The Golf R is almost two seconds quicker to 62mph than the Mountune – 4.9sec vs 6.6sec
VW's Golf R is effortlessly quick – much more so cross-country than the Fiesta ST3 Mountune
The Golf is far less adjustable on track; the ST3 trounces it in terms of fun factor
The Golf's cabin is the usual well built, quality environment we'd expect from VW
The Golf R uses an uprated version of the GTI's turbocharged four-pot, with new internals and turbo system making 296bhp
The Golf remains as practical a choice as ever
The R's Haldex four-wheel drive system affords massive grip and traction
VW's claim is that the R can manage a 40.9mpg average; we recorded a less impressive 28.7mpg average
The Golf R sits 5mm lower than its GTI stablemate
The ST3 is a good value proposition at almost £11,000 less than the R
The ST3 rides 15mm lower than standard on 7.5in-wide 17in wheels
The Fiesta's cabin is not as plush at that of the Golf and its seats lack tilt adjustment
The ST3 Mountune is lightly tuned over standard to produce 212bhp
The Fiesta's steering is exceptionally precise and communicative
The Golf's grip is fantastic – we have recorded more than 0.9g in corners
The Fiesta looses none of its class-leading practicality
Travel in the Fiesta is less luxurious than it is in the more expensive Golf
The R's classy cabin is trimmed with leather and Alcantara
The Fiesta may be slower but it trumps the R for sheer thrills in corners
The Golf R is supremely quick in turns but its handling is not as enjoyable as that of the ST3 Mountune
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.
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.
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.
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