Why we'll miss the Ford Fiesta ST | Top Gear
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Saturday 23rd September
Hot Hatch

Why we'll miss the Ford Fiesta ST

A new, quite different ST is coming. Here's why the old one is an all-time great

  • You should recognise the Ford Fiesta ST. In its four years on sale, 25,000 of the blighters have sold in the UK alone. A low asking price, generous lease deals and the ubiquity of the Ford brand all make it perhaps the easiest hot hatch to justify buying. It’s a jolly good coincidence, then, that it also happens to be fantastic.

    Or rather was fantastic. Very soon the new Fiesta will be on our streets, so production of the outgoing car has already ceased. Yes, there will be a new Fiesta ST. But it won’t be anything like the car it replaces. At least not on paper.

    Out goes a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo with 179bhp; in comes a 1.5-litre three-cylinder, still turbocharged, and with a stronger 197bhp. Sounds like good news, but with cylinder deactivation (it will run on two cylinders when you're not being silly), a number of driving modes and standard ‘Electronic Sound Enhancement’, it has the potential to be a completely different animal.

    Replacing the Fiesta ST really is an unenviable task. Even if the new one is epic, the car it replaces has its place in the hot hatch hall of fame already cemented. Keep clicking to find out why…

    Images: Drew Gibson

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  • It’s unashamedly old school

    The engine has a turbo on it, but otherwise, this is as proudly simple as a performance car can get.

    So, a dinky 1.6 litre drives the front wheels. It drives those wheels through just one choice of gearbox. The suspension has one setup – bloody firm – and you either like it or lump it. The ST’s one concession to the endlessly adjustable nature of modern fast metal is its stability control, which you can have on, off, or in a middling ‘sport’ mode.

    But given how much of a sense of humour the latter possesses – while leaving enough of a safety net to avoid awkward phone calls to your lease provider – we’d say it’s a spiffing idea.

  • It has some spectacular seats

    The Fiesta ST comes as standard with some properly hugging Recaros. Now, it’s a seat brand not unfamiliar with the hot hatch class, and a number of its rivals – past and present – have also boasted Recaros. Not always as standard, though, and none that are quite as grappling as the Fiesta’s.

    Not everyone will find them comfortable as a result. I’m pretty slight in build, and feel like I’ve not got much wiggle room in there.

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  • The bit your bum goes on is properly angled up towards the dashboard, too. Which sticks your rear low in the car – helping counteract the fact the seats are mounted fairly high, much like all hot hatches – but does lead to a driving position that might take some getting used to.

    But it’s proof that Ford’s development team has actually given the seating deep thought. As they should – it’s one of the absolute core components of a performance car, and many others get it wrong. This isn’t a sped-up supermini that’s had brand-name items just thrown at it. They’re fitted properly.

  • It has a manual gearbox. Only

    Ten years ago this would have been a bonkers thing to point out. But the proliferation of paddleshift gearboxes has affected even the smallest of performance cars. You can’t currently buy a fast Clio with a manual gearbox, and VW and Seat only recently backtracked on making their quick Polo and Ibiza auto-only.

    In keeping with fast Ford tradition it’s a cracker, too. Really slick in its operation but with a nice amount of mechanical feel as you flick between the gears. It’s one of those ‘boxes that’s good enough to have you making completely unnecessary changes just for the hell of it. But it’s a supremely torquey little car – with 214lb ft powering its 1,163kg – so you don’t have to work the gearbox hard if you’re not in the mood.

  • It has the right amount of grip

    You might think big fat tyres churning out ungodly amounts of grip are what you need in a quick car. If it’s a 700bhp supercar with insurance excess equivalent to an extravagant holiday, we’d be inclined to agree. But in a sub-200bhp hot hatch, you want less grip than that. But not so little that you’ll skate into the Armco of a corner with the least exhuberant of entry speeds.

    The Fiesta could not be better judged. While there are hot hatches with more focused setups – the last-generation RenaultSport Clio 200 will take some beating – the Fiesta’s sense of mischief is unmatched.

  • Grip is strong in tight corners and unfathomably good in the higher-speed corners that should suit bigger cars. If you’re feeling mischievous, though, some trailbraking or a yobbish lift off the throttle will see the rear of the car pivot round like it’s a wannabe GT86. This is a front-wheel drive car, though, so you don’t need a diploma in drifting to sort it out. You barely need to apply any corrective steering.

    This is oversteer that improves the car’s balance and adds extra depth to its cornering ability. But, yes, it’s still bloody good fun. And if you wish to really cock around, there’s still a manual handbrake in here…

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  • It’s also blooming fast

    The bald figures are thus: 179bhp, 214lb ft, 6.9secs to 62mph, 141mph top speed. Those climb and fall slightly if we’re talking about the Fiesta ST200 run-out special.

    But in something so small and light, the figures are only a small guide. This is a wildly brisk little car, with really grown-up acceleration that sees you rip through the gears indecently quickly. For a turbocharged engine it really likes to rev, and while it’s not the greatest sounding hot hatch in Earth, the noise is keen and purposeful.

  • Read car magazines and websites often and you’ll encounter the phrase ‘real-world performance’. It sounds like some car journalism jargon (and probably is) but in all honesty, the Fiesta sits at the sweet spot of how much power you can use on a road without getting yourself into trouble. Both physically and legally.

    Drive a McLaren 720S or Porsche 911 GT3 and wonderfully exciting though they are – even at low speed – you’ll only ever use a small percentage of their performance. With the ST, you can use rather a lot more of its power. It sounds like an obvious thing to point out, I’ll admit. But being able to drive a performance car with considerably less restraint, with more freedom, is a wonderful feeling.

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  • But you can easily make it faster

    Like your hot hatches a bit overpowered? Want to go on track? Well the Fiesta is eminently tuneable. You can get an official tuning package – the Mountune MP215 kit boosts power to 212bhp and torque to an exceedingly grown-up 236lb ft, and all for £600 without affecting your Ford warranty. Another £1,995 opens up the Mountune MP230 kit, with 227bhp, 251lb ft and a sub-6.0sec 0-60mph time.

    And that’s before you get into the breadth of Mountune’s cosmetic and chassis options, or the wealth of upgrades available from third party companies if you don’t mind invalidating your warranty. Turbocharged cars welcome tuning, and tuning surely suits a fast Ford better than anything else outside of Japan.

  • It looks relatively subtle

    Yes, there are bigger, 17in, ST-specific wheels. There’s a red badge on an ST-specific grille. And the rear gets a diffuser-looking thing that’s body coloured. So unless you’ve chosen black paint, it sticks out against the bumper.

    But this is all stuff you’ll need a particularly good anorak to spot. There’s a rear spoiler, too, but it adds no height to the car and protrudes subtly over the rear screen. This is arguably how hot hatchbacks should be – the original Golf GTI was only a red-striped grille and some new wheel away from standard. And this is an area of the market where aftermarket options are cheap and very wide-ranging, should it all be a bit too meek for you.

  • It’s very practical

    Stifle your yawning. Half the job of a hot hatchback is to be, well, a hatchback. ST-ing a Fiesta doesn’t impact on how good it is as standard: big boot, full complement of five seats, plenty of room, cheap running costs. You can choose three or five doors, too.

    Alright, you’ll live under the 30mpg mark if you like to drive briskly (and you're making all those gratuitous gearchanges). But Ford quotes mid-40s in regular use, and a CO2 figure of 141g/km ensures relatively affordable tax (a maximum of £150). For a car with a sub-7.0sec 0-60mph time, that’s damn good.

    Just one word of caution. The ride is firm. Like, really firm. But it’s a nice excuse to keep away from speed bumps and head to the back-roads where the Fiesta belongs. And shines upon. That new ST has big shoes to fill...

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