Ford’s third-generation Fiesta ST: King of the (back) road

Road test: Fiesta ST still the sweetest small hot hatch but by slimmer margin

Ford Fiesta ST
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Year: 2018
Fuel: Petrol

The last Fiesta ST stood clear of its rivals, atop a podium step that they just couldn’t reach. It was fast, fun, spirited and (relatively) affordable and a few seconds of pressing the throttle and turning the steering wheel was all it took to have you hooked. Only class-A narcotics are more addictive than a Fiesta ST on a twisting, turning, back road.

This new one, though? Honestly, for the first couple of minutes, I thought that Ford had got it all wrong and possibly even ruined the mightiest of small hot hatches. Perhaps it was because I had spent too much time listening to the rave reviews coming from colleagues, and maybe my expectations for instant satiation were too high, but I genuinely worried for a moment.

It’s the steering, you see. The old Fiesta ST had steering sharper than a razor, that felt immediately and enduringly brilliant. This new model takes a bit more getting used to, in the steering department. At first, it feels a little too artificial and syrupy in its movements, like a video game trying to electronically replicate what steering should feel like. It’s only with a bit of time, a touch of velocity, and some heat in the front tyres that you really start to gel with the ST’s helm.

For the first time, the Fiesta ST is powered by a three-cylinder engine. It’s related to the 1.5-litre unit found in the Mondeo, but here has been tweaked for 200hp and 290Nm of torque. In a car weighing 1,283kg, that’s not half bad, and the claimed 6.5sec 0-100km/h time tells only a part of the story. Tickle along in ‘normal’ mode and you could drive the Fiesta ST all day without knowing that it has a performance engine on board. It’s smooth, flexible and even very economical. Ford claims you should get about six litres per 100km on the combined cycle (47mpg) and that’s a figure that seems entirely realistic, aided by a cylinder shutdown system that cuts power to one of the pistons when you’re on a light throttle.

Sport mode

Switch to ‘sport’ though, and start extending your right leg a little more, and you’ll soon see why this little EcoBoost goes straight in at the top of the chart of our favourite engines. While you can – just – tell that it’s a three-cylinder engine, when you rev it, it feels not only stronger but also much more melodious than you might expect. There’s much roaring, banging and growling as your speed rises, and it’s all hugely entertaining, backed up by a sweet six-speed manual gearshift.

Find the right road and the Fiesta ST really comes to life. That steering, about which earlier we were so worried? Shouldn’t have been. That syrupy feel never quite goes away, but beneath that is seriously impressive road feel and feedback, which gives you oodles of confidence to push harder, and which keeps you fully informed about just how much grip you have available. Which is a lot – our ST3-spec model came with the optional front mechanical differential, which helps to sniff out more traction than you might otherwise find. It creates the occasional odd tug through the steering, and isn’t quite so good at trimming the car’s cornering line as you might expect, but it’s still very beneficial, especially in the wet.

As with all the best performance cars, the Fiesta ST gets better the quicker you go and the harder the questions you ask of it. The ride quality – a little too stiff on the optional 18-inch wheels at low speeds – smooths out as the revs rise, while the chassis and engine just seem puppy-dog eager for whatever you might try to throw at them. It’s a staggeringly enjoyable car on the right road, and not even too shabby on the wrong road (ie: one with lots of straights and no corners).

It has some static appeal, too. Those big alloys may harm the ride, but they help the looks, as does the 'Performance Blue' paint. The cabin is mostly nicely made, the big SYNC3 touchscreen is good, and the extra little fillets of carbon fibre are welcome. The high-backed Recaro bucket seats look amazing, and are incredibly supportive, but they're a touch too snug unless your name is Kylie Minogue.

If there is a problem for the Fiesta ST it’s in the competition, which has edged closer to it. The old Fiesta ST led its class by enough that it could barely be seen in the distance. This new one is every bit as brilliant, but it finds the likes of the revised Mini Cooper S, and the less frantic, but very satisfying, VW Polo GTI much closer to its heels than before. Ford needs to keep an eye on the price, too. Our test car’s price – €31,660 – is starting to look a touch steep, especially when one considers what a bargain the likes of the Skoda Octavia RS is – the bigger, more powerful Skoda is only a couple of thousand more expensive in its most basic form.

Still, given a bit of time to acclimatise to that steering, the new Fiesta ST retains the crown lifted by its predecessor. Proof that, in all of motoring, there’s nothing better than a really good hot hatch.

The lowdown: Ford Fiesta ST

Price: €31,660 as tested; Fiesta starts at €16,650.

Power: 200hp.

Torque: 290Nm.

0-100kmh: 6.5sec.

Top speed: 232km/h.

Claimed economy: 47.1mpg (6.0 litres/100km).

CO2 emissions: 136g/km.

Motor tax: €280.

Verdict: Not as raw and immediate as before, but still brilliant, still fun, still very fast.

Our rating: 4/5