Ford Fiesta ST-3 3dr
Our six months living with the current holder of the TopGear Magazine Car of the Year title is sadly at an end. Regular readers will know that over the past 13,000 miles the Fiesta has won unanimous praise for its unrivalled combination of performance, practicality and personality. So, rather than have this report dominated by repeating the praise that has been heaped on the ST during its time with us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather the Fiesta’s direct rivals at a disused airfield for a drag race. This didn’t go well.
The Fiesta was narrowly beaten across the line by the Mini JCW and the Polo, hardly a celebratory full stop at the end of our time with the car. But, straight-line prowess is only one very binary parameter of a car’s capabilities (this is absolutely not post-rationalisation), and while some beat it in one or other metric, they simply don’t offer the rounded package the ST delivers.
In last place, but making a racket while getting there, comes the Fiat 595 Abarth, the Italian pantomime dame of a hot hatch, all mouth (literally) and comedic pops and bangs, but outclassed by the ST in the dynamics stakes and by everything else here in a straight line. The Abarth shows how competitive the hot hatch market is and how far the opposition has come in a short time. With the ST representing the new benchmark, the Abarth feels like the previous generation’s last blast.
Next up and beating the ST by a nose is the MkVI VW Polo GTI, a car that exudes decades of finesse in its design and construction. And while you can’t argue with either, it does take itself rather too seriously. Its immaculate build quality and resolved design will make it THE one for many, but it lacks the Fiesta’s sense of fun.
Winning the drag race is the Mini JCW. Weighing in with 228bhp vs the ST’s 197, it probably should win. Away from the runway, the effort poured into the JCW’s chassis shines through on your favourite B-road – it’s a very competent device and oozes a Germanic build quality through its controls, but despite its best efforts it doesn’t quite manage to convert me or anyone of the team from our ST.
While the Abarth is more shouty, the Polo more grown-up and the JCW, well, faster in a straight line, none offers the complete package that can vanquish the ST. When rumours were confirmed that it was going to feature a 3cyl engine, the office went into something of a decline, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. The 1.5-litre turboed triple is, for my money, the centre of what delivers this car’s X factor. Happy effortlessly burbling away at motorway speeds (running on two cylinders and sipping petrol) but happier dashing to its red line, it is the work of some genius. Lightweight, efficient and seamingly unburstable, it oozes character and delivers deceptive performance all the time. So impressive is its accessible performance that the ST has made a strong case for being the perfect car for UK roads. Why have a supercar where so much potential goes untapped when the ST on your favourite B-road offers a purity of accessible excitement no hypercar can match, and at a speed that doesn’t see you needing a good lawyer?
Combine the accessible performance with a chassis designed to flatter and you have a car made to put a smile on your face every mile. Push the ST too far, over-commit and you simply lift, and the rear will rotate (something that can become interesting at experimentally high speeds – you have been warned), but for the most part the ST is as predictable and entertaining as any hot hatch in history.
On the inside, the ST feels basic in comparison with some of its rivals, but there’s a simplicity, dependability and lack of pretension to it that makes it all the better for it. Some complained the seats were too tight, but I never had an issue and I’m not the most svelte member of staff. And while the graphics on the Ford Sync system look like they were designed in the Nineties, it works well and, combined with Apple CarPlay, we never wanted for better connectivity.
Ford has done more to democratise performance through the ages than most. My formative years were spent in Fast Fords, and they remain close to my heart. Our time with the ST has confirmed that it ranks among the greats and deserves to join the Mexico, XR2, XR3i and all that went before it. A genuine working-class hero that punches well above its weight and one we’re gutted to say goodbye to.