Fifteen minutes ago I left the Ford Fiesta ST at Reading station. There’s a certain romance attached to saying goodbye to a loved one at a railway station. It’s all very Brief Encounter.
I don’t mind admitting it, I fell in love with the Ford Fiesta ST. After the disappointment of the Peugeot 208 GTi and Renaultsport Clio, it’s both a relief and a joy to discover that the hot hatch is alive and well.
But not only that, I reckon the Ford Fiesta ST is the blueprint of what a hot hatch should be in 2013. From how it behaves to what it offers, the Fiesta ST has pretty much nailed it.
And actually, that’s quite a surprise. The Ford Fiesta – which is almost as old as me – has never truly registered on my radar. I have a ‘thing’ for the XR2, but no more than that. Unless of course you count my ownership of the Fiesta-based Ford Puma – a gem of a car.
So I never really gave the new Ford Fiesta ST much notice. I fully expected to witness a battle between the Clio and 208 for hot hatch supremacy in 2013. Yet, whilst the French couple bicker over second place, it’s the Fiesta that has well and truly trounced the competition.
The team at Ford must be rubbing their hands with delight. Renault and Peugeot may have generated the most hype, but Ford was quietly waiting in the wings, ready to pounce. Here’s a PetrolBlog top tip: never, ever engage in a game of Poker with Ford.
I gave the Fiesta ST a proper workout. In one week, I drove nearly 1,000 miles, often in searing heat and in all kinds of conditions. Motorways, B-roads, A-roads, city driving, traffic – pretty much everything you can throw at a car in seven days.
And my conclusion? Quite simply, the Ford Fiesta ST is one of the best hot hatches of all time. In 20 years time we’ll look back on it as a high water mark. Not a game changer as such, we’re not talkin’ ’bout a revolution here. Just an example of what can be done when you keep things simple.
You can order a Ford Fiesta ST for a smidgen under £17,000. My test car, however, was the Ford Fiesta ST2, admittedly costing £1,000 more, but it’s worth the extra cost for the superb Recaro heated seats alone. Throw in the projector-style headlights, LED daytime running lights, Sony DAB radio, start button and privacy glass and it’s a wonder why you’d ever chose the ‘basic’ ST1.
In actual fact, the Fiesta ST I drove was pretty much my ideal spec, right down to the £250 Frozen White Paint and £250 ST Style Pack, which includes grey alloy wheels, delightful illuminated scuff plates and red brake callipers. Total price – £18,520. Expensive for a Ford Fiesta? Perhaps. Expensive for a proper hot hatch? Not a bit of it.
Some statistics. The Ford Fiesta ST offers 182hp and 290Nm of torque, helping it to reach 62mph in 6.9 seconds, before going on to reach a top speed of 139mph. Remarkably – if you’re incredibly restrained – it also has the potential to deliver 47.9mpg on a combined cycle.
Not that you’ll get anywhere near this. Across my week of, how can I put this, ‘enthusiastic’ driving, I averaged just under 36mpg, wonderfully close to Ford’s own figure of 35.8mpg on an urban cycle. Still pretty good for a lairy blue collar upstart from Essex.
And also – as much as we all like to make wild claims about being able to live with a truly stripped out performance car – it was rather nice to have air conditioning, a place to plug in my iPhone and a proper digital radio. Three things that, personally, I like to have on a new car.
Given the chance, I’m sure the majority of hot hatch drivers in the 1980s would have welcomed the opportunity to cool down on a hot day, ‘Quickclear’ the windscreen on a damp morning and listen to the entire contents of their tape or vinyl music collection via the car’s head unit. Does this point of view mean that I’m turning soft? Well perhaps. But the Ford Fiesta ST at least proves it’s possible to build a new hot hatch in 2013 that perfectly balances the need for luxuries with the quest for driving perfection.
Peugeot made a big thing about how easy it would be to live with the 208 GTi on a daily basis and how this gave it the edge over the Fiesta ST and Renaultsport Clio. And yes, the kitchen sink levels of equipment on the hot Pug are truly impressive. But I don’t remember yearning for automatic wipers, auto lights, a speed limiter, rear parking aid and electric folding mirrors during my week with the Fiesta.
In fact, I’d say that the heated windscreen, heated seats and keyless start of the Fiesta ST2 are far more relevant and lovely in the real world. And the 208 GTi doesn’t offer any of these as standard.
But this isn’t a blog to knock the Peugeot 208 GTi, which remains a fine car. Instead it’s a celebration of the flawless Ford Fiesta ST.
I had the opportunity to drive it to North Wales for the launch of the new Suzuki Swift 4×4. Naturally, rather than endure hours of torture on the M5 and M6, I cut across country, straddling the England/Wales border as I went. And by the time I got home – some 500 miles later – I was left in little doubt as to why I rate it so highly. Allow me to explain.
First, there’s the performance. Whilst it gives up, as near as makes no difference, 20hp to the French duo, it never, ever feels off-the-pace. You have to keep reminding yourself that it’s ‘just’ a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine catapulting you forward. The delivery of the power is so smooth and linear, with peak torque available from 1,600rpm to 5,000rpm. Then, in a kind of consolation prize to say ‘sorry the torque is about to drop off’, the exhaust note switches from a growl to a snarl, positively encouraging you to press on even further. Which you will. Again and again and again.
I discovered the A438 and A4112 between Hay-on-Wye and Leominster and all I can say is that I enjoyed one of THE best drives of my life. Hashtag BestDriveEver and FiestaST. A series of twists and turns interspersed with lengthy straights and near perfect asphalt. The Fiesta ST completely came into its own, delivering enough power to dispatch the occasional slow moving vehicle and offering cornering abilities to match anything you can buy for less than £30k.
The steering is wonderfully accurate and direct and there’s a real feeling of connection between driver, car and road. The Recaros – standard on the ST2 – certainly help, offering huge levels of support and, even after 250 miles, never feeling uncomfortable. The leather steering wheel is worthy of a mention, too – relatively compact, delightful to hold and offering only the most essential audio control buttons to distract your attention.
The Sony head unit is not the most intuitive of systems and the infotainment screen is small compared to modern standards, but I’m nitpicking here. Push me further and I’ll say that the interior feels the least special of the three contenders and some of the plastic looks destined to scratch easily. But crucially, the key touch points – i.e. the steering wheel, gearknob and seats – feel spot on. And that, to me anyway, is all that matters.
Because once out on your favourite B-road, you don’t give a monkey’s bazooka about plastics, equipment levels and accessories. It should be all about the drive and the least distractions, the better.
The Ford Fiesta ST offers Magnatraction levels of grip, with virtually no body roll. It simply encourages you to fly into corners at breakneck speeds, knowing that the Fiesta’s excellent Torque Vectoring Control system will safely carry you round to the other side. The suspension has also been dropped by 15mm, with uprated springs and dampers also contributing to the Fiesta’s sporting armoury.
It’s a convincing mix. Whilst the ride is sometimes jittery over the harshest of surfaces, occasionally bouncy along motorways and dual carriageways, it’s perfectly suited to A and B-roads. Everything just works together to create the perfect hot hatch. Just enough power to perform, brilliantly weighted steering, a wonderfully communicative chassis and an engine and exhaust note that will mean your DAB radio is switched off more than it’s switched on.
At £16,995, the Ford FIesta ST must go down as a complete and utter bargain. Which means that £17,995 for the ST2 is an absolute steal, if only for the Recaro heated sports seats. Buy one quick before Ford comes to its senses and slaps another £2k on the asking price. At £19,995, the Fiesta ST2 will still be a brilliant buy.
Ford has delivered a future classic. On my journey to and from North Wales I passed an Escort Cosworth, original Focus RS and a Puma Thunder. All blue collar heroes from the blue oval. The Fiesta ST immediately deserves its place in the Ford hall of fame. Twenty years from now we’ll look back on the Ford Fiesta ST as the blueprint of the hot hatch in 2013. It’s a privilege to know that one day I’ll be able to tell my children that I drove one when they were new.
It just has that certain something that elevates it to greatness. Not necessarily something you can put your finger on either. I could point to the change in exhaust note at 5k revs. Or the way in which the tyres search for grip when you enthusiastically change up to second gear – it’s like an impatient terrier waiting for a walk. Or I could point to the steering, or seats or even the subtle way in which the mild styling tweaks transform the Fiesta from vanilla ice cream to triple chocolate with chocolate chip cookies ice cream. That little red ST badge on the corner of the grille? Spot on.
But the truth is, it’s more a combination of everything. An example of a mixture of ingredients working together to create the perfect hot hatch recipe. Reckon I’m over-egging it? Try one for yourself and let me know.
Thank you Ford for restoring my faith in the modern hot hatch. And thank you Fiesta ST for one of the drives of my life. Until we meet again…
Images © PetrolBlog and Ford.