Thursday 24th May 2018
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First drive: Ford Fiesta ST. Image by Ford.

First drive: Ford Fiesta ST
Itís here. The new Fiesta ST is utterly spectacular. Rejoice! Rejoice!

 



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Ford Fiesta ST

5 5 5 5 5

Never can the crushing weight of expectation have ever pressed down so heavily as it did on the shoulders of this latest Ford Fiesta ST, in the months leading up to its launch. Coming off the back of the sensational predecessor based on the Mk6 Fiesta, this three-cylinder version that sits on the Mk7 platform had the highest of high bars to clear. So, somewhat incredibly, we're here to report that something rather miraculous has happened...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Ford Fiesta ST-3 Performance Pack
Pricing: ST from £18,995
Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: three-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 136g/km (VED £205 first 12 months, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 47.1mpg
Top speed: 144mph
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Power: 200hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 290Nm at 1,600-4,000rpm

What's this?

The most difficult second album in the catalogued history of difficult second albums. Well, actually, that's an erroneous statement, because the old Ford Fiesta ST (based on the sixth-generation of Britain's long-time favourite car, in terms of sales), was not the first performance Fiesta by a long chalk. Indeed, it wasn't the first turbocharged Fiesta and nor was it even the first Fiesta ST, that honour falling on the hottest fifth-generation Ford supermini.

But if we ignore the XR2s and the XR2is and the RS Turbos and the RS1800s that form the lineage of fast Fiestas from the 1980s onwards, then everything that this all-new Fiesta ST has to live up to coalesces into a mental image of the stubby form of the sixth-gen-based ST, built from 2013 until last year. It took the Sports Technologies badge into a new realm, dropping the big 2.0-litre of its predecessor for an 'EcoBoost' forced induction 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine rated at 182hp. On overboost, it could temporarily deliver more power and torque, but that didn't stop Mountune releasing a 215hp-peak example, nor did Ford itself stop at 182hp; launching the ST200 towards the end of the car's life.

Critical acclaim was plentiful for the old Fiesta ST, for good reason. It was terrific to drive, absolutely terrific. Playful and fun on all the right roads, about the only three things that could possibly count against it were a mediocre interior, an anodyne soundtrack and its permanently bouncy ride. Ford countered these, though, by selling the car for 17 grand, making it not only exceptionally good dynamically but also a bloody bargain. So much so that, during its four-year lifespan, the Fiesta ST was unsurpassed by any other B-segment hot hatch; about the closest any other company got was, of all brands, Peugeot, with its phenomenal (yet phenomenally expensive) 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport.

So good luck following that preceding ST up, Ford Performance. And we start with engine downsizing once more. The new ST has lost another 100cc, now packing just 1.5 litres - and a cylinder has gone, too. This three-pot EcoBoost unit is the first triple in the automotive world to employ cylinder deactivation, allowing the ST to run on two pistons in order to save fuel, and it's the biggest three-cylinder engine Ford has yet made, all other models using a derivation of the brand's excellent 1.0-litre motor.

Then we've got the Electronic Sound Enhancement (ESE), which pipes some of the 1.5's exertions into the cabin via the sound system's speakers. There's a clique of petrolheads who think any sort of artificial enhancement of the car's 'voice' is anathema, so we'll never convince such people that the ESE is acceptable, but if it's done correctly then some massaging of the soundtrack can be tolerable, even beneficial.

Ford said that the main aim of the latest fast Fiesta project was to polish the rougher edges of the old ST, namely its ride and refinement, without losing any of its entertaining nature. However, the Blue Oval has had a go at tweaking the dynamics further. The electrically power-assisted steering (EPAS) has a 12:1 ratio, 14 per cent quicker than the ST200's set-up, while the brakes are 'high performance' and employ 278mm vented front/253mm solid rear discs for the best possible stopping power. Ford has added Selectable Drive Modes (SDM) - running Normal, Sport and then Track, the last of which disables the traction control - and will provide, for a mere £850, the Performance Pack as tested here. It adds a Quaife limited-slip differential (LSD), Launch Control and shift-up lights for the instrument cluster; this makes it the first factory Fiesta to utilise an LSD, although the rare 2016 M-Sport Edition, cooked up by Ford's rally-prep team at Dovenby Hall in Cumbria, beat it to the punch.

That leaves us with the suspension. Ford Performance is proud of the Tenneco twin-tube front, mono-tube rear dampers with RC1 valve technology, but it's the patented 'force-vectoring springs' on the torsion-beam rear axle that deserve the closest scrutiny. These, according to the manufacturer, are 'non-uniform, non-interchangeable, directionally-wound' springs - and that means that they can take large, lateral loads during fast cornering and allow said force to pass directly through the spring. This stiffens up the rear of the Fiesta, without incurring any weight penalty; these fancy coils are actually 10kg lighter than a traditional Watt's linkage that would be employed otherwise. And they purportedly improve the ride quality, too, which would be a most welcome bonus if it turns out to be true.

Finally, the aesthetics. The seventh-gen Fiesta is handsome enough, but perhaps a bit generic, especially at the rear with its wider light clusters. However, the subtle, but highly effective ST styling does enough for us to thoroughly approve. It looks great in a wide variety of colours (strident Race Red, signature Performance Blue, strangely Audi Nardo Grey-esque Silver Fox (a new colour) or effortlessly cool Frozen White being strong choices) thanks to a different and more aggressive front airdam and grille, side skirts, a roof spoiler, a twin-exit exhaust shoved to one side of the rear bumper and some of the most glorious alloy wheels we've seen on any production car to date. Inside, ST-branded Recaro seats are teamed to a flat-bottomed steering wheel and some ST-specific details like the gear knob, which build on the much-improved interior quality of the whole Mk7 Fiesta family. You can have the ST in either three-door format, where it weighs 1,262kg, or with a five-door body that adds another 21kg to the scales, but whichever you go for the Fiesta looks superb outside and in.

Oh, and Ford is once more at its sharp pricing best. Want to know what the ST starts at? Well, you'll pay £18,995 for an ST-1 three-door, which includes 17-inch alloys, SYNC 3 infotainment on a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, cruise control and a safety pack featuring Lane-Keeping Alert and a speed limiter. Nineteen grand. In a world in which the 140hp Suzuki Swift Sport is £17,999, a MINI Cooper S starts at beyond £20,000, Peugeot wants £23,555 for the 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport and Renault is pulling everyone's chain with the 15-off Clio RS18 for £24,295. The PCP on the Fiesta ST-1 will be ridiculously low.

The ST-2 is another £1,000 (plus a further £650 if you want the five-door variant) and adds climate control, heated Recaros, blue seatbelts, a Bang & Olufsen Play premium sound system and a larger eight-inch touchscreen for the DAB-equipped SYNC 3. ST-3 is fully loaded, with 18-inch alloys and red brake callipers (these are £350 and £75 options respectively on the ST-2) added, as well as satnav, auto lights and wipers, even more driver safety assist systems and auto high-beam. It costs from £21,495 (three-door) or £22,145 for the five-door. Only the ST-2 and ST-3 can be fitted with the Performance Pack, and there are sundry other cost options available across the range.

And that's it. No more stalling. We can't put it off any longer. Time to drive the three-cylinder, 2018 ST and see if it can possibly live up to our unrealistically high pre-match expectations...

How does it drive?

Like Dynamicus, the Ancient God of B-roads, has sent down his own personal heavenly chariot to Earth, purely to intoxicate and amuse the feeble human motorists below, to some nefarious end that is way beyond our comprehension. Honestly, you'll drive the Fiesta ST fast. Very fast, if truth be told, because it gets into your veins within seconds and devilishly encourages you to go like the sodding clappers from the second the car's fluids are thoroughly warmed through.

It's epic. Absolutely, and utterly, epic. Better than the old one, in fact, and as praise goes, it really doesn't come any higher than that. Starting off in Normal mode, some observations come thick and fast. The drivetrain sounds fantastic, far better than the old four-pot ST, and it also feels properly lively with good throttle response underfoot. The gearchange is slick and precise, without being stellar in its shift action, while the steering has a very strong self-centring action (that's a little unsettling at first) yet it fizzes with information and is scalpel-sharp in its responses. Again, this is in Normal mode, remember. However, it's already patently clear that the ride quality is poles apart from the old car. At no point does the new ST hop, skip and jump about nervously on poor tarmac, and this doesn't just help with the Fiesta's massively improved day-to-day refinement; it has another benefit which we shall come onto shortly.

So you knock the car up into Sport and the usual things happen: the steering becomes even keener, the throttle becomes razor-like and the exhaust starts making all sorts of thuds, pops and burbles. Spin the 1.5 out an exploratory few times to the redline and it's delightful to discover that, unlike some of the more mundane turbocharged triples on the market at the moment, it stays velvet-smooth to peak power at 6,000rpm and beyond to a proper firm rev limiter, while the noise of the drivetrain is now hard-edged and insistent. And marvellous. Also, 200hp? Yes, Ford, and the rest, if you please. The ST feels easily the most accelerative car in its class, hauling really hard through the first four gears as it revs its little heart out.

But, the handling. Oh, lordy, the handling! It just doesn't compute, even typing it now, but Ford has actually managed to make the Fiesta ST better than its predecessor. It has rapier turn-in, extraordinary levels of grip (understeer? What understeer?), front-to-rear balance like you wouldn't believe and all the magical traction properties that having a 'slipper' on a front-driver always bequeaths - you can bang the throttle down hard in second and third, exiting tight corners, and the diff just smoothly wrestles torque to where it's needed and fires the Fiesta out onto the next straight in a frenzy of revs, mph and grins.

Nevertheless, two things stick in our minds. The first is the perfect damping. It's flawless. There's that tiny bit of roll into corners and that tiny bit of pitch and dive during acceleration and braking, all of which means the driver receives the maximum amount of information about the Ford's cornering attitude, the available grip (answer: there's always lots, the Michelin Pilot Super Sports offering up immense road-holding) and what the car intends to do next. It also means the Fiesta is never deflected from its intended path and it keeps as much of all four of its rubber contact patches in contact with the road surface for as long as is feasibly possible.

And that leads onto the star attraction - those weird rear springs. Which turn out not to be weird at all, but rather to be one of the greatest inventions in motoring since someone thought a windscreen might be a nice idea for car occupants' comfort. If the Fiesta ST has a ten-out-of-ten front end, then it surely has the best rear axle fitted to any front-wheel-drive car we've ever driven. It sends a series of signals to the driver's spine, through the base and back of the seat, that are crystal-clear and easier to process than those possessed by the vast majority of rear-wheel-drive machines. Lift-off oversteer is easily accessed and when it comes, it is graceful, fluid and delightful beyond compare.

We then dialled the car up into Track and it was still majestic, if not notably different to Sport. So, if we were trying to screw some sort of sensible critical head onto our shoulders, we might be tempted to say that the SDM seems like a superfluous feature, because Sport with traction off should suit any driver's needs. We might also say that the Launch Control is a little anti-climactic and, developing on that theme, the Performance Pack as a whole isn't transformative for the ST, because we drove a regular five-door version with no LSD and it was still outstanding. Then your heart says 'but the Performance Pack is only 850 quid' and you're once again left merely considering which colour you'd select for your ST-2 Performance Pack with optional 18-inch wheels, when you eventually get to the Ford configurator later in the day to feverishly buy a Fiesta ST.

If you love driving, if you want to be entertained by a car - in any small way - on the right roads, without having to drive at speeds that would see you thrown in prison (even if the Fiesta is so tremendously fast across ground that it would easily embarrass some far more expensive machinery in the right hands), there is absolutely nothing on sale right now for any amount of cash that can hold a candle to this new Ford Fiesta ST. We defy people to try one and then dislike it. It's the physical manifestation of the absolute epicentre of hot-hatch utopia.

Verdict

The new Ford Fiesta ST is the best hot hatchback you can buy right now for driving fun, almost certainly the best performance car of any price on sale today and possibly the most enthralling car we've ever driven, if fast-road driving is your thing ahead of status-symbol posing and track-day swagger. If we could give it ten stars out of five, we would. A comprehensively, magically, wonderfully exquisite piece of engineering - and it's a blinkin' Fiesta that costs a mere £19,000. Car of the year? Car of the decade? Car of the millennium? Yes, yes and, good god, yes. Automotive perfection has been achieved.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 15 May 2018









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2018 Ford Fiesta ST. Image by Ford.2018 Ford Fiesta ST. Image by Ford.2018 Ford Fiesta ST. Image by Ford.2018 Ford Fiesta ST. Image by Ford.2018 Ford Fiesta ST. Image by Ford.

2018 Ford Fiesta ST. Image by Ford.2018 Ford Fiesta ST. Image by Ford.2018 Ford Fiesta ST. Image by Ford.2018 Ford Fiesta ST. Image by Ford.2018 Ford Fiesta ST. Image by Ford.








 

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