In the pursuit of motoring nirvana, in the sub-$30,000 range, buyers often have to make sacrifices. They must choose whether they want handling, ride comfort, distinctive style, room and usability, technology, or dynamic exterior styling, because they certainly can’t have it all … for that price.
That was, at least, until the debut of the Ford Fiesta ST. Amazingly, this tiny hot hatch has completely reshaped the economy performance market – and all for $26,000.
Heart of the mk1 GTI
Let’s dive right into the driving dynamics, because, let’s be honest, if you’re looking at this review, driving enjoyment is clearly at the top of your priority list. And, for that, I applaud you.
Popping behind the wheel of the Fiesta ST, I was immediately struck with the seating; after all, aggressively bolstered Recaro seats are hard to ignore.
The seats, I quickly discovered, set the tone of the Fiesta. They’re narrow, comfortable, and grippy. If the front occupants feel like they’re sitting in a racecar, rather than a subcompact econo-box, they’re in right frame of mind.
Push the ignition button hidden up on the dash near the instrument cluster and the little but mighty turbocharged 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder comes to life in a muted rumble.
Though small, the 1.6-liter packs a hefty punch at 197 horsepower and 202 pound-feet of torque. That torque-y 1.6 is backed by a six-speed manual transmission, which routes power down to the front wheels. All that twist sends the Fiesta ST from 0 to 60 in 7.1 seconds.
So at first ignition, we’re sitting pretty … literally. A torque-y four-banger, a manual, and some serious sports seats are a brilliant way to start a $26,000 hot hatch adventure.
Pull out onto the open road and the Fiesta ST doesn’t disappoint. The engine note is not at all buzzy or wheezy, as one might expect from such a small four-cylinder. Instead, it has a robust, beefy tone. It’s not loud; but that’s good. Too much growl might draw undesirable attention from onlookers.
Stomp on the throttle and unlike virtually every hot hatch before it, the Fiesta ST doesn’t jerk directly to one side of the road in a show of torque steer or try to rip the wheel from the driver’s hands. Instead, it rockets down the road, as if it were all- or rear-wheel drive.
If you loved the nimble vivaciousness of the first-gen, mk1 GTI, you’re going to absolutely love the Fiesta ST.
Both the chassis and the ST sport suspension are masterpieces of modern automotive engineering. Separately, each would win a place on my wall of handling heroes. Together, though, and they make me go all gooey inside. Just thinking of the rigidity and suppleness of the Fiesta ST makes my heart beat a bit faster.
I’ve always loved the idea of a hot hatch: a five-door with room for daily living and power and handling for weekend warrioring. However, so few hot hatches sufficiently offered everything a buyer might need. As I alluded to in the beginning, buyers usually couldn’t “have it all.” The Fiesta ST seems to have sorted it.
Come hard into a corner and the little glob of steel doesn’t even flinch. It handles sharp turns with composure and grace. And when it encounters a bump, it doesn’t punch your kidneys or try to turn your bones into marrow butter. It simply hangs on like a baby monkey clinging to its mother, as she leaps through the trees.
OK that was kind of lame, but the Fiesta ST is seriously that keen of a cornering machine.
Where the suspension does get rough, the seats balance it all out. Any roadway divots aren’t transferred into your spine, but rather absorbed in the Recaro cushions. The seats might hold a bit tight for, let’s say, “broader” individuals. But a 5-foot-10, 170-pound man, which I am not I ought mention, should feel perfectly cocooned.
Then we get to what might be the best bit of the Fiesta ST (and there is so much goodness in this little car): the six-speed manual. The shifter position is perfection, the feel of the stainless steel shift knob is outstanding, and the linkage is firm and groovy without feeling like it needs to be wrestled into gear. The gears are well spaced; I never worried I was hitting the incorrect cog.
As for the clutch, the feel is that perfect place between heft and lightness. And the clutch throw is, too, well spaced and has excellent engagement.
When it comes to braking, the Fiesta ST stays strong. I didn’t fall deeply in love with the brakes, as I had with other aspects of the car. I would say, though, they’re excellent as well. Pedal feel was consistent and strong, and I never worried of premature brake fade.
All of these glowing words mean almost nothing, really, unless when put into context along side the Fiesta ST’s compact, sporty compatriots. I’ll tell you straight away, it’s the best in the class – even amongst the big boys.
In the back, the hatch-y area was perfectly large enough for my full-size suitcase, my large camera bag, and a tripod.
Focus ST: I liked the Focus ST. However, something felt like it was lost in translation. To me, it wasn’t as good as the GTI. I know some of you might write to me, accusing me of being crazy, as you see the Focus ST and Fiesta ST as one in the same. To me, they’re not; the Fiesta ST is better. It’s a bit more alive, a bit wackier, and more distinctive. Its small stature saves the setup.
Subaru BRZ: Yes, I know this isn’t a hot hatch. Despite that, though, I see them as competitors. Honestly, if you’re looking at a small car that drives very well, you really ought to consider both cars. And as a usable mode of transport, the Fiesta ST is better. Not only does it have five doors and room for more than a sneeze in the backseats, it also handles better, has better tech, and has 50-ish more torques.
I’ve already discussed the interior, in terms of driving enjoyment. Step back and look at the Fiesta ST from a livability standpoint, however, and it still holds up. It has five doors, a reasonable back seat, finished with the same sporty leather motif as the front Recaros.
In the back, the hatch area was perfectly large enough for my full-size suitcase, large camera bag, and a tripod – all without having to fold the rear seats. For a single guy, it was perfectly enough space.
At the center of the small dashboard is the Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch. Yes, it’s an imperfect system, but it did what I needed it to. Bluetooth phone pairing was relatively painless. Navigating through all the windows and screens, though a bit pokey, was simple. In the grand scheme of things, MyFord Touch isn’t great. At the $26,000 mark, however, it’s pretty darn good.
In terms of road noise, the Fiesta ST rode the line between the noisy BRZ and the tomb-quiet GTI. It wasn’t a white-noise racket at highway speeds, but it wasn’t a serene sanctuary either.
The only big complaint I have with the Fiesta ST is its exterior. I think it’s fairly good looking. It is a bit too boyracer for my taste, though.
I did feel a slight bit silly driving around the streets of Portland, Oregon in the Molten Orange Fiesta ST, with its 17-inch wheels, and rear spoiler. Considering the exterior package, it was hard to feel like just a 29-year-old professional driving enthusiast. Instead, I felt like I looked like a pimply-faced hooligan.
Granted, this might be my own social hang-ups coming into play. Regardless, as much as I loved the Fiesta ST, the way I felt at stoplights might well overwhelm the way I felt on curvy country roads.
I love, love, love the Fiesta ST. And I really hadn’t expected to. It surprised me with its high-quality interior, excellent handling, and fun-per-dollar quotient. It really succeeds everywhere it needs to.
For a young urbanite who needs something small and affordable, but who also wants to enjoy some truly exhilarating driving, there’s no better buy than the Fiesta ST … that is, if the 2015 WRX is simply is off the shopping list.
- Interior quality and spaciousness
- Crisp, no nonsense handling
- Grippy and comfortable Recaro front seats
- Straightforward manual gearbox
- Polarizing exterior styling