► New 197bhp turbocharged 1.5 triple
► Optional Quaife limited slip diff
► Same fun handling and now more refined
Ford’s 2012-2017 Fiesta ST wasn’t only the best small fast hatch in the business; it was one of the best fast Fords ever. But it wasn’t without its faults. Rear passenger room was tighter than a Porsche dealer in a haggling battle and refinement wasn’t a strong suit either. The ST gave its rivals a real headache, but they weren’t the only ones reaching for the Nurofen…
Ford’s brief for the new ST was to sort those rough edges while preserving, and even improving on the old car’s killer dynamic edge.
What’s it got under the bonnet to help me kill those pesky Renaultsport Clios?
The biggest change between old and new STs is the engine, which is now a turbocharged 1.5-litre triple instead of a turbocharged 1.6-litre four. Although it’s lost a pot and a couple of scooters’ worth of capacity, old and new make very similar power outputs. The original ST was rated at 178bhp but actually made 197bhp on overboost (the figure used by Ford US). Which is exactly what the new car pumps out, along with 214lb ft of torque. The limited-run old-shape ST200 was more powerful (236bhp on overboost), so it’s obvious Ford has left some room for quicker stuff in years to come.
The only transmission choice is a six-speed manual driving the front wheels, although you do get to choose the diff mounted within that ‘box. Standard cars get an open diff and brake-based torque vectoring, but a proper mechanical (but not electronically controlled-) Quaife limited slip diff is optional as part of a performance pack that includes goodies like a shift light.
What’s it like behind the wheel?
The first thing that strikes is how adjustable the driving position is. For years fast Fords have been ruined by stubbornly high-set seats that make you feel like you’re umpiring a Wimbledon final, not driving a great hot hatch.
You can still sit like that if you like, but you can also crank the seat to the floor, and then tilt the base back to give a proper bucket-seat feel. Other things to note include steering that’s 14 per cent faster than the old ST200’s (itself faster than the original 2012 ST’s) and a sweet short-throw gearchange, but pedals that seem disappointingly far apart for shift-smoothing throttle blips.
Come on then, fire it up and take it for a drive!
I’d love to, but for this outing Ford’s restricting us to the passenger seat. Still, there’s plenty you can glean from the lazy side of the car. I can tell you that the engine sounds great thanks to a mix of true exhaust noise and electronic enhancement, and sounds even better when you select Sport or Track mode to open the exhaust’s butterfly valve. I can also confirm that like most triples this one picks up revs fairly slowly, but feels heroically strong in the mid-range.
There’s no adaptive-damper option and no independent rear suspension either. But the thicker gauge rear beam is fitted with clever banana-shaped springs that help increase lateral stiffness, while the shocks respond to different frequencies, moving shims around within the tube to change the damping force. The result is excellent body control but a noticeable improvement in ride comfort over the old car.
What about this optional LSD?
We don’t yet know how much it’ll cost but on this evidence it’s worth every penny. The standard car is impressive: there’s stacks of mechanical grip at the front and the brake-based torque vectoring system helps by tempering understeer as you exit each corner. Meanwhile, the rear seems hilariously mobile, sliding benignly under provocation, provided you’ve disengaged the stability system, or engaged Track Mode to loosen its collar. Ford’s engineers say there’s little difference in stick between the 17 and 18in wheels because the actual contact patch is so similar.
But the Quaife car feels totally different, properly diving for the apex under power and really getting the most out of the ST’s tyres. You’re not going to feel the difference pottering around town, but when you’re really on it, the diff car is in a different league. And while we can’t comment on torque steer until we actually slide behind the wheel, it all looked calm from the other seat.
What’s this all going to cost?
Ford won’t release prices until closer to the April on-sale date, but you can expect it to be around the £20k needed to get into its hot Clio and Corsa VXR rivals. There’ll be the usual ST, ST-2 and ST-3 trim levels and the optional Performance Pack is likely to add around £2k to the list price.
We’ll have to wait until we’ve had a chance to slide into the other seat, or pit it against its rivals before we can give a definitive verdict on the ST. But based on this ride and what we already about the way the standard Fiesta drives, it seems likely we’re looking at the class champ. Again.