► Ford revises its giant-killer hot hatch
► Regular, Perf Pack and Perf Edition tested
► The Blue Oval smashes it again
Talk about a tough act to follow. The previous-generation Ford Fiesta ST is a bona fide modern classic, a car that could make any road fun, at any time. Thankfully, the new ST is another ball of hot-hatch energy, but has been made slightly more well-rounded, with a less punishing ride and a plusher interior. If you loved the old ST, you’ll love the new one even more.
Our full Fiesta ST review includes the car with and without the Performance Pack, along with the luminous orange Performance Edition introduced in mid-2019.
ST-2 gets you climate control, a bigger, 8-inch touchscreen and a fancier sound system for £20,700 (or £21,150 for the five door). Finally, the ST-3, the car we drove, brings the 18-inch wheels, the red calipers, sat-nav and various auto-wipers and mirrors. The three-door is £22,450 while the five-door starts at £22,900. The lurid orange Performance Edition, with all of its toys, will set you back £26,495. We’ll explain why in a bit.
Before we race ahead, can we have a bit of ST history?
The ST badge was first used on a Fiesta in 2004 for a mildly warmed version of the sixth-generation car. It was powered by a 150bhp 2.0-litre engine and, while it had some nice stripes, it was largely forgettable. Then in 2012 a new ST was announced, based on the Mk 7 Fiesta, powered by a 1.6 turbo engine that put out 178bhp with an ‘overboost’ function that could deliver 197bhp in short bursts.
No-one had particularly high expectations of this car until we drove it: it proved to be ‘an absolute blast,’ as we said in our five-star review in 2013 – a car to ‘plaster a smile all over your face’. Towards the end of its lifecycle Ford raised the bar again with the ST200, which offered 197bhp and approached 230bhp on overboost. It too received rave reviews, and it’s this car that the 2018 ST has to beat.
Isn’t that going to be tricky with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine?
It’s true, the big headline change in the new Fiesta ST is the switch from the 1.6-litre four-cylinder to a 1.5 triple, but this brand-new engine is based on Ford’s award winning 1.0-litre Ecoboost; a work of internal-combustion magic. The new ST’s power unit is fruity, fizzy and full of personality, and somehow – out of just three cylinders – Ford has extracted a remarkable 200bhp and 214lb ft from it.
There is no overboost this time, so that is peak power, but given this remains a little lightweight hatchback (the 3-door’s kerb weight is just 1262kg) that is more than enough power to make the ST a rapid car: Ford suggests 0-62mph time is 6.5 seconds, marginally quicker than the ST200 (6.7 seconds). Top speed is 144mph. Best of all it revs so willingly and makes a better noise than the old engine.
Ford has also introduced cylinder cut-off – a first for a triple – so when you’re cruising with revs below 4500rpm, the engine becomes a 1.0-litre twin, improving fuel efficiency by a claimed 6 per cent.
Is the Fiesta ST still fun to drive?
Totally. Under the surface, Ford has made all sorts of mechanical adjustments and improvements over the outgoing model; but behind the wheel, where it counts, it’s an even sharper, more effervescent experience than before.
But back to the oily bits: The ST’s track is 10mm wider than a standard new Fiesta and 48mm wider than the old car; the steering ratio is 14 per cent quicker than the ST200; and torsional stiffness is up 8 per cent. That means steering slightly stiff like the Focus RS, but still very direct, and you still get the overwhelming 'just point it at a corner',' feeling.
The Fiesta ST doesn’t feel loose or wayward, it always feels tight and under control, but there’s still a distinct feeling of playful adjustability in the rear axle. It makes the car feel alive and gives every corner a little dance of possible trajectories. Ford also provides you the tools to add yet more dynamism to the ST with a Performance Pack and the chance to turn it up to 11 with the Performance Edition.
What is the Performance Pack on a Fiesta ST?
The Performance Pack comprises a trio of go-faster additions: a Quaife limited-slip differential on the front axle, a launch control system to torture the clutch and front tyres (track use only, kids…) and shift lights to tell you when you’re getting close to the redline in case you’ve got the stereo turned up too loud.
But being perfectly honest, we only need a third of this combo to make the ST into the car our testers have fallen so deeply in love with. It’s that slippy diff, and how the Fiesta’s handling responds to it.
How does the ST drive with the pack?
The Quaife limited-slip differential, combined with the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, provides an obscene amount of grip coming out of even the tightest back-road bend, allowing you to get back on the throttle ridiculously early. There is some torque steer, of course, but not enough to ruin the feeling that you can aim and squirt this car with precision.
And without the pack?
There’s a slight nibble at the ‘wheel when you plant the throttle in a straight line, but if you’ve ever driven anything else of this ilk you’ll be amazed how nicely this ST’s set up.
And mid bend you’ve got huge traction, of course, the diff doing the hard work and sending torque to either wheel according to the under-tyre adhesion. Driven without the LSD you’ll notice immediately it isn’t as adjustable on the throttle because the front end won’t bite in quite the same way, instead washing frustratingly wide. You can still get that twist-beam rear end to cock a wheel, but it’s more difficult and requires quite a lot more commitment.
That brings us onto the next frustration with the cheapest STs – you’ll work those brakes incredibly hard because the traction and stability control have a lot more to do to keep that 1.5 three-pot’s performance under control. The diff mitigates this, though we still managed to get them rather ‘warm’ on both cars during our test. Rude not to, right?
Tell me about this Performance Edition
To the ST-3 the Performance Edition adds £2500 to the list price, a set of very fetching lightweight Ford Performance wheels (at 18 inches in diameter, no bigger than the ST-3’s stock rims but lighter) and a Ford Performance coilover suspension upgrade, which both lowers the car (15mm at the front; 10mm at the rear) and brings 12-stage compression and 16-step rebound adjustment. The damper units, finished in stainless steel with blue springs, look the business tucked up behind those very pretty wheels.
But the real juice is the Fiesta’s astonishing handling. There’s stacks of grip, direct and meaty steering, unwavering body control and a deeply rewarding sense of connection with your tyres. Understeer’s there only if clumsily provoked – mostly the Fiesta just changes direction like a housefly and offers more adjustability than many rear-drive sports cars. The standard car shares many of these qualities but the Performance Edition elevates them all to another level of ultra-crisp definition.
What else is new on the Fiesta ST?
In terms of fixing flaws, the driving position is much better in this car – you can now pump a lever and lower yourself towards the floor, instead of feeling like you’re perched in a child’s highchair like the old one.
However, the bone-jarring ride is only partially resolved. Ford talks a lot about the new ‘directionally wound force vector springs’ and ‘frequency selective dampers’, and there’s no denying this is clever, brilliantly sorted chassis – but let’s not kid ourselves. There’s still a lot of vertical jigglingly and bouncing going on, so much so that on an uneven back road, you have to concentrate just to get your finger in the right place on the touchscreen.
And where does it fit on the competition? Where the Civic Type R and Renault Megane R.S. seem to surgically take apart every mile of tarmac, the Fiesta ST dances over it – a bit like our old i30N long-termer. Of course, this is smaller and more nimble too, so think of it like an i30N concentrated into an even smaller space. All the energy, even less of the size; an i30N liquitab, if you will.
One more thing – the new Fiesta ST sounds fantastic. In Sport or Race mode at idle, the ST’s three-cylinders burble and warble like a rally car. Increase the revs, and you’ll find the Fiesta ST has a crisp, clear characterful tone – and even sounds good on the over run. It’s not all about the noise, but it’s nice to have a equally natural engaging soundtrack.
It doesn’t sound like the ST has ‘matured' much...
Actually, that’s the great thing about the new Fiesta ST, it has actually taken some big strides in terms of refinement. I like the new Fiesta family look, and the ST isn’t too bling – just a few red details and a honeycomb grille. It’s not an embarrassing car to drive.
Inside the interior is a huge step forward, with a much modern modern ambience, and the latest digital screen tech albeit with materials not quite of the highest quality in places. Altogether, it does feel like a more grown up car to own, without losing that ridiculous playfulness if you want to drive flat out.
Ford Fiesta ST: verdict
The new Ford Fiesta ST combines all that was good about the outgoing ST200 with a much better interior and a surprisingly brilliant new engine. If you think the exterior has made the new version perhaps a touch less characterful, don’t worry – from the driver’s seat, it has as big a personality as ever. With the Performance Edition, the truth that you could have a sensible new Golf for the same money will be inconsequential to the kind of souls this Fiesta will make deliriously happy.
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