Review: Ford Fiesta ST Performance

Winter weather had taken the sheen off its “Performance Blue” paint and someone had scuffed a front alloy but the small Ford was, in the vernacular of the Camshaft Arms, brilliant.

Ford has adjusted the sports suspension and enhanced the interior of the latest ST
Ford has adjusted the sports suspension and enhanced the interior of the latest ST

The Fiesta is the country’s best-selling car and the ST is the hot model in the range, a 200ps hatchback.

The ST is its smallest fast car, a handy size for everyday fun – a commodity which has to be treated with respect on our troubled roads.

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The engine is a three-cylinder 1.5 litre turbo which is as remarkable for its torquey flexibility as for its 197 brake horse power. The 200 in the catalogue is a metric PS rating. Prices start at £18,995 for the ST-1 which has switchable driving modes, Michelin Sport tyres on 17 inch alloys and huggy Recaro front sports seats. Mine was grade 2 for the three-door seen here. Standard items on the £19,995 ST-2 are 17-inch alloys, climate control, darker rear glass, a Ford SYNC3 DAB radio with an eight inch touchscreen and B&O audio.

The five-door version is £20,645 and well worth the extra £650 for the ease of using the rear seats for luggage or passengers. Small three-door cars are a big compromise unless you rarely use the rear seats. To get in the back you have to crouch and squeeze. They are also claustrophobic for passengers who can feel trapped in those rear seats – and especially so in a hot hatch being gunned at a brisk pace. This of course is not specific to the Fiesta.

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The bill for my test car was £23,515. Its extras were the metallic paint, a rear camera and low energy, high output LED headlamps. A “performance pack” added a limited slip differential which helps with the squirmy speedy stuff. There was “launch control” which allows maximum urge when setting off and is of scant use unless you hang out at drag strips or traffic lights. The 18-inch alloys with red brake callipers added some glamour. The top model is the ST-3 at £21,495 (£22,145 with rear doors) and brings the 18 inch wheels, the rear camera, navigation, automatic high beam and wipers. The performance pack is still a £925 extra.

On this latest ST Ford has taken some of the sting out of the ride by adjusting the sports suspension and enhanced the interior.

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The ride is now tolerably comfortable, not too harsh, with a most positive direct cornering feel from the 40-section tyres. They do everything except protect the rims from pavement edges. I clipped the offside front wheel on day four.

The engine is delightful. The response even at low revs makes the car brisk without a feeling you are thrashing it. The six-speed gearbox gives a top speed of around 145mph with 0-62mph dusted off in six and a half seconds, says Ford. That gives a measure of its urge but the best bit is in the real-world speed band between 40 and 70 (or higher) where that exquisite three-cylinder engine excels.

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On the outside the double tailpipes burble at tickover, making it worthwhile to stand and listen. Pretend you are doing something else – like cleaning the rear camera lens which got dirty quite often. The engine continues to make nice noises as it picks up speed while at low throttle it cuts out a cylinder apparently but I never noticed.

In cold weather the heated front screen quickly clears frost but the icy chill of the aluminium gear knob was a shock at first light. Solace was provided by the heated steering wheel – I am embarrassed to admit.

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Economy and emissions are not fierce. Ford quotes 47 miles a gallon and 136g of CO2. I averaged 35mpg locally, 40mpg commuting and 45mpg on the motorway.

This year the Fiesta has maintained its UK No 1 spot, with the Ford Focus at No 2 and being pressed by the Nissan Qashqai, then VW Golf, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Vauxhall’s Corsa, the Kia Sportage, VW Polo, Toyota Yaris and in tenth spot the Mercedes C-Class. These figures from the SMMT show the impact of imports. The Nissan is the only one built in this country. Ford has not made cars in Britain for years.

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The Fiesta started life in 1976 in Valencia and is now made for Europe in Cologne. It has been a great success. However, on a broader front, Ford Europe is replanning its range and dropping some dull sellers like the C-Max to concentrate on SUV and Active models. It has also announced a liaison with rivals Volkswagen. The Ecosport will be replaced by a Fiesta-based small SUV next year and variations of electrified models will spread across the range. The plan is to cuts global costs by £14 billion. It includes job cuts and a savage clearance of models in the US. Don’t panic. The Mustang is safe.

Verdict: Loved it. Hard to fault if it is what you want but any Fiesta is a great drive. Ford Britain sales dropped by nearly 12 per cent last year – much more than the industry average – but it is still the nation’s top selling badge.