The last one was king of the small hot-hatch hill, so can the all-new ST stay on top?
Editor’s Note: No, we won’t be getting the new Ford Fiesta ST in the United States. But a car this hot deserves attention on a global scale, and we know you readers enjoy a tasty bit of Forbidden Fruit as much as we do. Enjoy this First Drive from the Motor1.com UK team, and try not to get drool all over your keyboard.
It’s a two-fold concern, the new Fiesta ST. Firstly, because its predecessor was outrageously brilliant. It was proof, no less, that modern, turbocharged hot hatches could be affordable, easy to live with, and wickedly brilliant to drive regardless of how mundane the conditions might be. It was on the sort of level that only older, naturally aspirated hatches had achieved in recent decades.
Secondly, because this poor journo was (and still is, in fact) so convinced by the simple, infectious fun of the previous-gen Fiesta ST, that she declared it a modern Peugeot 205 GTi. And, frankly, where do you go from there if this all-new, three-cylinder, 198-horsepower Fiesta ST manages to better it? Well, dear reader, we’re about to find out.
Let’s start with the engine. The turbocharged 1.5-liter three-pot manages 198 hp and an impressive 214 pound-feet of torque all the way from 1600-4000 rpm, which’ll see the Fiesta ST to 62 miles per hour in a scrappy 6.5 seconds. More than that, this engine will shut off one of the three cylinders when it deems it unnecessary to make it usefully efficient.
Other highlights include an £850 Performance Pack (approx.. $1,200) that adds a Quaife mechanical differential, launch control ,and even performance shift lights so that you can punch through the six-speed manual’s ratios at just the right moment.
On top of that, there are Normal, Sport, and Track modes which tweak steering weight, throttle response, and the sound synthesizer, all of which is impressively on-trend and high-tech, but has us fidgeting a bit about whether the straightforward hooliganism of the old ST has been lost and some flab gained – this car is around 220 pounds heavier than its predecessor at 2,782 pounds, but we’re still keeping an open mind.
The Fiesta ST is offered in three- and five-door bodies, and three trim lines – ST, ST-2 and ST-3. Suffice to say that most buyers will go for ST-2 which gets climate control, a larger 8-inch touchscreen, and an uprated B&O sound system over ST-1.
It looks great, too. That rear spoiler and diffuser sharpen up a back end that can look a bit dumpy on the standard models, and the overall appearance is appropriately blistered and aggressive-looking without erring too close to a baseball-cap and tracksuit. Go for the ST-specific Performance Blue paint (check out our gallery for pics of the car in Performance Blue, Race Red, and Magnetic Grey) and it really pops. And of course the interior gets those brilliantly supportive, super-chunky Recaro seats, the flat-bottomed steering wheel, and – from ST-2 and up – blue seatbelts and all.
How Does it Drive?
It’s grown up a bit, the Fiesta ST. Everything about it, from an interior that looks and feels smart (and has an actually usable infotainment system), to the subdued thrum of the engine at low revs, to ride comfort that feels outright cushy by comparison to its predecessor. Drive it out of the parking lot and you’ll think, “Yeah, this is a hot hatch that’s good for easy living with a bit of hooliganism on the side.”
But you’d be wrong. It’s much more than that. This is a hot hatch that’ll do calm and comfortable to rampant brilliance without even needing to bother the mode switch, simply because it’s just got such sweet, direct control weights, fearsome grip levels, and suspension spun out of dark matter.
Well, maybe not the latter, but it does have clever springs that are banana-shaped to improve tire contact and body control under heavy forces, and expensive Tenneco dampers. Our test car also had the Performance Pack fitted. To be honest, in the end the suspension might as well be made out of dark matter because we have no idea how Ford manages to do ‘everyday’ affordable cars that bend the rules so heavily on how much fun and comfort one car can contain.
Stick the Fiesta ST gamely through a series of hard direction changes and it seems to suck you from apex to precise apex, helping you along yet not feeling as if it’s doing the hard work for you – as some polished hot hatches (I’m talking to you, VW) can do. You can revel in it but it’s always friendly. The steering is always slick and progressive, the front end exactly where you expect it to be.
We did also have a go in an ST without the limited-slip diff and we can say that it’s worth the £850 (approx. $1,200). The ST still romps through switchbacks and fast corners like nothing else in this class, even with the diff, and the steering is actually a touch less corrupted by the road's surface, but that Quaife setup adds an edge of aggression, lets you get on the power a fraction earlier, and just makes the whole shine more. So if you want the best possible handling, add the Performance Pack.
And that engine? Fear not, it’s brilliant. Burbly, willful, and smooth-revving, with a slick shifter to work it with and enough aggression to make the Fiesta feel seriously intense, and seriously fast. Did you notice the top speed of 144 mph? In a Fiesta? Blimey. Perhaps the throttle response in Sport is just a fraction sharp as you squeeze it on, and we’d like a slightly less vague clutch action, but this is still a car that lends itself effortlessly to being driven smoothly and quickly, whether you’re doing the school run or the Stelvio Pass.
We couldn’t detect the cylinder deactivation doing its thing at all, so you needn’t really worry about it. It should just help to improve your economy, and that’s really the end of it.
What has been lost is the mini-WRC car soundtrack of the old ST. Sure, this three-cylinder engine sounds great – there’s a sound synthesizer to help it along (which perks up in the racier modes), piping a surprisingly deep, thrapping note into the cabin, and the pops and bangs on the overrun are very cool. But ultimately it sounds a bit forced where the old one didn’t.
Still, plenty of people will accept that minor sacrifice in the name of the improved refinement and comfort of the new ST. The old one was hard work on a long drive and this one just isn’t. There’s quite a bit of tire noise, but engine noise dies down on a steady throttle, and ride comfort – while you do still feel how tightly sprung the car is on compression or over a sharp bump – is supple enough that you can forget you’re in a fairly serious hot hatch.
Therein lies the true brilliance of the new ST. Has it lost a bit of the instant playfulness of its predecessor? Yes, it has. We’d even hedge that you have to be going a bit quicker in the new Fiesta ST to feel like you’re getting the most from it.
Yet this new ST is just as vividly brilliant when you drive it hard, and it’s drastically better to live with. Who can argue with that?
Should I Buy One?
Immediately, yes. This is a hot hatch that does it all. We haven’t seen detailed prices yet – those arrive later in May and will, of course, be critical to the decision – but for sheer spread of abilities, from daily runner to bombastic, hilariously engaging enthusiast’s car, it certainly seems like great value. Few things will be faster or more fun than this on Britain’s scrubby country roads. It’s just a delight through-and-through.
We’ll have to get the VW Polo GTI and Suzuki Swift Sport on the same stretch of road to say for sure, but we’d already bet the house that there’s no better hot hatch out there at this end of the scale.
Gallery: 2018 Ford Fiesta ST: First Drive
2018 Ford Fiesta ST (U.K.-Spec)