainly helps this Fiesta's cause, as does Ford's recent design focus on reducing body weight despite an increase in size. There's also a shift indicator on the dash for more efficient gearchanges. Keep an eye on it and, for the times when you're not behaving like a hooligan, over 40mpg should be achievable on a regular basis. What else? Well, if you're thinking of doing a few track days - and so much fun is this car that it'd be a shame not to - remember to budget for extra wear on brake pads, discs and tyres.
That only leaves depreciation. If you're a prospective customer, then you'll be glad to hear that Fiesta residual values are on the up as both new and used markets respond well to the increase in quality of the latest generation car. Expect to get around 50% of your initial purchase price back after three years - which is basically unheard of for a Fiesta. Finally, insurance: it's group 30E.
After three decades of trying, Ford has at last assumed market leadership in the junior hot hatch segment. That's the headline news with this second generation Fiesta ST. It'll be a best seller on merit.
This really is a special little car, usable every day but as focused as you could want when your favourite road opens up and you can flex your right foot, sink into the grippy Recaros and dial up a responsible amount of red mist. I'd also honestly say that it's pretty much the only car in its segment that's ultimately rewarding enough to consider taking on a trackday. Which, I think, says everything, the difference, if you like, between a supermini with skirts, spoilers and a more powerful engine - and a properly developed performance car.
Which is what this is, as much a go-to choice in its market sector as a Porsche 911 would be if you were looking for a performance sportscar or a Lotus Elise might be for those in search of a Roadster. In all honesty, you'd have more fun in this little Ford on a public road than you ever could in something pricier and more powerful. Think of it as one-up for the common man, small perhaps in price and performance but big in smiles per mile. Which, at the end of the day, is exactly what a hot hatch should really be all about.