Ford Fiesta

While the Zetec S duo will appeal to cost-conscious buyers, it's the 150bhp ST that will get performance fans really excited. As we revealed in last week's Auto Express, the racy looks set it apart, while the special edition white paint and £200 stripe package mean our test car looks every bit a worthy XR2 successor.

The Fiesta ST is a worthy successor to the revered XR2. For the first time in a long while, Ford has a supermini hot hatch to be proud of. It's fast, fun and agile, and has a great, muscular appearance. We look forward to putting a UK-spec ST to the test against its competition early in the new year.

While the Zetec S duo will appeal to cost-conscious buyers, it's the 150bhp ST that will get performance fans really excited. As we revealed in last week's Auto Express, the racy looks set it apart, while the special edition white paint and £200 stripe package mean our test car looks every bit a worthy XR2 successor.

The question is, does it live up to a long line of sporting Fiestas out on the road? Ford's engineers have worked hard to make sure it does - stiffened suspension combined with revised damping means the ST feels more alive than any previous sporting model.

Despite the steering being a little artificial around the centre point, turn-in is positive and quick, while front-end grip is excellent. What's more, the Fiesta remains stable through corners, even if it does lift its inside rear wheel when provoked. This excellent control means the ST, as with all good hot hatches, is very adjustable. You can use the throttle to balance the car through bends, and at all times it feels controllable.

The ST is light, agile and fun, while Ford has resisted the temptation to make the ride unpleasantly stiff, as it's pliant over undulating roads. The suspension gets jittery on really uneven surfaces, but despite our test car's optional 17-inch wheels, it never gets too crashy for comfort around town.

This is the first Fiesta equipped with disc brakes at the rear, and stopping power and pedal feel are good. Under the bonnet, the 2.0-litre Duratec engine may lack the ultimate output of more powerful rivals such as the Renaultsport Clio, but performance is brisk, with a near 130mph top speed, and throttle response sharp - 0-60mph arrives in around eight seconds. The tuned exhaust also gives a pleasant burble, but it does get coarse towards the 6,500rpm mark. Nevertheless, with leather sports seats and chrome details to brighten up the interior, the ST will bring a smile to the faces of fast Ford lovers.

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