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Car Review

Ford Fiesta ST (2018-2023) review

Published: 28 Dec 2023


What is it like to drive?

Ford didn't do anything to tweak how the ST goes around corners for its mid-life refresh. It didn't need to. This car is a riot, and it takes about a quarter of a mile to realise it. 

Once the quick steering – just two turns lock-to-lock – has darted the nose into the bend, you’re aided by a proper Quaife limited-slip diff instead of ESP fakery which ruins the Polo GTI. For a time, when Ford only sold the range-topping ST-3, the diff, along with launch control and a gearshift change-up light, became standard. Previously that was all in an optional Performance Pack.

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Anyway, the steering itself is springy in the Normal and Sport modes and rather doughy in the Track setting, but, in fairness, the old ST never majored on steering feel either. What it loved to do was wag its tail. Preferably with one rear wheel dangling in mid-air. And this one’s still as adjustable as you’d like it to be. If you’re shopping for a car to learn the art of lift-off oversteer, look no further.

So it's not too grippy? A Goldilocks chassis?

Juuuust right. Even with bespoke Michelin tyres featuring a stickier shoulder that clings to tarmac when you’re leaning on the door handles, the ST’s addictively playful. In Track mode, the ESP is slackened off, which means Ford says it’s not for road use, like the Focus RS’s Drift Mode. You used to switch settings by prodding a rather inconveniently placed button on the centre console between the seats. Bit of a fumble, that. Now the mode swaps happen by jabbing a button on the steering wheel. Much better. Also, each mode comes with new graphics on the driver display.

Torque steer is present, but it’s never something you have to wrestle with. Interestingly, you pretty much never notice it when you’re accelerating in a straight line. It’s more apparent if you’ve got a bit of lock wound on and then prod the throttle on corner exit. You can just sense the wheel being wrenched further around rather than pulling itself straight, so it’s on you, the driver, to get the ST pointing back on course.

What else?

The six-speed manual gearshift could be a little slicker – it’s a shorter, notchier throw than the last ST’s but you can’t quite flash the lever between ratios as easily. And the no-lift shift function just feels wrong, like wanton abuse. And it’s hardly as though keeping your right foot planted while dipping the clutch brings a massive leap in performance. Still, manual hot hatches as old school as this are not long for this world, so we'll cease nitpicking. 

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The power delivery isn’t bad either. There’s some lag, sure, and revs don’t tail off that sharply when you lift out of the throttle (a classic three-cylinder bugbear) but the torque-band’s wider than the old ST’s, and it doesn’t labour or strain as the revs climb past 6,000rpm. And the noise is terrific. It’s augmented by the speakers, but forget that and revel in its blaring, aristocratic tone. With three 500cc cylinders, it sounds deep and reverberant, like a turbocharged BMW M3 trapped in a padded cell.

What's the down side?

The pay-off for all this enthusiasm and agility is an exceedingly punishing ride. The Fiesta ST's suspension can't be tweaked and fiddled with: it's a single setting, and it's very firm. Of course, you expect that: this car looks like a pugnacious little tyke and acts like one too. But this isn't a car that calms down and soothes you when you're not in the mood to attack a mini roundabout like it just insulted your grandma. This is an ST trait: the larger Puma ST is just as jostly. If you want a comfy fast Ford, the Focus ST and its adaptive dampers is the way to go. 

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