[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Grassroots Motorsports, back when the Fiesta ST was a brand-new model.]
The hot hatch segment in Europe has always been more fiercely competitive and rife with more options for consumers than in the United States. Facing the market against the likes of the Peugeot 208 GTi, Renault Clio RS …
Twist and Turn
Steering feel, by the way, is a welcome addition. Our B-Spec Fiesta, built on a bare-bones hatch, has a wheel as communicative as a bowl of pudding. We’re glad the company addressed this with the ST, while also adding heft.
Engineers put a premium on making this car very neutral in corners, and they calibrated the torque-vectoring control–essentially a brake-based limited-slip system–to put a premium on rear slip angle. Stability control features a Sport mode, but it can also be switched off completely. The latter makes for entertaining and dramatic clutch dumps.
The torque-vectoring system works well enough, but a mechanical limited-slip differential is still on our wish list. One engineer told us the car could have benefited from one, but it was cut due to cost.
Though firm, the ride is far from punishing. This is an entertaining car to toss, and it’s delightfully neutral. A bit of understeer creeps in only at the very limit of adhesion. Torque steer, surprisingly enough, was not an issue.
Stop and Go
Brakes were never a weak point on the Fiesta. Our B-Spec project car drops speed faster than a thief drops a stolen iPad when the red-and-blues start flashing. Still, with some extra weight and lots more power, the ST got upgrades.
Ford went to their international parts bin and fitted front calipers from a European B-segment van to increase swept area. The rears may look familiar: They’re discs from the first-generation Focus, modified to mount to the Fiesta ST’s suspension. Base Fiestas get only rear drums.
In the engine bay–generating the energy that the brakes dissipate–is a 1.6-liter Ecoboost four-cylinder. It’s direct-injected and intercooled, which helps it contain its 10:1 compression ratio–down one point from the base car–paired with an astounding 21 pounds of boost.
Bullying the Little Guys
The Fiesta’s refreshed look for 2014 is in line with the stunning Aston Martin-esque grille previously fitted to the Fusion and Focus. The ST car gets a more aggressive version, as well as side skirts, a rear spoiler, diffuser, and twin-tip exhaust. Two 17-inch wheel choices are available, and surprisingly, they don’t look abnormally large. The size suits the stance.
In the U.S., the speedy subcompact market has been lightly occupied for quite some time. The MINI Cooper S was just about the only car in the segment until the recent introduction of the Fiat 500 Abarth.
That’s part of what makes the Fiesta such a welcome addition: It’s the only entrant without an overwrought sense of style. No one will call it cute. It’s available in subdued white, black and gray, but you’d be crazy to get this in anything but Race Red. It absolutely looks the business.
The Fiat certainly excels at traffic-dicing on account of its incredible shortness, and it has a 250-pound advantage. However, it’s far less useful as a people and cargo hauler and simply isn’t as quick. The MINI’s steering is more precise and communicative than the Fiesta’s, but it’s more expensive from the start. Plus, options packages can quickly balloon the price to outrageous levels–not to mention the MINI is just 80 pounds lighter than the Ford. The awards for lowest price and best power-to-weight ratio go to the Fiesta.
Inside the Demon
As you’d expect in a budget-friendly hot hatch, some of the interior carries over directly from the previous model. We recognized the dash patterns and door panels, though they wore nicer accents and better materials in areas you actually touch. The Fiesta ST is well equipped and has more standard features than the Focus ST.
That means navigation with a touchscreen, SYNC voice activation, satellite radio, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and aluminum pedals. There are also ST-branded accents here and there, including headrest embroidery and aluminum doorsill plates. The six-speed manual does everything properly–no automatic is available.
Its only major option is the fantastic part-leather Recaro seats, but it adds nearly $2000. That’s a tough box to tick when the car is only $21,400, but it’s one we’d likely gulp and mark anyway. They’re aggressively bolstered, but also road-trip comfortable–provided you’re narrow enough to fit in them. Stick with the gray cloth inserts rather than the garish bright orange.
The ST’s only demerits–reminders of its roots in the economy-car segment–are for wind and road noise. That could make the car tiresome for long trips on our interstate highways, but at least you’ll get 35 mpg while you bear it.
Ford’s Fiesta ST is well-bred indeed. It brings European flair to American streets, but it actually has much more substance than style. For a commuter vehicle, it’s hard to choose something that’s as quick, fun to drive, stylish and well equipped for this little cash outlay. We’re eager to see them on the road.