Cars

Published on January 25th, 2015 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez

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Apex Killer: The Ford Fiesta ST

From the outside, it looks like a plain old Fiesta- even with it’s bright red paintwork. It’s not the most expensive, nor is it the most luxurious, or the most powerful- but the Fiesta ST handles far better than we ever thought possible with a modern hot hatch.

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To understand why the Fiesta ST is so good, we need to look at what a hot-hatchback is at heart. Hot hatchbacks began as quicker variants of mass-market models. They were equipped with high performance engines, trick suspension, and (on occasion) better brakes. They created a segment in themselves, filling in the gap between your average econobox car and a full on sports sedan or performance car.

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Since the chassis was not designed to be particularly dynamic from the get-go, a hot hatch had to have a lot of clever tuning and adjustment to make them nimble and spritely. It’s not merely a question of slapping on the largest, stickiest tyres you can find: improving cornering ability is a matter of adjusting damper and spring rates and adjusting geometry to achieve an intended target. The car has to respond to driver inputs in a quick but predictable manner, allowing the driver to wield the car with precision.

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Power is also a question of balance. As most of these original hot-hatchbacks were around before the rise of the all-wheel drive hatchbacks, power was only delivered to the front wheels. Enthusiasts understand that there’s only so much power one can apply to the front wheels before a car becomes difficult to drive on the limit, as opposed to rear wheel drive cars which have a much higher threshold. This kind of thinking still applies to the front-wheel drive hot hatches of today.

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Interior and amenities were not really considered in the earlier days, with some hot hatches being even more spartan than their more common brethren. Nowadays the trend is to put more features, to engineer more comfort- and all of these things add weight and compromise performance. One of the largest advantages a hot hatchback has is it’s light weight, and the addition of all these features only weigh it down (both figuratively and literally).

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With this in mind, assessing a hot hatchback requires a different approach. There are those who criticize the Fiesta ST for being too small; for being weaker than the competition, for having a basic interior. It pays to understand that the diminutive size of the Fiesta ST is what gives it that edge on tight B-roads and such a low kerb weight. The power provided by the turbocharged 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine may not be the highest in class, but it has a broad torque band with superlative engine response. The basic interior may feel like one is being short changed, but the essentials are addressed: a nice set of pedal covers and a figure-hugging semi-bucket seat to keep the driver in place. There is little else to ask for in a hot hatchback, besides a basic entertainment system and good air conditioning.

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While a fair portion of the handling ability is achieved through the ContiMaxContact 5 tyres, the suspension deserves plenty of credit as well. It errs on the side of being slightly too stiff, but this is more than justified by excellent cornering composure. A little bit of occasional discomfort is more than made up for by how much speed the Fiesta ST can carry through corners, and how adjustable it is with modulation of the throttle. Ford engineers have managed to nail the balance, tuning the suspension to deliver excellent feel.

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While the electronic stability control systems are progressive and generally lenient, turning them off allows a driver to experience the proper potential of this punchy little hot hatch. Hit the brakes on corner entry and the ST dips, but not so violently as to unsettle the chassis. Trailing off the brakes as you turn in allows the front end to bite properly and provides good steering feedback, letting the tail rotate gently as well. Once the ST is pointed in the right direction, all it needs is some throttle modulation to settle the tail and rocket out of the corner.

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Ford’s brake-based torque vectoring system helps with pulling the car through the corner, although it never feels intrusive or clumsy. Whenever the ST starts to push wide, a quick lift off the throttle rotates the rear and you’re back in business. Chicanes and quick directional changes are soaked up beautifully by the suspension, providing just enough leniency to absorb the shock, but enough resistance to keep the body in line. Get it right and the ST can carry some serious speed in and out of corners.

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In terms of equipment, the Fiesta ST doesn’t get much more over the standard Fiesta. The only real additions are the Recaro ST-embroidered seats and the pedal set, as well as door sill plates. The exterior gets ST specific rims and some revised front and rear bumpers- not all too loud or obviously distinguishing the model as an ST. The twin tailpipes are discreetly tucked away by the side. Perhaps the only obvious indication that an ST is an ST is the 3-door design, versus the 5-door design of the regular Fiesta models.  Naturally rear legroom is limited, although most compact hatchbacks suffer from this problem so it’s not a deal-breaker in any way.

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But the devil is in the details: while the Fiesta ST is relatively nondescript, it manages to satisfy the finer points of a driver’s car. The steering is quick and properly weighted, the shifter is balanced and precise, and the clutch is not heavy beyond the limits of daily use. Even within it’s class, the Fiesta ST manages to be that little bit more enjoyable: it manages to strike a balance between the tail-happy nature of the 208 GTi, and the more reserved Polo GTI and Clio RS. A side-by-side comparison test would be necessary to see which is actually quicker, and that very well may come in the future.

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So if you’re looking for something flashy and eye-catching, the Fiesta ST probably isn’t for you. But if carving up canyon roads and bombing down mountainsides early on a Sunday morning is your idea of a fun, then by all means the Fiesta ST delivers. It’s a car that values precision and fun over outright power and image, and that’s what makes it a great hot-hatchback.

Quick Figures:

Engine: 1.6-litre EcoBoost

Transmision: 6-speed manual

Power: 182 PS @ 5,700 rpm

Torque: 240 Nm @ 1,600 – 5,000 rpm

Weight: 1,163 kg


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