Ford aims for continued leadership of the supermini-shaped hot hatch segment with this car, an improved version of the third generation Fiesta ST. Jonathan Crouch takes a look
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. This third generation model has had a light update and the three cylinder 1.5-litre EcoBoost 200PS engine now gets a fraction more torque, but otherwise, the package is much as before, the handling super sharp. 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.
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 we're told that this third generation version drives like one too. Especially in this improved form. You might have a few misgivings about the fact that this car's improved 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine has just three cylinders, but it puts out a lusty 200PS and powers this car to 62mph in just 6.5s. In addition, there are drive modes to tune performance for road and track; Launch Control for Grand Prix-style standing starts; and force vectoring and a limited slip differential for tenacious traction through the corners. Sounds promising.
The 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine is still the same in this revised Fiesta ST and it still produces 200PS, but pulling power through the gears has improved thanks to a torque enhancement from 290 to 320Nm. The key performance stats are unchanged: 62mph from rest in just 6.5s on the way to 143mph. It sounds great too, particularly if you switch into the two dynamic drive modes provided, 'Sport' (which sharpens the acceleration and steering) and 'Track', which delivers an even firmer response at the helm and slackens off the stability control for circuit use. More Grand Prix-style gadgetry features in the optional 'ST Performance Pack' we'd highly recommend which includes a Quaife limited slip differential for extra cornering bite, plus 'Performance Shift Lights' and a 'Launch Control' set-up. Frequency-selective race-style dampers and special 'force vectoring' springs have allowed the engineers to improve ride quality whilst still keeping the taut cornering feel. Plus there's a wide track, a super-sharply responsive steering rack, a rigid body, a high performance braking system, eTVC torque vectoring for extra cornering precision and a specially developed set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. The result of all this engineering is a very special package indeed. As you'll realise after the first few seconds of driving it.
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, but there's a fresh exterior design for this revised version incorporates a slightly more aggressive appearance, with honeycomb upper and lower grilles alongside large lower side vents. The upper grille and side vents are finished in distinctive Chrystaline Grey, and the aero-optimised lower lip spoiler, side skirts, rear hatch spoiler and rear diffuser are finished in body colour. Standard 17-inch or optional 18-inch alloy wheels feature a brooding dark Magnetite finish, and exterior colour options now include bold ST Mean Green. As before, there's a choice of three of five-door body styles. Inside, disappointingly, the old Recaro sports seats are no more. Instead, new Ford Performance Seats have been developed instead. These incorporate integrated headrests and 14-way adjustment, with distinctive red contrast stitching and Sensico trim for a premium feel. A flat-bottomed sport steering wheel and a matte carbon-effect foil with red detailing add further sporty character to the cabin. As before, you get blue seatbelts and an 8-inch centre-dash SYNC3 infotainment touchscreen. And rear seat space? Well, it's better than the claustrophobically rising beltline of the three-door body shape might lead you to expect. True, the heavily bolstered front seats 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 292-litre boot, extendable to 1,093-litres by flattening the 60:40 split-folding rear bench.
There are two trim levels from which to choose - 'ST2' and 'ST3', both available in three or five-door form, the latter body shape costing £400 more. For the 'ST2', you're looking at needing about £22,500, a sum that gets you selectable drive modes, as well as a flat-bottomed steering wheel, sports seats and ST sports suspension as standard. All Fiesta ST models are also equipped with electric, heated door mirrors, Ford's SYNC3 DAB radio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, cruise control and an 'NCAP Pack', which includes a Lane-Keeping Alert and a speed limiter. The 'ST-2' also includes climate control, heated Recaro front seats and blue seatbelts, a B&O PLAY premium sound system and a Ford SYNC3 DAB radio with a larger eight-inch touchscreen as standard. The 'ST-3' version gains 18-inch alloy wheels and red brake calipers, satellite navigation, automatic rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and driver assistance features including Traffic Sign Recognition, auto high beam and driver alert. The three-door ST-3 is priced from just under £25,500. All Fiesta ST models are also fitted with specially-developed Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, available for both 17-inch and 18-inch alloy wheels. Customers get the option to specify an extra-cost 'Performance Pack' which includes a Quaife limited slip differential, launch control and performance shift lights.
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 third generation ST. The whole point of switching to this MK3 model's 1.5-litre three cylinder unit was to boost efficiency and, sure enough, thanks to clever cylinder deactivation technology, you're looking at up to 44.1mpg and up to 145g/km. The inherent efficiency of the EcoBoost 1.5-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 gear changes. 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.
Ford retains market leadership in the junior hot hatch segment with this car. That's the headline news with this improved third generation Fiesta ST. It's 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. We'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, we 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.
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