It's easy to be dismissive of the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST. When you think of all the great fast Fords of the past, not many of them are tiny hatchbacks with four-cylinder engines driving the front wheels. If within the genre of sporting automobiles there were a polar opposite to a Shelby Mustang, without a doubt you'd be looking at it right now.
But don't be too quick to judge. If the car can cash the check written by those two little letters after its name, the Fiesta ST may yet be a force to be reckoned with. ST stands for Sport Technologies and on all cars to which it has so far been fitted (recently the Focus ST in the U.S. and European Focus, Fiestas and Mondeos for many years) it has produced startling results.
A giant of a car it is clearly not, although a giant killer it may yet be. It should also be said here that while the pictures are of European-specification three-door cars, all U.S. STs will have five-door bodywork.
Punching Above Its Weight
Don't spend too long looking at other heated-up hatchbacks in this category in the hope of getting a sense of what the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST might have to offer. A Chevy Sonic RS has a mere 138 horsepower and even that mighty mouse the Mini Cooper S offers just 181 hp. Instead the Fiesta ST's 1.6-liter EcoBoost motor is just 3 hp short of the magic 200-hp mark, a figure backed by an even more impressive 214 pound-feet of torque. Indeed it has the same torque at 1,600 rpm (177 lb-ft) as the Cooper S offers in total, yet Ford says it should hit 34 mpg combined, compared to the Mini's 29 mpg.
Unsurprisingly, Ford has modified the rest of the car to suit and not just with the usual cosmetic applications of flared wheel arches, a rear wing, chin spoiler, twin pipes and big 17-inch rims. The suspension is lowered by 15mm and substantially stiffened — twice as much at the back as at the front. The front struts also have been modified to provide more accurate wheel control under large cornering forces. A quicker steering rack has been fitted, as has three-stage ESP that allows no slip, some slip or all the slip in the world depending on which setting you choose. Torque vectoring, which can brake an inside front wheel midcorner to improve cornering balance, is also present.
Inside you'll find chunky Recaro seats, ST badging, a thick leather wheel and gearshifter. Ford also now offers a 6.5-inch LCD touchscreen in place of the unlovable Sony push-button infotainment system. Programmable MyKey options allow the owner to limit the car's speed and audio volume for when others are driving. Finally the ST specification includes a mechanical sound symposer for enhancing the sound of desirable engine noises in the cabin.
As Good as It Sounds?
Those Recaros really make a difference. Not only do they look good, but the way they hug your body almost like a race seat instantly tells you that, contrary to what you can see in a cabin that's little changed from standard, this experience is going to be different.
There's no fire and brimstone from the engine as it starts: It sounds like any other smooth, well-balanced Ford four. But as soon as you're moving and without your having to stomp the throttle, the ST starts establishing its credentials.
It's the steering you notice first. It's not just more direct, it's more positive, too, answering your inputs more swiftly and accurately. The ride is clearly stiffer, too, but it's appropriate for this kind of car. It's firm enough to offer control and composure but not threaten your dental work. The gearbox is good and six manual gears are all that's available. Despite its class-leading power, the ST is not about how fast you can go, but how much fun you can have going fast. For that you need to feel the connection to the machine provided by a quick gearbox with close ratios and a pleasantly mechanical feel.
The engine feels every bit as strong as its numbers suggest, particularly if you gas it at medium revs. Even so, there is some lag. And despite the symposer, its voice is more pleasant than inspirational. In Europe it's claimed to reach 62 mph in 6.9 seconds and it easily feels that quick. Still, this engine is not much more than a delivery mechanism for the real fun this car has to offer.
Let's Twist Again
String a decent set of corners together in the ST and the first thing you'll want to do is turn the car around and try them the other way. We first saw Ford's highly unorthodox approach to hot hatchback chassis tuning with the oversteer-adoring Focus ST. Its little brother now confirms this was more a product of policy than accident.
It's best to find out about it first with the ESP set to allow some slip rather than disengaged altogether. There's nothing inherently treacherous about the ST's chassis. Indeed, it is the very immediacy with which it executes your instructions that might take you by surprise. If you go powering into a bend and cut the gas halfway around, it's going to assume you want to tighten your line and tighten it will — right up to the point where all understeer has been killed stone dead. Then the electronics will chime in to stop it from getting any looser. You could, of course, do it yourself using the throttle, but Ford correctly assumes most drivers won't know what to do in this scenario and safely steps in with the electronics.
Remove all the electronic safety nets and it'll wag its tail like a live-axle muscle car on a wet road thanks to the decision to increase stiffness at the back by twice as much as the front. Few of us associate small front-drive hatchbacks with armfuls of countersteer, but if you want it, the Fiesta ST is here to provide it.
Driving like this is not the fastest way from apex to apex but we should remind ourselves that's not how to look at the ST. This is a car that's all about the provision of fun in a small, frugal, usable package. It knows that raw speed is only one ingredient in this complex recipe. It accepts that it is how that performance is harnessed that is the true measure of the machine.
For driving enthusiasts needing a car that's both cheap to buy and run, Ford has added another winner to its ST stable. U.S. pricing has not been announced, but if the strategy follows Focus ST pricing, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST will come in under the Titanium trim level below $18,000. Its engine could do with more character, its electric steering would be improved by better feedback, but for $5,000 less than a Mini Cooper S, it's hard to think of another car out there that can touch it.
And it definitely lives up to the ST badge.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.