With nearly 200 hp for just 2,700 pounds of city-savvy hatchback goodness, and a base price of $22,195, the Ford Fiesta ST has to be one of the best-value driver's cars available today.
And really, it is. If you're looking for strong performance—seductive performance, we dare say—all in a package that's practical and versatile in all the ways a small hatchback should be, then it's tough to imagine doing much better than this.
Squint just a little bit and the 2015 Ford Fiesta ST (we tested a 2014, but it's essentially unchanged for '15) looks much like any other Fiesta—albeit one with bigger wheels, a more 'solid' stance, and twin tailpipes, perhaps. The new snout really works here with slightly more hunkered-down proportions in the ST especially. But it's under the hood, and in the tuning of this car, that the Fiesta ST ends up with a very different, more rambunctious personality.
The engine, a 1.6-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder, fires up with a lower, more authoritative swoosh and thrum that lets you know it's not just the standard Fiesta's 120-hp engine. Once underway, it feels a little tepid at the very low end of the rev range, but that changes quickly, with a personality transformation that's fully realized by 3,000 rpm.
Easy to find happiness here
Adding to the enjoyment is a shift knob connected to a precise linkage, with the throws quite short, and a clutch pedal that allows easy, predictable takeup after just a few tries (our test car engaged a bit near the top, but we suspect it had seen some hard use). Basically, as long as you keep the revs on the positive side of 2,500 rpm, you'll have that smile on your face and near instant responsiveness when you need it—and in most cases, even more than you need. And it's a perfect match with the nimble feel of the entire car.
To be fair, the Fiesta ST's peak-output figures—of 197 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque—are made in an 'overboost' mode, when it's pumping out about 21 psi, albeit only in bursts of less than 20 seconds at a time. In any case, those 20 seconds are enough to get to super-legal speeds, no matter what the incline or state.
In any case, it's an absolute blast, when the traffic clears and the road permits, to hold your right foot to the floor, let the revs fly past the 6,000-rpm mark, and click through the gears.
Ride quality in the Fiesta ST isn't quite as splendid as we remembered it being in a first drive opportunity last year on some near-perfect road surfaces in France. Here around Portland, Oregon, where the roads tend to be mostly smooth but very coarse in general, as well as a little mottled on the smaller backroads and side streets, we found the Fiesta ST to be a little choppy and busy. It mostly seemed to disappear at highway speeds, however; and even when we put the suspension to the test in a tight switchback on an imperfect mountain road, it loaded up controllably and soaked up the most punishing part of it.
Some key front-suspension changes in the ST give its steering a different feel, with a sharper turn-in in particular and a closer-to-neutral attitude in tight corners. Some expert management of the stability and torque-vectoring systems give the front wheels as much traction as they can get, given all that power, and it doesn't lead to any wild reactions from the steering wheel. The steering, in fact, is quite light and just as nicely weighted as we recall—yes, lacking some feedback, but providing some sense of changing surfaces, which is about all we can ask from such modern electric-boost systems.
The Fiesta ST isn't a particularly fuel-efficient car. Although it arrived with EPA figures of 26 mpg city, 35 highway, we only saw about 24 mpg overall in the ST, over just under 100 miles of driving in mixed conditions—although in all fairness, without being so sparing on the accelerator.
The right sounds, too—and the right seats, if you check an option box
Here, the so-called 'sound symposer' is a little simpler, effectively just amplifying some of the engine's natural intake sounds but doing a great job in letting the engine be known when you're higher up in the rev range or stomping on the accelerator, and keeping the decibels in the cabin down when you're gently driving the kids into school.
We'd recommend the $1,995 Recaro package that our test car had—no, they're not quite like the Recaros given to overseas models, but they have great thigh support and hold you in place in tight corners. But we're not sure that we'd pay extra money ($595) for the Molten Orange Metallic tricoat paint, which tended to show reflections and only look great when it was sparkling clean and detailed.
In all—even considering that, yes, the switchgear and much of the cabin trim isn't different than what you get in lesser Fiesta models—the $25,955 price tag on our 2014 Fiesta ST seems like a steal (and that's even before the $485 price cut the model received for 2015). This is one model in which it's clear that an engineering team targeted what was important—the performance, the responses of the steering and suspension—and didn't stop until they were top-notch.
If you're considering a Mini Cooper, a Fiat 500 Abarth, or even a less overt subcompact hatchback like a Honda Fit or Chevrolet Sonic RS, you should surely include the Fiesta ST. It's one of our favorite small performance-oriented cars, and hot-hatch excellence.