FIRST DRIVE: FORD FIESTA ST

MILLIONS of boy racers can’t be wrong. Ford has had the lion’s share of the hot hatch market well and truly sewn up for the best part of two decades (if not longer), and despite the questionable taste of some of the owners, they’ve bought Fords with good reason – they know how to make a good hot hatch.

There have been some solid gold hits and some near misses over the years, but the key difference since the late 1990s is that the standard cars drove well; that’s the key ingredient when you’re making something with a bit more sparkle. So taking the best-driving supermini in the class and sending it to a hot hatch boot camp sounds like the ideal scenario.

At first glance the Fiesta ST looks quite different to the standard car, mainly thanks to the huge front grille. Rather than the normal slick offering (that nods discreetly towards a well-know British luxury brand) the ST has its own blacked-out honeycomb version with a discreet ‘ST’ badge. Add to that the standard 17-inch alloy wheels and discreet but purposeful bodykit and you have all the right ingredients. Inside there are standard Recaros on both ST and ST2 versions, a unique steering wheel and gearlever and some carbon-like trim.

This is all window dressing if the mechanicals aren’t up to scratch, but Ford has hit the mark here too. The 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine is used elsewhere in the Ford range but here it is in a unique state of tune, with 180bhp and 177lb.ft of torque; that’s 20% more power than the last Fiesta ST but forced induction means 20% less CO2 too. You’d expect lower and stiffer suspension but the ST goes further; a new front ‘knuckle’ (where the steering and suspension components join), a stiffer rear torsion beam and revised geometry are over and above what a normal hot hatch delivers.

Expectations are high then, not only because of Ford’s reputation but also because the specification is extremely promising. Only a few minutes are required for the ST’s strength in depth starts to reveal itself.

The driving position is close to spot on, with the excellent Recaros offering the kind of support expected from that particularly brand. Start slowly and the ST demands no more from you than the standard car; in fact in some ways it is easier. The turbocharged engine delivers maximum torque from only 1,600rpm right round to 5,000, so getting going is a piece of cake. You can be really lazy with the gearlever and it will happily slog along without complaint.

The other big difference over the standard car is the steering. A quicker ratio rack is fitted to the ST that really sharpens things up; it’s so quick that it’s easy to negotiate many bends without having to shuffle the wheel, yet it avoids being too nervous at higher speeds.

The humdrum is taken care of then, but it’s on more open roads that the ST really earns its status. Just as at lower speeds, making rapid progress only requires an extended squeeze of the throttle. The strong torque means rowing the six-speed manual gearbox isn’t required, and on a flowing section of road it’s refreshing to be able to stick to a single gear and still be quick. Just like its bigger Focus sibling the Fiesta ST has a sound symposer that filters some of the engine sound into the cabin, giving a nice rumble in the cabin.

You’ll relish that quick steering even more on a twisting B-road as you can clamp your hands at the quarter-to-three position and simply dive between corners. Although electrically assisted there is good feedback through the wheel and the sophisticated torque vectoring control clearly does its business; powering out of tight corners is fuss-free and fast. A bespoke ESP set up for the ST allows a middle ‘sport’ setting between fully on and fully off, but the difference between the three is relatively minimal and that’s a good thing; even in the fully on mode it never feels heavy-handed.

When pushed the Fiesta ST is benign but enormous fun. It’s a very flattering car to drive and forgiving of mistakes, but those blessed with huge reserves of talent are unlikely to be bored either. And that’s a testament to the ST being developed with its target audience in mind – lucky twentysomethings with the cash to spare will have to be very silly to end up pointing in the wrong direction. And the icing on the cake is that they won’t need as much cash as you might think. The ST checks in at £16,995 and is not short of kit. If you see a lot of them on the road, it’s for a very good reason.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Ford Fiesta ST, £16,995
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol unit producing 180bhp and 177lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 137mph, 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds
Economy: 47.9mpg combined
Emissions: 138g/km of CO2