- Max Speed
This review was originally published in issue 136 of Top Gear magazine (2005)
So the saying goes, it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it that matters. At least, that’s what Ford’s hoping to convince us of as it launches the Fiesta ST150. Henry’s folks aren’t daft; they know full well that, as this is the hottest Fiesta in the line-up, people will be doing a spot of comparison shopping against the RenaultSport Clio and Mini Cooper S. So what if they’ve got 182 and 170bhp and the Fiesta’s only got 150. It’s how you use it that matters, see?
Well, it looks the part. Fiestas tend to come across pretty drab, but this three-door model begins to make the grade, all dressed up in the right amount of spoilerage, sillage and foglampage. Rolling on 17-inch alloys and 205/40 P Zeroes, muscled up with its bigger bumpers, it finally has the right stance and the machined look Chris Bird talked about from the start. A sort of product-design vibe rather than car styling – especially in Apple Mac white. So much for the hot hatch, behold the iHatch.
Time to declare myself. I’ve got previous with this kind of car. I love them. A decade ago I had a succession of hot Peugeot 106s, even the ridiculous Rallye. Some of my best drives in the past couple of years have been in Mini Coopers. Overheated little hatches just beg to be thrashed. You wedge your bod into these little shoeboxes, sit up at the wheel and throw yourself down the road. They’re all cheek. And they’re affordable.
To keep the cost down, the ST150’s is a regular engine, but since it hauls the two-litre Mazda6 and Mondeo, you can imagine what it’ll do in a Fiesta. It took a lot of effort to wedge it in, actually. But it’s not filched directly. There have been some subtle little modifications to give it more pep at the cost of smooth idling. No loss, frankly. A fatter exhaust liberates a few more horses too, as well as making a healthy hot-hatch racket. It feeds through a regular Fiesta ’box, but the gearlever is shorter, so it feels more snicky, and they have closed up the ratios and made some of the cogs stronger.
There’s a good urgent pull, with a fair helping of the sort of torque that gets a supercharged Cooper up and running. It’s no crazy rev-monkey, but you never feel short-changed because it dishes up bags of overtaking power and real surge out of corners. Ford quotes 0-60mph instead of the more usual 0-62, so it sneaks in under eight seconds.
And the chassis handles it easily. For a start it grips like a demon. The springs, dampers and anti-roll bars are stiffer all-round. The basic idea is to make the front end steer faster, even though there’s an extra hunk of engine sitting on it, so a faster steering rack went in. Then the rear has more roll resistance, so you can play about with it on the throttle. It works a treat – like any Ford, it seems to be understeering but the harder you yank on the wheel, the more front grip you seem to get. It’s a real little terrier.
Then there’s the brakes: bigger all-round, and even a set of discs for the back, which is the first time ever on a Fiesta. Which isn’t just terrific for stopping right now, it’ll also be handy for all those kids tarting up their STs a few years down the line. Big spokey alloys over green-painted rear drums is soooo not a good look.
And yet, and yet... I think it could have been more urgent. There’s just a little softness to the steering and throttle. It makes it easier to drive, makes it feel more like a Golf GTI. But is that supposed to be the point here?
That said, there is real feist in this Fiesta, and because I was enjoying it, I made Barry the photographer sick. Sorry, Barry. Still, going easy highlights another thing about the ST – it’s actually very civilised and certainly doesn’t feel two whole size classes down from a Golf GTI. Wind noise is low, the suspension is generally pretty quiet, and if you drive on the torque curve the engine won’t wake the dead. In most Fiestas the cabin is cheapskate and drab, but big curvy seats and some extra brightwork do dress it up a bit in this ST, so it’s no longer a deal-breaker.
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But look outward, and enjoy the kick you get out of pelting it along the road. The ST makes the very best of everything it’s got.
Verdict: A quick, fun B-road tool thanks to great chassis and torquey motor. Those stripes, though – cheeesy!
150bhp, 140lb ft
0-60mph in 7.9secs, 129mph
Words: Paul Horrell