9

The UK's most popular hatchback gets the hot ‘ST’ treatment, and is all the better for it. Little else can match it for the money

Find Used Ford Fiesta ST 2012-2017 review deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
Used car deals
From £1,200
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

We know that the new Ford Fiesta ST is good. The pertinent question to address here is: exactly how good is it?

Has Ford promoted its hot Fiesta to a status worthy of as many superlatives as cars such as the original Ford Focus RS and the Ford Puma Racing? Has it eclipsed every prevailing dynamic standard of a dynasty of Renaultsport Clios

It's first turbocharged Fiesta flagship since the RS Turbo

Is it possible that Ford has done all that and still left room for a Fiesta RS? Nothing provides illuminating answers quite like a comprehensive Autocar road test.

Ford's hot-hatch recipe certainly looks to have a lot of the right ingredients. Under the Fiesta's bonnet sits a turbocharged 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, which drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox.

Satisfyingly, the box-ticking doesn't end there. The Fiesta ST also receives upgraded suspension and steering, a torque vectoring system that emulates a limited-slip differential, a three-stage traction control system and myriad cosmetic tweaks.

Two very exciting and very commendable hot hatchbacks – the Peugeot 208 GTI and Renault Clio RS 200 Turbo – already sit subordinate to this fast Ford after our group test. That test was carried out on the country roads of south Wales, mind you – roads that this Ford three-door lit up with consummate ease.

Advertisement
Back to top

If this new Ford Fiesta ST emerges with as much unequivocal credit after our full complement of tests – not to mention a whole lot more road driving and much debate – the Blue Oval could have a cult smash hit on its hands.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Ford Fiesta ST rear
Exposed exhaust pipes, spoiler, diffuser and badge mark the ST out from the rear

Deciding exactly what to include on a standard Ford ST model and what to leave out, while keeping a diligent eye on profitability and value, must be a delicate balancing act.

Ford, however, has juggled everything very well with the Focus ST, and there’s evident consistency in its approach with the Fiesta. There’s no unique paddle-shift transmission here, and no mechanical limited-slip differential, either. But there are departures from the Fiesta’s mechanical mix – pragmatic but purposeful ones – and lots of ’em.

Its agility belies its weight distribution

Adding directness and response to the Fiesta’s steering was evidently more important than just inceasing lateral grip.

A quicker steering rack, geared at 13.7:1, works on the front wheels via shorter steering arms and a revised knuckle. It’s quick but consistent in its directness. Wheels are 7.5in-wide 17s as standard, with 205-section tyres.

The suspension features stiffer springs and uprated dampers all round and has been lowered by 15mm, which has been subsquently soften slightly for everyday use through the addition of the ST200. There’s a reinforced torsion beam at the rear. Disc brakes feature at all four corners and they’re powered by an enlarged hydraulic ‘tandem’ master cylinder with a diagonal split.

Power comes from a slightly undersquare 1596cc four-cylinder petrol engine, with an aluminium head and block, an iron crank, direct injection, independent variable valve timing and a fixed-geometry turbocharger.

Its headline outputs aren’t huge: 180bhp and 197bhp for the ST200 (with a caveat that we’ll come to) and 177lb ft and 213lb ft respectively. For an ST model, Ford would argue, they don’t need to be huge. Customers might feel differently. We’ll see if performance shows any shortfall.

The car’s look is quite pragmatic, too. Aside from the extended bumpers, side sills and enlarged roof spoiler, the most eye-catching addition is the honeycomb-mesh grille, which should be welcomed by anyone not keen on the standard Fiesta’s Aston-like chrome equivalent. At the rear, a diffuser panel and a twin tailpipe appear.

INTERIOR

Ford Fiesta ST dashboard
There are few identifiers to mark the ST out as the sporting flagship inside

Were it not for the bolstered support of the new two-tone Recaro front seats, you could almost be forgiven for mistaking the Ford Fiesta ST’s interior as standard fare.

Even closer inspection reveals only detail alterations. The gearlever and pedals are dressed in alloy, the steering wheel wears a small ST badge and the traction control function – usually hidden in Ford’s sub-menus – is given its own unmissable button on the centre console.

The DAB radio lacks a station list, so FM still has an advantage

It’s possible that some prospective customers might find the lack of differentiation a little disappointing, but Ford would argue that the ST is a sober performance upgrade rather than a brazen RS-style assault on the senses.

Still, for our money, the result is thoroughly agreeable. Added to which, further confetti would only have inflated the car’s bottom line, and we like the price where it is. This does mean that the Fiesta’s familiar weaknesses are also the ST’s, but we can live with those.

In an ideal world, there would be a larger multimedia screen (at 4.2in, even the upgraded one in the ST-1 is too small) and navigating its cluttered menus wouldn’t be quite such an ordeal, but these are trifling incidentals to gripe about in a hot hatch. Even with the upgraded Sony stereo system, the infotainment system is still clunky to use and rather difficult to do anything simple while on the move. It is worth point out that you need to invest in the ST-3 to get sat-nav included as standard.

Niggles with the driving position seem more consequential. The Ford’s new seats don’t tilt adjust, so lowering them all the way to the floor – desirable, given their high positioning – forces the driver to recline slightly by gently thrusting the thighs upward.

Taken with the Recaros’ lack of lumbar support, there is the potential for some long-range discomfort here. Nevertheless, the quality of the seat’s lateral bracing is excellent, and with all the other essentials – steering wheel, gearlever, pedals – in satisfying orientation, most drivers will be content with the ST’s internal layout.

The ST formula gives owners four trim choices - three apply to the standard 187bhp Fiesta ST and one option for the ST200. The ST-1 trim gives the Fiesta an ST-style 17in alloy wheels, bodykit, rear spoiler, rear diffuser and honeycomb mesh grille, while equipping the ST with DAB radio and fabric upholstered Recaro seats. The mid-range ST-2 adds partial leather and heated front Recaros, keyless ignition and Sony's stereo system, while the ST-3 models get sat-nav, cruise control, climate control, automatic wipers, lights and dimming mirrors and keyless entry. 

Those looking for a bit more bit from their little hot hatch, Ford has addressed this in the shape of the 197bhp ST200, which comes with a re-tuned version of the 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine for performance gains, unique grey paint job, Recaro seats and black machined alloys.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Ford Fiesta ST rear cornering
Overboost function means Fiesta ST is on par with its rivals, despite apparent on-paper deficit

If you’re looking for reasons why, despite a headline power figure that’s 20bhp shy of its nearest rivals’, the Ford Fiesta’s claimed 0-62mph time is only 0.2sec and 0.1sec shy of the Clio 200 Turbo and 208 GTI respectively, we’ll let you into a secret. It’s not actually that shy on power at all.

The thing is that the Fiesta can run on overboost to 197bhp (and the ST200 produces 212bhp)  – which is why it’s marketed as having that much in the US. Over here, Ford isn’t allowed to advertise this ‘temporary’ output as the headline number (although if you find somewhere on the road to stay on full throttle for longer than the 15 seconds that it lasts, you’re luckier than us).

The Ford's Sound Symposer delivers a good noise

Any rate, at our test track, we recorded a one-direction 0-60mph sprint of 6.9sec with two people aboard and a 7.0sec average over two runs. Never did it feel anything less than the measure of its immediate competitors out on the road, either.

Besides all that is the simple fact that the Ford Fiesta ST and those cars around it feel just the ‘right’ sort of quick. It’s rapid enough to give a reassuring thud in your back as you accelerate, but not so fast that you run out of appropriate speed sharpish or, on the track, run out of front tyre.

The Ford Fiesta is pretty much spot on in its performance. So, too, is its even, steady power delivery, backed aurally by a sound symposer. There is very little evidence of turbo lag – just a smooth, even, linear amount of power, as you’d expect from a car that has a moderate specific output and revs to only 6500rpm.

That engine drives the front wheels through one of the better manual gearboxes around. There’s only the merest hint of baulk or bump between ratios on the slick six-speeder.

RIDE & HANDLING

Ford Fiesta ST hard cornering
Excellent body control, well weighted steering and mobile rear end make the Fiesta ST a great drive

First things first: the ride. That’s what you’ll notice initially. Set off in a Fiesta ST and within a few metres it’ll occur to you that this is quite a firm set-up.

The ST isn’t harsh – it doesn’t crash – but it moves all of a piece, with significant vertical interference. It’s sufficient to make you think: “I hope this is worth it.” At low to moderate speeds, you could almost wonder whether it’s worth the trouble over a Fiesta Zetec S, which is a car that has a fine ride/handling balance.

Trail braking in to a corner reveals the ST's amusingly mobile rear end

It’s all right: it is worth the trouble. Because as you increase the speed, the Fiesta’s demeanour begins to sort itself out. The immaculate control of body movement works decisively with the driver, not against him or her.

Control of each of its four 205/40 ZR17 tyres, meanwhile, is exceptional, with a ride that remains flat and, across bad roads at speed, kicks you off line far less than you’d expect, given the low-speed firmness.

There’s genuine excellence at work here, and it has the measure of not just the latest Clio 200 and the 208 GTI but just about every other hot hatch on sale, too. Perhaps a Mégane Cup, at a rather hairier price, would match the Fiesta for involvement – and beat it for pace, inevitably – but the Fiesta steers just as pleasingly and is the more agile.

It is inevitable that a new hot hatch from the supermini class has electric assistance to its steering, but the ST’s has excellent tuning. At 2.4 turns lock to lock, it’s pretty brisk but never nervous, and despite the speed and electric assistance, there’s still that very Ford build-up of torque from around the straight-ahead.

There’s a bit of feel, too, which will please many. At the limit, the handling is all-round excellent. In short, it’s the new best-handling small hatch around.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Ford Fiesta ST
Can the Fiesta ST be one of the great fast Fords?

Following the aggressive pricing of the Focus ST, Ford has fixed the Fiesta’s starting price at a suitably low point, making it cheaper than most of its rivals.

What’s more, with 40mpg-plus a genuine prospect and just 138g/km of CO2 emerging from the tailpipes, the Fiesta can justifiably claim to compete at the most efficient end of what’s an impressively frugal class these days.

The Ford Fiesta ST is a well packaged supermini

It is perhaps not peerlessly well equipped but most of the essentials – Bluetooth, sports seats, category 1 alarm, DAB tuner, air-con – are all present, even on the basic ST trim level.

What is a black mark in the Fiesta's book, however, is the lack of cruise control, even as an option. That may particularly grate with those looking to take advantage of its touring economy on a motorway.

ST-2 models get a Sony stereo, a colour multimedia screen, privacy glass and heated seats, but most of these options could easily be jettisoned by bargain hunters.

Which, to our eyes, makes the Fiesta not only the class leader but also extraordinarily high in the running for best-value performance car currently on sale in any segment.

VERDICT

4.5 star Ford Fiesta ST
A hugely entertaining hot hatch that's easy to live with as an only car

Job done, we’d say. The apparent change in character of

The ST sets the bar extremely high for a Ford Fiesta RS

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Ford Fiesta ST 2012-2017 First drives