► Ford Fiesta ST long-term review
► Six months with a great hot hatch
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Ain't broke, don't mess; winning formula, don't fix. The old 2012-2017 Fiesta ST is a bona fide modern classic, a hot hatch so good it seemed any meddling would inevitably make it worse. Had Ford just stuck some new body panels on it and made the dash ever so slightly less plasticky that would have been quite enough, thank you. But fiddle Ford has. There's a new engine under the bonnet (a 1.5-litre three-cylinder in place of the old car's 1.6-litre four), wider track, new suspension, faster steering... and the good news is, it's still brilliant.
There are plenty of hints in your first few feet out of the car park: the perfectly weighted pedals, the short-throw gearshift, the mild torque steer out of the first junction. Then, lazily turning into the first roundabout on the way home, the front Michelins gleefully chomp into the tarmac like a kid into a bag of sweets, the inside rear wheel gains an inch or two of fresh air beneath it, and you can't help but crease into a smile. It's still a riotous little scamp.
In a world where many hatches are now available only in five-door form to cut manufacturing costs (including the rival Renault Clio RS), the Fiesta gets a choice of three- or five-door bodies. Ours is a three-door in top ST-3 trim, which costs around £22k compared with the base ST-1's sub-£20k starting price and the middle ST-2's £20,495.
For the extra outlay, you get 18-inch wheels (which CAR's Chris Chilton memorably described as looking 'like an '89 XR2i's spun out in a centrifuge'), auto wipers, keyless entry, rear parking camera and sensors, and heated seats; probably more than you really need in a supermini, in all honesty. Our car's also fitted with the optional Performance Pack, which includes a Quaife limited-slip differential. It finds ferocious traction out of slow corners (here's hoping the front tyres can stand up to it) and a launch control function.
This rapid-getaway system is temptingly dangled before you on the dash practically every time you stop at a junction, like a digital Mrs Doyle. Launch control? Ah, go on, press OK. Go on... That seems to sum up the ST's inherent hooliganism.
The new turbocharged three-pot turns out to be a cracker of an engine. The Fez arrived with only 438 miles on the clock so it's still in the running-in phase, but even just tickling the throttle pedal it already feels very torquey and builds speed remarkably quickly for a comparative tiddler of an engine. Characterful, too. Keep the revs in the middle, above the well-suppressed low-down turbo lag, and it sounds like there's a big, eager bumblebee under the bonnet buzzing away.
On paper it offers the same power as the top version of the old ST but with lower emissions and improved fuel economy. It'll be interesting to see how close we get to its official combined 47mpg over the next six months. Active cylinder shutdown under low load means it occasionally operates as a twin-cylinder, and the switch between two and three cylinders is impressively imperceptible in action.
Downsides? The Recaro seats have bolsters so huggy I struggle to operate the steering if I'm wearing a thick jacket. And I'm not sure about the styling. The old ST still looks good, a pugnacious Scrappy-Doo pup, but the new car's one-box shape reminds me more of a Galaxy people carrier than a rally-replica hatch, especially in its curiously muted Performance Blue paint. And two of the old car's main drawbacks still remain: harsh solid-sprung ride quality and a giant turning circle for a small car. But if that's the price to pay for what should turn out to be a lot of driving pleasure over the next few months, I'll be able to live with it.
By James Taylor
Logbook Ford Fiesta ST
Engine 1499cc 12v turbo 3-cyl, 197bhp @ 6000rpm, 214lb ft @ 1600rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual, limited-slip differential, front-wheel drive
Stats 6.5sec 0-62mph, 144mph, 136g/km CO2
As tested £24,890
Miles this month 282
Our mpg 27.3
Official mpg 47.1
Fuel this month £52.55
Extra costs None