What is it?
Just possibly the Fiesta RS Ford seems unwilling to give us, having seemingly satisfied itself with the ST200 announced at Geneva. And who better to build it than Malcolm Wilson's M-Sport, well-versed in unleashing the rally potential in Fords with its WRC-spec Focuses and Fiestas. Bringing this experience to the road, the M-Sport Fiesta is sold as a complete car and comes with upgrades sourced from the firm's motorsport partners.
The £21,600 entry-level car is based on a £17,645 Fiesta ST-1 in either Frozen White or, for an additional £245, Spirit Blue. It comes fitted with the fully warrantied Mountune upgrade kit that boosts power from the standard 'steady state' 179bhp to 197bhp; on overboost, this increases from 197bhp to 212bhp. Included in the package is a Quaife limited-slip differential similar to the one fitted to the original Focus RS.
You also get 17in OZ Superturismo wheels, a prominent WRC-style rear wing, an M-Sport graphics package and a selection of branded interior trim including steering wheel, seats, mats and gearknob. Look under the sun visor and you'll see Malcolm Wilson's signature, the man himself ready to put his name to the car.
Not enough? Further options include a handling kit based on Eibach springs and custom-tuned Bilstein dampers and an Alcon brake kit with Goodridge hoses. You can also upgrade to a Pipercross/M-Sport induction kit (no performance gains claimed but it sounds good) and a louder backbox built by Chris Tullett Exhausts, the same company that supplies exhaust systems for M-Sport's WRC cars.
What's it like?
Like a Fiesta ST but more so - which can only be a good thing.
M-Sport's close relationship with Ford means it understands the Fiesta better than most, so the modifications are sympathetic to the car's spirit and enhance it without losing the character we already love so much. Our test car was fitted with the optional Bilstein/Eibach handling kit, the springs lowering the car by around 20mm.
Around town it's not shy, but then nor is the standard car. Where the investment shows is at higher speeds and on lumpy roads where M-Sport's rally experience begins to tell. Where the standard dampers can get a little ragged in extreme situations, the Bilsteins control rebound much more effectively, keeping the wheels planted on the ground without dialling out that trademark agility.
Meanwhile, the Quaife differential is only too keen to make the most of that celebrated keenness. With the tyres' contact patch more constant, there's improved traction, the M-Sport encouraging earlier and earlier throttle application and pulling itself through the turn, where the standard car scrabbles and relies on its electronic aids.
Unlike some powerful diff-equipped front-wheel drive cars, the Fiesta's pretty civilised under hard, straight-line acceleration too, with just the gentlest tug of the wheel over split-grip surfaces. Fun and confidence-inspiring up to the limit and exploitable and adjustable for those willing to drive slightly beyond it, M-Sport simply unleashes more of what we like in an already stellar package.
Should I buy one?
One of the most appealing qualities of the Fiesta ST package is its affordability, the £17,645 starting price for the ST-1 undercuts most rivals by a couple of thousand pounds, and it's also more fun and involving to drive. The £21,600 price of the M-Sport car puts it on equal terms with the Peugeot 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport (also equipped with a limited-slip diff) and much-improved Clio Renaultsport Trophy, which comes with a standard-fit double-clutch automatic gearbox.
Depending on how you crunch your numbers you could consider this a 'free' upgrade compared with rivals; the resulting Fiesta is a much more potent car, although perhaps a little more basic inside. The kind of enthusiasts attracted to this car will care more about the driving experience, though, and in that sense the M-Sport makes good on its rally breeding, combining old-school hot hatch thrills with modern safety, performance and usability.
The more in-your-face elements of the styling and interior package have a whiff of aftermarket about them, but in terms of the way it drives the M-Sport Fiesta has the feel of a factory product. If you love your fast Fords, it has performance, and provenance, that no other tuner can match.
Ford Fiesta ST M-Sport Edition
Location Lake District; On Sale Now; Price £21,600 (M-Sport package based on Fiesta ST-1 Mountune before options); Engine 4-cyl 1,595cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 212bhp* at 6000rpm; Torque 236lb ft* at 3000rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual; Kerb weight 1163kg; Top speed 137mph; 0-62mph 6.4sec; Economy 47.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 139g/km, 22%
*On temporary overboost