For many years it has been a source of personal shame that I've never completed the North Coast 500.
Being an avid petrolhead and having lived in Scotland my entire life it seemed ridiculous that I'd somehow only ever experience small chunks of one of the world's most famous driving routes.
When Ford sent me the Fiesta ST to test it, then, it presented the perfect opportunity to pack a bag and head for the Highlands.
What could be a better test of a car famed for its driving experience than a few days on some of the most lauded driving roads in the UK?
And the Fiesta didn’t disappoint. Some people take supercars around the NC500 and while there are stretches that suit such beasts, far more of it is narrow and winding, peppered with single-track and shoddy surfaces. Better matched, then, to something small, nimble and responsive than something as wide as a bus and with 600+bhp to marshal.
Ford raised eyebrows when it announced that this ST would drop the old 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine in favour of a three-cylinder. However, the 1.5-litre three-pot is clearly up to the job. Its output is the same as the final special editions of the last gen – at 198bhp – and Ford has done a great job building a flexible, lively, yet economical unit that suits the nature of the car.
It revs willingly and despite the turbo kicking in early it benefits from a good dose of revs. But it’s also flexible enough that you can drift around on reserves of torque (214lb/ft) if you’re feeling lazy. It even sounds good, thanks to some active exhaust valve trickery.
The 62mph sprint takes 6.5 seconds and there’s optional launch control, which Ford insists is for track use only but is available in two of the three selectable drive modes. These adjust the throttle, stability control and steering to suit “normal”, “sport” and “track” conditions.
Since the very first Focus, handling has been Ford’s party piece and the latest Fiesta doesn’t let the side down. On the insane switchbacks of the Bealach na Ba and across the snaking single-track roads around the north-west, the little Ford responds quickly and neatly to every input.
Even at low speeds it feels agile but as you press on it becomes increasingly responsive, dancing along with confidence thanks to unique force-vectoring rear suspension and the fastest steering rack this side of a Focus ST.
Use the sharp-shifting six-speed manual transmission to keep the turbo spinning and it reacts rapidly, squirting from corner to corner and fizzing along B-roads exactly the way a small hot hatch should.
Our car’s Performance Pack adds a Quaife mechanical limited-slip differential to help make cornering neater and quicker but with the steering just off-centre a heavy right foot can still provoke some obvious torque steer.
Such agility and liveliness does translate into a lively ride. The ST lacks the composure of the less engaging Polo GTI and is a good deal firmer than the standard car. One colleague reckons it is too rough as a daily driver but I disagree. This is, after all, a hot hatch and you need to sacrifice some comfort for such sharp handling.
The appeal of hot hatches has always been that as well as being thrilling to drive when the conditions are right they can cope with the everyday tasks of a normal hatchback.
Its firm ride aside, the Fiesta does a fine job as a regular supermini.
You can have it in three or five-door shapes and while it’s still not massive inside there’s space for a couple of smaller passengers in the rear and those up front have enough room. The boot’s also a decent size – it swallowed four days’ worth of camping gear, so can easily accommodate a weekly shop or a pushchair.
Nobody buys a hot hatch for its economy but the Fiesta’s achievements here also deserve to be applauded. Over 945 miles of some of Scotland’s best, most driver-focused roads it returned an astonishing 40.5mpg thanks, in part, to its cylinder-deactivation tech.
At £22,675 the tested ST-2 brings an eight-inch Sync3 media system with 10-speaker B&O Play audio, cruise control, lane keep aid, and eye-catching 17-inch alloys. Our car’s long list of options bumped that to north or £28,000 but it’s down to buyers whether a panoramic sunroof, full LED lights and a fancy paint job are worth splashing out on.
They’re nice but, the £950 Performance Pack aside, have little impact on the car’s main appeal.
At its core, the Fiesta ST is a riotous little ball of energy that nails its brief of being equally at home on a track, a B-road or the supermarket run.
Ford Fiesta ST-2
Price: £22,675 (£28,075 as tested); Engine: 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 198bhp; Torque: 214lb/ft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Top speed: 144mph; 0-62mph: 6.5 seconds; Economy: 40.4mpg; CO2 emissions: 158g/km