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Published: 10/28/2013 - by Josh Jacquot, Senior Editor
It's possible, likely even, that's Ford's best driver's cars are five-door hatchbacks with four-cylinder engines powering the front wheels. The Mustang, with the exception of the Boss 302, is not a driver's tool, at least not in the same vein as the ST twins. It's these cars (the Focus ST and the 2014 Fiesta ST) that prove Ford is still in the game when it comes to driver's cars.
Nonsense, you say. Front-drive hatchbacks are converted economy cars, leftovers from an economy-of-scale business plan that happened to throw a bone to the enthusiasts. Not so fast there, hotshot. It's best to reserve judgment until you've actually driven all the contestants.
We've driven the Mustang. We've driven the Focus ST. And now we've driven its little brother, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST.
And it's pretty darned good.
Here's What Makes It Good
That the Fiesta is engaging to drive is relatively unsurprising given the Focus ST's dynamic strengths. That it's still a practical daily driver (with an enthusiast bent, sure) is somewhat more surprising.
Think about it this way: You won't find yourself in a controlled four-wheel drift in any other subcompact, sporting intentions or not. Not in a Mini Cooper S. Not in a Fiat 500 Abarth. And certainly not in Chevy's Sonic RS. It just won't happen. The ability to rotate off-throttle, remain composed and point its drive wheels in the desired direction is a defining component of Ford's ST product line. It's what the Fiesta ST does best. And it's wildly entertaining.
Torque, too, doesn't hurt. If there's ever been a car that lives up to the line about people buying horsepower and driving torque, it's the Fiesta ST, which oozes grunt with every millimeter of throttle travel. This abundant, early yank endows the Fiesta with both usable acceleration and genuine character.
Our Fiesta ST dyno test showed more than 200 pound-feet available until 6,600 rpm. Peaks of 184 horsepower and 221 lb-ft arrive at 5,200 and 2,700 rpm, respectively. Ford's official numbers are conservative: 197 hp and 202 lb-ft of torque. Still, it all comes from a direct-injected 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder coupled to a six-speed manual transmission.
Respectably Quick at the Track
All that torque, it turns out, makes the 2014 Ford Fiesta a challenge to launch effectively. Wheelspin is virtually unavoidable during the Fiesta's 7.1-second (6.8 seconds with 1-foot rollout as on a drag strip) 0-60 run. The quarter-mile disappears in 15.1 seconds at 92.3 mph.
These aren't numbers you'll drag out to impress your buddies, but they're enough to surprise the hipster in a Fiat 500 Abarth in the next lane. Our last test of that car yielded the same time to 60 mph and a quarter-mile 0.2 second behind and 3.5 mph slower.
Grip and balance are Fiesta ST strengths. It circled the skid pad at 0.91g and slithered through our 600-foot slalom at 67.7 mph. Though that skid pad performance is a few clicks better than the Abarth (0.88g), the slalom is a few clicks slower (68.8 mph). But, really, there's no comparison between the Fiesta and any of its on-paper competitors when it comes to driving that matters.
Back Road Rock Star
Though no car with 200 hp is going to tear apart a mountain road, the Fiesta ST makes better use of its resources than any other car in the (admittedly small) segment. More importantly, the ST makeover transforms the Fiesta from a rather lifeless subcompact into a genuinely entertaining car.
Nowhere is this more obvious than when the road starts to twist. Take the clock out of the equation and you won't be concerned with the 7 seconds required to hit 60. Rather, you'll be fully engaged by the Fiesta's constant supply of grip, torque and rotation. It's an easy car to drive hard, and with three-mode stability control it's easy to loosen the reins without increasing the risk.
Ultimately, the Fiesta's handling character is very much like the Focus ST. Power in hard, lift, wait for the rotation you want and jump back to the throttle. Speed and lift-throttle aggression both influence how quickly and how far the car rotates. And after adjusting to its rather nuanced handling, a rhythm quickly develops. The result, on a real driving road, is speed.
Ford's Low-Cost Way of Going Fast
Both the ST models lack a real limited-slip differential and rely instead on brake application to the inside front wheel to drive torque to the outside wheel. Applying the brakes to go faster isn't the most effective approach, but it is the cheapest. Ford calls it Torque Vectoring Control, but don't let the name fool you: There's no active torque management going on. It's coupled with the ability to individually apply the inside rear brake to enhance rotation. And as much as our mind prefers a direct-acting differential distributing the power, it's hard to argue with the result. There's a level of control available here we wouldn't have thought possible.
The 2014 Ford Fiesta ST was developed at Ford's Lommel proving ground in Belgium by people who clearly understand the proper way to make a front-drive car both fun and rapid. Ultimately, because of its twist-beam rear axle, the Fiesta lacks the level of control offered in the Focus, but you'll need a fairly rough road to discern those differences. Plus, its smaller dimensions offer more latitude to place it where you choose.
The final component of the ST's character is sound. And it is good. Like the Mustang and Focus ST, the Fiesta utilizes a sound symposer, which is basically a tube tuned to pump the good intake sounds into the cockpit. At wide-open throttle the honk is better than it should be from a 1.6-liter four.
Compromised but Still Practical
Functionally, the ST's interior is the same as a standard Fiesta save one major difference: the optional Recaro seats. Though being critical of seats that locate the driver and passenger this well is admittedly nitpicky, these are large, unwieldy things that demand comment.
Their bolsters are too big, especially in a car as small as the Fiesta. Certainly they offer ample lateral support, but the huge side bolsters interfere with our elbows during steering and ingress/egress. Having supportive seats in a car that deserves them is a must, but having them interfere with driving and utility isn't. There are seats that serve both camps well and these aren't them.
A leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob are standard on the ST. Otherwise, this is the same relatively functional interior we like in the standard Fiesta. Sync comes with a smaller 6.5-inch touchscreen here and offers the same benefits and frustrations it does in other Ford products.
The rear seats don't fold completely flat, but we still found enough room in the cargo area to stuff a mountain bike with its front tire removed. It's not big, but the Fiesta, as with most subcompacts, uses its space efficiently.
Ford claims 29 mpg combined. Our tester produced 25.5 mpg during almost 800 miles of mixed driving — none of which was performed with an eye toward fuel economy.
With a base price of $22,195 including destination, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST stands as one of the best performance values on offer today. Our car, equipped with the $1,995 Recaros and $795 navigation system stickered for $24,445.
Ironically, the Fiesta's biggest competition comes from within. The Focus ST, which can be had for $24,910 without options, is temptingly close. A stripped Fiat 500 Abarth (a very different car, and one that's not as good in many ways) can be had for $22,800.
It comes down to what you want. And if what you want is five-door utility packaged in one of the most entertaining driver's cars sold today, you'll not find it for less anywhere else.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.