It's the battle of the hot hatchbacks as one of our favourites from the field, the 212bhp Ford Fiesta ST, faces off against the 296bhp Volkswagen Golf R

On the face of it, the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Golf R seem a strange pair to throw into the ring together.

Would anyone with the necessary £31k for a near-300bhp, four-wheel-drive mega-Golf really be likely to settle for a front-driven Ford Fiesta ST – even if it did come for two-thirds of the VW’s price? Or what about Mr Fiesta? Could he really find the extra £11,000 and manage the higher running costs of the Golf – even if we urged him to? In the latter case, perhaps not - but the former isn’t the craziest suggestion we’ve ever heard.

That is, of course, because the Fiesta ST is brilliant to drive. It enters this particular fray as defending affordable fun champ, having done enough 12 months ago to see off the challenge of a Caterham Supersport, a BBR-tuned Mazda MX5 and other rivals hailing from nearer the new Golf R’s price point than its own. It’s got pedigree, then.

And it’s appearing here in enhanced form – with the niceties that the new ‘ST3’ trim brings and the extra power and pace delivered by official tuner Mountune’s engine makeover.

Even so, upstaging a 296bhp VW Golf R should surely be too much to expect of a 212bhp Ford Fiesta. There are almost two clear seconds between their 0-62mph stats (4.9sec vs 6.6sec) and a world of difference between them on desirability. When classy German technical sophistication comes up against indefatigable blue-collar get-up-and-go, there is usually only one winner. But not in this case.

Drive them back to back out on the road, though, and you may at first be very glad you spent your £31,315 on the roomy, comfy, expertly constructed and DSG-dual-clutch automatic gearbox-equipped Volkswagen.

In simple, tangible terms, the Golf R offers much more than the Ford. It’s seriously fast anywhere and everywhere, relative to a Ford whose performance begins to feel a bit less generous on the motorway. On an open B-road, you could drive the Golf away from the Fiesta without trying too hard; chuck in enough corners and the Ford could live with the Volkswagen’s pace, but only for a while.

Key to the Golf’s pace is its unconditional grip and stability. This is probably the most usable hot hatchback of them all. The car’s gearbox is quick to kick down and always ready with plenty of torque, and its four-wheel drive system never fails to put every morsel down onto the road.

Read the full Ford Fiesta ST review

Picking up big speed and carrying it from point to point is superbly easy, thanks to a chassis tuned with enough compliance for it not to jolt you out of your seat or trouble your concentration when the surface turns nasty. The car handles keenly enough, but isn’t so pointy that it’s ever directionally hyperactive or misbehaved. Bump steer, torque steer and tramlining all are familiar dynamic foibles in most powerful hatchbacks. Not so in a Golf R.

Move to a track and the VW continues in the same vein, providing simplicity through invisible sophistication. It isn’t interested in loutish provocation or showing you how much power it can throw at its rear wheels by way of a long powerslide. Nor is it a machine to hustle into the apex on the ragged edge like an old-school Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.

Instead, it just encourages you to drive properly; to get your entry speed and track positioning right, to be smooth and well timed with pedals and wheel and to take full advantage of the car’s slight bias for stability and unflinching traction.

Where the Golf R flows from apex to exit with fluent, sure-footed ease, the Fiesta ST storms its way around corners with hilarious abandon. On a B-road the Ford can occasionally require more from you than the VW.

It’ll surprise you now and again by tugging at your fingertips through a cambered bend, or by darting through a change of direction a shade quicker than you were expecting. Its balance of grip is much more lively and playful than that of the Golf and its rear axle is quite easily cajoled into a few degrees of slip angle when unloaded – but instinctively brought back into line.

Read the full Volkswagen Golf R review

And to drive the ST on track is to instantly understand the full extent of its dynamic genius. Though direct, the Ford never feels nervous or poorly resolved. You can drive it like the Golf if you want to; grip levels are high, stability is good, and the ESP system unintrusive and reassuring. It’s no slouch, either – particularly over the last 1500rpm of the rev band, where Mountune’s engine mods make for great flexibility. 

Within three laps, you’ll be doing things in the Fiesta you simply couldn’t contemplate in the Golf – and while these things don’t necessarily make you quicker, they certainly paint a broader grin on your face. They’re the kinds of things hot hatchbacks used to do before wheel sizes and power outputs got out of control. Mid-corner lift-off oversteer is on demand through the slower corners while it delivers a perfectly predictable adjustability of attitude through the faster stuff.

It’s made possible by excellent steering precision and by enough feel to know how much grip is left at the driving wheels all the time, by brilliantly juggled grip levels that allow you to chuck the car into a corner with amazing confidence, come what may, and by superbly habitable margins between grip and slip.

The Golf wants to go fast, and makes going fast easy; come rain or shine, it does both very well indeed. The Fiesta’s a fast car, but it isn’t so bothered about your prevailing speed so long as you’re enjoying yourself. The former is incredibly capable and effective, the latter trades a bit of stability and ease of use for riotous, scrabbling involvement and fun. And when push comes to shove, we’ll take ‘fun’ every time.

Get the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below:

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Golf R is the fastest production Volkswagen currently
The new Golf R is faster than any production Volkswagen before it

Does this new engine and platform reform the buttoned-down R?

Join the debate

Comments
14

5 July 2014
Id be happy with either car & interested to know some lap times for each, in the dry & the wet.

5 July 2014
I think its about time that Ford reintroduced the Puma, it was a hit last time, there is no reason why it could not be again, especially given the the quality of the current Fiesta platform as a starting point.

5 July 2014
Regardless of the reason for pitting these together I find it very unfair in the first place. Why did they not pit the golf against a Focus? Or better still pit the Focus against the Polo? The writer kept harping on about Golf quality, lardy dah, I find it biased as indeed the new Fords are as opulent as the VWs, its time journalists get up to date and drop the old cliche that Fords are for lower market customers which is an insult to its fans and also the manufacturer that continues to churn out cars that can compete on performance and dynamics and is leagues ahead on innovation and pricing!

5 July 2014
You may as well have compared the Fiesta to a Mercedes S-Class(!) Take note of sarcasm there! I get that you're trying to make the point that you don't need to spend a lot for a car like the Golf R to be fun. But why are you that stupid enough to compare a Fiesta ST with a much bigger, much more powerful and much more expensive Golf R? Especially when they're both doing their own kind of thing and are brilliant enough in their own ways Next time, pit the Fiesta ST against the newly updated Polo GTI, which is coming out pretty soon, or maybe even against the new Mini Cooper. That Cooper and the Cooper S version are both so closely priced and have similar on-paper performance to both the "standard" Fiesta ST and this Mountune Fiesta ST, respectively. And if you haven't done it already, pit the Golf R with it's brother, the Golf GTI.

5 July 2014
Why do some people think you should only test two cars if they are equally priced direct rivals? What's wrong with comparing cars like this pair? They set out to appeal to similar types of driver so let's see exactly what you get for your extra money. You could call the Fiesta the poor man's Golf, but clearly it's much more than that, as this informative comparison makes clear. Factczech please stop whining and take note of the last sentence. Unfair, my *rse. And it's totally unbalanced to compare a test against the Golf with a test against an S-Class.

5 July 2014
275not599 wrote:
What's wrong with comparing cars like this pair? They set out to appeal to similar types of driver
Really? A driver who has £20k to spend -v- a driver who has £31k to spend? A driver who want's 3dr and claustrophobic rear cabin -v- driver who wants space - a genuine 5 seater that can be had in 5dr format? A driver who would have trouble fitting a putter in to the boot -v- a driver who can place a couple of golf bags + carts? A driver who is going to struggle for traction in winter with all that power going thru wide tyres -v- 4 wheel drive. etc. They are not set out to appeal to similar types of drivers, their drivers couldn't be more different. Whilst the Ford will almost exclusively be aimed at the youth market, the Golf will attract a more mature buyer. It may be a fun exercise, but as others say, you may as well compare a Golf with an S-Class. Actually that's not a bad idea... You could valet park at the Ritz equally in an S-Class or a Golf and not feel out of place. The Fiesta? Does KFC do valet parking?

6 July 2014
I could easily choose to spend Golf R money or Fiesta money on a hot hatch. It's an interesting comparison and I like this article for daring to make it. Spending £11k less and then affording a new Ducati has its appeal. Not everybody only has one car and operates to the maximum limit of their finance budget. I'm actually very intererested to read comparisons between cars with similar aims but at different price points.

6 July 2014
scotty5 wrote:
275not599 wrote:
What's wrong with comparing cars like this pair? They set out to appeal to similar types of driver
Really? A driver who has £20k to spend -v- a driver who has £31k to spend? A driver who want's 3dr and claustrophobic rear cabin -v- driver who wants space - a genuine 5 seater that can be had in 5dr format? A driver who would have trouble fitting a putter in to the boot -v- a driver who can place a couple of golf bags + carts? A driver who is going to struggle for traction in winter with all that power going thru wide tyres -v- 4 wheel drive. etc. They are not set out to appeal to similar types of drivers, their drivers couldn't be more different. Whilst the Ford will almost exclusively be aimed at the youth market, the Golf will attract a more mature buyer. It may be a fun exercise, but as others say, you may as well compare a Golf with an S-Class. Actually that's not a bad idea... You could valet park at the Ritz equally in an S-Class or a Golf and not feel out of place. The Fiesta? Does KFC do valet parking?
A driver with £11k in his pocket

6 July 2014
scotty5 wrote:
275not599 wrote:
What's wrong with comparing cars like this pair? They set out to appeal to similar types of driver
Really? A driver who has £20k to spend -v- a driver who has £31k to spend? A driver who want's 3dr and claustrophobic rear cabin -v- driver who wants space - a genuine 5 seater that can be had in 5dr format? A driver who would have trouble fitting a putter in to the boot -v- a driver who can place a couple of golf bags + carts? A driver who is going to struggle for traction in winter with all that power going thru wide tyres -v- 4 wheel drive. etc. They are not set out to appeal to similar types of drivers, their drivers couldn't be more different. Whilst the Ford will almost exclusively be aimed at the youth market, the Golf will attract a more mature buyer. It may be a fun exercise, but as others say, you may as well compare a Golf with an S-Class. Actually that's not a bad idea... You could valet park at the Ritz equally in an S-Class or a Golf and not feel out of place. The Fiesta? Does KFC do valet parking?
Ok, probably explains why VW continues to churn out the same boring design; to please its pretentious customer base.

5 July 2014
Comparisons of this kind do cause controversy but also make readers sit up and read. It's a seminal comparison. One is lugubrious, sleep-inducing and pretentious. The other is a genuine hot hatch that defies logic, price and size. And isn't that what it's all about?

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week