This year promises to be a vintage year for hot hatches. We’ve got the all-new Renaultsport Clio and Peugeot 208 GTi to look forward to, but the new Ford Fiesta ST has secured the first win by being the first to arrive in UK dealers.
Like the larger Ford Focus ST, the Fiesta ST is designed to be a slightly warmer hatch rather than a full-blooded hot hatch – that’s the job of an RS model. But that also means that it’s more reasonably priced, too.
Starting at £16,995 – around £2,000 less than its French rivals – the Fiesta comes with a decent spec, which includes Recaro sports seats, 17-inch alloys and Ford’s SYNC system. For an extra £1,000, the Fiesta ST-2 we drove adds part-leather, heated seats, keyless go and a better stereo.
All Fiesta STs look the same, though. They use the same three-door bodyshell as the latest Fiesta, but add a more aggressive front bumper with a large trapezoidal honeycomb grille flanked by a pair of blisters that flare out above low-mounted fog lights. Smart 17-inch alloys, a rear wing and a sporty looking rear bumper round out the visual tweaks, which don’t sound that comprehensive, but actually give the Fiesta a noticeably wider, more butch stance.
Step inside and you immediately feel at home in the Recaro sports seats. Unlike the previous Focus RS, you sit much lower in the car, and the seat's bolsters clamp you in nice and tight. There’s a new steering wheel with a thick rim that feels good to the touch, while the wheel is upright with lots of adjustment, ensuring a decent driving position.
We drove the Fiesta at Ford’s proving ground in Lommel, Belgium, around its undulating and twisty Track 7 handling course. Press the start button and the engine jumps into life quite quietly. The six-speed gearbox snicks into gear smoothly and the steering remains light at low speeds.
Out on the track the engine is a strong performer, revving eagerly and offering plenty of mid-range punch thanks to its decent 240Nm of torque. The engine isn’t the best sounding unit, but Ford has added a sound symposer, which is basically a pipe running from the engine’s air inlet into the dashboard. The symposer includes a membrane which works like a stereo speaker and adds a welcome bit of bass and burble to the engine noise at mid to high revs, but quietens down quite a bit when you’re driving at 70mph in sixth gear.
The Fiesta ST sits 15mm lower than the regular hatchback and uses the stiffer rear twist beam from the B-MAX to help give the car really lively and engaging handling. It’s not quite as sharp on turn-in as the outgoing Renaultsport Clio – few cars are – but the faster steering rack than the normal car still gives a direct response.
The ST also gets torque vectoring which uses the front brakes to reduce understeer and increase grip out of tight corners admirably well. But while that system can’t be disabled, there are three stages for the traction control – Normal, Sport or Off modes – which are nicely judged.
When on, the system gives quite a firm grab should you lift off mid corner, while Sport mode gives a decent amount of leeway even on a damp track meaning most will never need to fully disengage the system to get the best out of the car.
The overall effect comes together to provide a car that's a genuine pleasure to drive when the road allows. The fact that the car rides in a firm but supple way, and it still has all the space, equipment and decent economy of a normal Fiesta, means that the new ST will be hard to beat.