Ford Fiesta ST review
The 180bhp Ford Fiesta ST hot hatch offers a sweet drive, good looks and good value
The UK has had a long love affair with fast Fords, and that’s been continued by the Ford Fiesta ST. This car is so talented, we think it’s the best hot hatch in the business.
Taking the already impressive standard Ford Fiesta as a base, Ford has added sporty styling tweaks inside and out that only enhance the regular Fiesta’s looks.
Power comes from a 180bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged engine. Add in stiffer suspension, a sports exhaust and a pair of very supportive Recaro sports seats, and the Fiesta ST is a thrilling package. Buyers wanting even more thrills can now choose the limited edition ST200 flagship, which boasts 212bhp for 20 second bursts, bespoke paint and more kit.
Ford has a long history in the hot supermini sector. The story started in 1980 with the 1.3-litre Fiesta Supersport – a car which preceded the introduction of the hugely popular Fiesta XR2 by around a year.
The XR2 carried the flag for performance Fords throughout the bodykit era of the eighties, but the badge was dropped in the mid-nineties in favour of the Fiesta RS models, and subsequently the attention of small sporty Ford fans was diverted for a few years towards the Fiesta-based Puma coupe.
After a spell in the doldrums, the fun was injected back into the Fiesta hatch range with the 150bhp ST, unveiled in 2004 as part of the fifth-generation Fiesta line-up – and the ST badge has stuck.
In 2008, Ford also introduced its tuning partnership with Mountune Performance – offering ‘factory warranted’ upgrade packages on that older-generation Fiesta ST – and the relationship continues to the present day, with the Mountune Performance package available as a dealer-fit option on the current car.
The latest Fiesta ST went on sale in 2013, based on the newly facelifted version of the Mk7 Fiesta that had appeared four years earlier. Aside from an engine that’s advertised at 180bhp (but to all intents and purposes makes 200bhp), the ST benefits from a quicker steering rack, suspension that’s stiffened and lowered by 15mm, plus uprated disc brakes all round. Revsions to the suspension and steering late in 2015 resulted in a softer ride but equally acrobatic handling.
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The Fiesta ST is offered in three trim levels. Kicking off the range is the standard ST-1, with the ST-2 adding creature comforts such as air-conditioning, part-leather Recaro seats and DAB radio.
The company responded to customer demand by introducing a range-topping ST-3. This brings kit such as sat-nav, keyless go, climate and cruise control, and auto lights and wipers as standard.
And while its bigger brother the Focus ST comes as a five-door or an estate, the Fiesta ST is only available in three-door hatchback guise.
Engines, performance and drive
From the moment you lower yourself into the Ford’s figure-hugging Recaro seats, grip its chunky three-spoke steering wheel and place your feet on its perfectly spaced pedals, you know this is a car that puts the driver at the centre of the action.
At the heart of the ST’s appeal is its sublime chassis. Retuned suspension dampers and faster steering mean its limits are raised dramatically over the standard car’s, but despite its hardcore approach, the Ford always feels accessible. Turn-in is sharp, and the ST locks on to a cornering line, but it’s so balanced that quick direction changes are incredibly stable, aided by a neat torque vectoring system that subtly brakes individual front wheels to eliminate understeer.
On the track, this means the Fiesta can carry more speed through corners, and this translates on to the road, where the precision and grip give you the confidence to drive harder. It also benefits from well weighted controls which provide just the right amount of feedback.
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It has a great-sounding engine, with a delicious rasp that makes you want to rev it harder. This is paired with a brilliant six-speed manual gearbox, which features a precise, short-throw shift action.
Settle down to a gentler pace, though, and the Ford takes on a more subdued role. The suspension is firm, but the smooth, controlled damping means long-distance journeys are more comfortable than in the jarring Vauxhall Corsa VXR, although the car’s low-profile tyres do produce some intrusive road roar at higher speeds.
The Fiesta ST is powered by a 180bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, or at least that’s what the brochure says.
In fact, once you’re out of first and second gears the engine makes 197bhp under full throttle, thanks to an ECU that allows the turbo to spin faster for limited periods of ‘overboost’. This is available for 15 seconds a hit – quite a long time on the average British B-road. You’ve only got to lift for a moment to restart the timer, too, so in real-world driving the full 197bhp is available pretty much whenever you want it.
The Fiesta has a top speed of 139mph and the 0-62mph sprint time is only 6.9 seconds as a result.
If you want even more power, Ford's accredited tuner, Mountune, offers an upgrade to 212bhp. It consists of a modified airbox and filter, plus changes to the engine management computer. Nothing else is touched and the Ford warranty is unaffected. While the upgrade will cost you just over £600, in our eyes it’s money well spent. The 0-62mph time is cut by half a second to 6.4 seconds and there’s more torque in the mid-range to further beef up response.
Ford also offers its own in-house upgrade in the form of the limited run ST200. Designed to celebrate the success of the standard car, the ST200 gets 197bhp and 290Nm of torque, while an overboost function increases these figures to 212bhp and 320Nm for 20 second bursts. As a result the 0-62mph time is reduced to 6.7 seconds and the top speed rises to 142mph.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Like any performance car, the harder you drive, the greater your motoring expenses will be. Ford claims 47.9mpg for the Fiesta ST, but this will soon plummet once you hit your favourite back road, or take the car on track. That said, the Fiesta’s consumption figures are bang in the middle of class rivals.
The showroom sticker prices are typically more enticing, though. The standard ST-1 costs £17,250, the ST-2 £18,250 and, while the range-topping ST-3 trim carries a £1,000 premium over the ST-2, the Fiesta still remains better value than the Renaultsport Clio and Peugeot 208 GTi. That said, the limted run - just 400 examples have been earmarked for UK buyers - ST200 weighs in at a hefty £22,745, which is £3,000 more than the ST-3. You could argue you get more peformance for the money, but Mountune's factory approved tuning kit costs just £599 and delivers even more performance for the ST.
Once the Fiesta ST is parked in your driveway, it remains affordable fun as most consumables are the same price as on the standard supermini. But remember to budget for extra wear on pads, discs and tyres if you plan to do track days – and given how entertaining the Fiesta is to drive, it’d be a shame not to.
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Considering its impressive performance potential, the Ford’s 138g/km CO2 emissions are surprisingly low, which makes it a cost effective choice for company car users. This also puts the Fiesta ST in VED band E, so a year’s road tax will cost £130, which is the same as owners of the SEAT Ibiza Cupra, Peugeot 208 GTi or MINI Cooper S will pay.
You don’t expect to buy a hot hatch and not take an insurance hit, but things have certainly improved since the bad old days. In the late nineties, cover providers got fed-up with having to pay out on stolen GTis, and virtually killed the hot hatch by pricing drivers off the road. Nowadays, significantly improved safety and security have made hot hatches from all makes much less of an insurance liability. So if you’ve a reasonable driving record, the Fiesta ST’s Group 30 rating isn’t too outrageous – for the sake of comparison, the 180bhp SEAT Ibiza Cupra sits in insurance Group 27.
You can reckon on a new Fiesta ST retaining 45 per cent of its original purchase price if you sell after three years and 36,000 miles. Our experts say that makes it a slightly better investment than a SEAT Ibiza Cupra, for example, and a bit worse than a MINI Cooper S – but then the MINI has more of a premium brand feel and is more expensive to buy when new.
Interior, design and technology
The standard Fiesta is one of the most stylish superminis, so Ford hasn’t had to work too hard to transform it into a muscular pocket rocket.
The design changes really stand out, though. At the front, there’s a larger mesh grille with a deeper front bumper, while the standard car’s sleek, swept-back headlamps give the ST an aggressive look. LED daytime running lights add a final flourish. On models with the Mountune upgrade, a subtle yellow Mountune badge at the rear hints at the car’s enhanced performance potential.
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Buyers wanting to make an even bigger impression can add the £275 ST Style pack, which includes dark-grey 17-inch alloys. While the standard silver rims fill the bulging wheelarches perfectly well, the darker wheels increase the Fiesta’s visual presence and give it a more aggressive stance.
Red brake calipers (also part of the ST Style pack, along with illuminated ST sill plates), a large boot spoiler, a deeper rear bumper and twin exhaust tailpipes complete the racy makeover.
ST200 modes are identified by their unique SVO Storm Grey paint, two-tone 17-inch alloys and besoke badging.
Inside, the changes are less obvious, with metal pedals, bright red flashings for the part-leather Recaro seats and revised dials the only highlights. The bespoke instruments are much easier to read than in the regular car, which is welcome. On the ST200 you get part leather Recaro seats, silver accents for the seatbelts and an ST200 badge set into the centre console ahead of the gearlever.
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There’s lots of kit on offer, too. The top-spec ST-3 model comes with cruise control, heated seats, keyless go and sat-nav all as standard. However, the interior is let down by its fussy layout and the small infotainment screen that’s set too far back in the dash. And while the cabin is robustly built, it’s not as upmarket as those in rivals like the MINI Cooper S and VW Polo GTI.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The infotainment system gives away the age of the Fiesta. Despite the recent facelift, the set-up is let down by a 4.2-inch screen that’s too small and recessed too deeply for comfortable use, plus menus that could be more slick to navigate. Still, given the Fiesta ST’s focus on entertaining the driver, this perhaps isn’t as much of a setback as it might be in the rest of the Fiesta range. Features available on the car include MyKey, which allows owners to set speed and audio volume limits and ensure safety features are not disabled when loaning the vehicle to other drivers. There’s also Ford’s voice-activated connectivity system, called SYNC.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Although it’s a performance model, underneath the skin the ST is just a three-door Fiesta. This means that it still retains a useful boot, and rear seat space isn’t compromised too much more by the chunky Recaro front seats. Even so, the standard Fiesta is by no means the pick of the crop if you’re looking for maximum interior space.
As with the standard models, there's plenty of useful storage for odds and ends, including a large glovebox, deep door bins and numerous cup-holders.
Engine noise is well suppressed at 70mph, too, making the ST a comfortable car to drive longer distances. However, the addition of a larger engine and six-speed gearbox has increased the Ford's turning circle, so it can be hard work in crowded car parks.
As you’d expect, the Ford Fiesta is all about hitting the class averages when it comes to dimensions – at 3,969mm long, it’s a bare 1mm shorter than the VW Polo GTI, and 7mm longer than the Peugeot 208 GTi. The Ford is about 30mm higher than both, and the biggest variance is width, where the 1,722mm-wide Ford compares to the 1,682mm VW and 2,004mm Peugeot.
It’s a similar story inside, where the trio’s passenger compartments are all within a few millimetres of each other for elbow and leg room.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The bulky nature of the sports front seats makes life slightly difficult when climbing in and out, particularly for rear passengers. And while Isofix mounts are standard in the back, the chunky Recaro seats don’t help when fitting child seats, either.
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Head and legroom is also limited for adults sitting in the rear, as it is in the standard Fiesta three-door, but it’s fine for children.
Still, things look better up front. The seats are set nice and low and are very comfortable, even if the firm ride takes the edge off comfort slightly.
That said, the driving position is usefully adjustable, with a seat that goes up and down, as well as a steering column that tilts and slides.
The Fiesta ST has a practical 290-litre boot space, and while the 60:40-split rear seats don’t lie fully flat, when they’re folded this capacity increases to 974 litres. Opt for a space-saver spare wheel – which we’d recommend over the pressurised can of puncture gunk that Ford supplies as standard – and boot space with the seats up is cut to 276 litres.
For the sake of comparison, the boot space with the seats in place/folded down is 280/952 litres for the VW Polo GTI and 285/743 litres for the Peugeot 208 GTi.
Reliability and Safety
The Fiesta is the UK’s best-selling car and has been in production for six years, so niggles should be few and far between. This is backed up by our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, in which the popular Ford finished a respectable 52nd out of 200.
Less impressive is the brand’s dealer network, which placed a lowly 26th out of 31 in our 2015 poll. On the plus side, if your Fiesta does go wrong in any way, you won’t have to travel far to get it fixed as Ford has 781 garages across the country.
Standard safety equipment is generous, and includes seven airbags and Ford’s intelligent MyKey set-up, which allows parents of younger drivers to limit the car’s top speed and radio volume, plus make sure that any electronic safety systems cannot be overridden.
The brakes are more powerful than on other models in the Fiesta line-up, too, although unlike some other versions, the ST isn’t available with the option of autonomous emergency braking.
Still, the safety package is comprehensive enough, and the crash performance sufficiently strong, for Euro NCAP to have awarded the Fiesta a five-star rating after testing.
If a Ford Fiesta ST with the Mountune tweaks is your thing, but the idea of aftermarket upgrades makes you nervous, you needn’t worry, as the package is covered under the manufacturer warranty. Thanks to its long-running relationship with Mountune, Ford officially approves the modifications, which is a strong indication that reliability shouldn’t be affected. You can get the upgrades fitted to your ST at one of 150 approved dealers, and in the first five months over 500 owners bought the Mountune pack.
The standard Ford warranty term applies, and it’s the old industry standard of three years/60,000 miles. You can do better elsewhere – for example, four years’ cover is offered on the Renaultsport Clio. The Ford only comes with 12 months’ breakdown cover, and there’s a one-year paint warranty and 12-year ‘perforation’ warranty should your Fiesta rust right through.
Unlike many of its competitors, the Fiesta isn't available with a fixed-price servicing package. However, as Ford is a mainstream brand, you shouldn’t expect heavy charges for dealer maintenance – an interim check-up will set you back around £125, while a main service will be closer to £200.