New Ford Fiesta ST 2018 review
8 May, 2018 12:15pm
The hot hatch sector isn’t short of competition, with the Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport and the new Toyota Yaris GRMN ramping up the level of focus on offer in this pocket rocket class – which means Ford has its work cut out with the new Fiesta ST.
As we found out from our early passenger ride, the signs proved positive, and now we’ve driven the production car for the first time we can categorically state, the Fiesta ST has delivered fully on its promise.
It boasts many technical innovations, but the car’s real trick is delivering a level of seemingly single-minded focus to serve up the requisite dynamic performance buyers demand for an £18,995 hot hatch these days without compromising too much how easy it is to live with.
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Chief among the engineering advances to achieve the first part of the above is the car’s new 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine. It kicks out 197bhp and 290Nm of torque (with an overboost feature to deliver a 20Nm hit like on the past ST) and with an optional Quaife limited-slip differential to help improve traction, and launch control as part of the Performance Pack, it’s good for 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds and 144mph flat out.
That move to a three-pot caused a stir, but the engine is strong, pulling sweetly from low down with a broad spread of torque and revving hard. However, where the old four-cylinder car used to bark higher up, this three-cylinder feels like it’s given its best by 5,750rpm.
It makes a gruff note, enhanced for the first time in an ST by some electronic trickery. This ramps up depending which of the three driving modes you have selected (another first), which range from Normal to Sport and Track. In the latter two settings the Electronic Sound Enhancement is supported by an active exhaust valve that introduces some overtly sporting pops and burbles when you lift off the gas.
You now drive more using the torque but it’s still brilliantly engaging, while the six-speed manual’s short shift action draws you in even further. The powertrain package works in harmony with the chassis, too. Director of Ford Performance for Ford of Europe, Leo Roeks, told us that his team has obsessed over the ST’s steering and chassis calibration.
There are two different steering tunes – both linear ratio, but one for cars with that diff and one for those without – and both work sweetly. All Fiesta STs get the torque vectoring by braking setup, but with that Quaife unit fitted, which only adds “between 800g and 1kg” to the weight of the car according to Roeks, traction out of turns is impressive. You can carry plenty of speed on corner entry, but be judicial and then squeeze the throttle and you’ll feel the diff lock as it tightens the car’s line, clawing at the tarmac to find traction and fire it down the next straight.
That work on the steering has paid dividends, as there’s a welcome level of information, with only the faintest hint of the torque tugging at the steering wheel under power.
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The steering set-up is quick – the fastest fitted to any performance Ford yet – and is well matched to the level of grip the chassis generates. The front track is a massive 48mm wider than the previous ST, while bracing for the new, stiffer body shell means torsional rigidity is up by eight per cent. The rear axle’s torsion beam is now thicker than before and controlled by ‘force vectoring springs’ and frequency dependant dampers with Ride Control 1 tech, while a new dual-compound sticky Michelin Pilot Sport tyre also features.
The culmination is a car that turns in with more precision and aggression, grips harder and delivers even higher limits. Importantly though, the ST’s not lost its trademark sense of humour.
With the ESC’s grip on the chassis getting progressively looser through the modes from Normal through to Track, this latter setting lets you play with the angle of the car, lifting mid-corner to help tighten its line and even indulge in a progressive and controllable slide. It inspires confidence to push harder and feels oh-so natural.
But it’s easy to drive it tidily, carving through corners such is the ST’s aggression to devour tarmac. The front axle feels nailed to your chosen line as long as you’re not wildly optimistic with entry speed, while the rear provides plenty of support.
Those frequency selective dampers means the harder you drive it, the more support and tighter control you get from the Fiesta. However, higher frequency inputs such as bumps and ridges (think motorway expansion strips) allow the dampers’ valving to open up to give more compliance and refinement. Together with those force vectoring springs that bear some of the sideways load, allowing Ford to soften up the rear axle bushes, it means the ST is now more liveable than before.
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However, it still feels busy on the move and, at high speed, it isn’t the most forgiving over rough stuff, hopping and jumping around. Importantly, though, it doesn’t lose any control either. You have to drive this car and manage many things, which should be celebrated compared with some of its more anodyne, one-dimensional rivals. This broadening of the ST’s range is impressive and definitely a welcome step, but it hasn’t come at the expense of the Fiesta’s head-banger character. Performance wise, it feels even more serious.
It’s available in three- and five-door body styles, while the 292-litre boot is unchanged over the standard Fiesta, so it covers the practicality bases a compact hot hatch should – another of which is efficiency.
The ST boasts cylinder deactivation – the first system ever on a three-cylinder engine. A clever latching mechanism on the camshaft shuts down one of the cylinders between 1,200 and 4,500rpm and at less than 50 per cent throttle to improve fuel efficiency by up to six per cent. Importantly, it does it smoothly enough to gradually reduce torque so the overall effect from behind the wheel is barely noticeable.
The cabin is as you’d expect, with sporty touches such as the Recaro seats in our car – there’s also a more adjustable model of seat that’s the only fully adjustable item fitted to souped-up supermini, according to Ford. It means the driving position is great, while you get big brakes carried over from the old ST200 and 17 or 18-inch alloys depending on spec.
Along with the chassis advances, these details have collectively improved how easy the Fiesta ST is to live with, even if it’s only by a small margin. However, key to the car’s appeal is that it’s not detracted from how fun it is to drive.
In fact, Ford has managed to push the limit further still with this car, yet the ST hasn’t lost its trademark grin-inducing driving experience. In fact, the smile’s wider than ever.
- Model: Ford Fiesta ST
- Price: £18,995
- Engine: 1.5-litre 3cyl turbo petrol
- Power/torque: 197bhp/290Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- 0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
- Top speed: 144mph
- On sale: Now