What is it?
It’s the latest fast Ford, the Ford Fiesta ST. The new ST is first production Fiesta to reach 62mph from rest in under seven seconds, which makes it sound particularly sprightly.
As well it might: it has 179bhp, which, although around 10 per cent less than the class’s fastest, should prove sufficient in a four-metre supermini that will weigh around 1100kg (official kerbweight hasn’t been released at the time of writing).
That power output – strong but not outstanding – should give you an idea of where Ford intends the Fiesta ST to sit in its range.
Unlike Renault or Peugeot, Ford doesn’t have one sporting line, it has ST and RS badges to use, with ST the daily drivers and RS the hardcore models. So, like the latest Focus ST, the Fiesta is meant to be enjoyable but not uncomfortable, fast but docile.
It costs from under £17,000 and is available in two trim levels – ST1 and ST2, imaginatively, with the latter £1000 more expensive and adding heated, part leather seats, DAB radio and a few other extras.
Power comes from a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-pot and drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. There’s no flappy paddle option, and neither is there a mechanical limited-slip differential – the preserve of RS models, you feel.
Instead, the Fiesta gets Torque Vectoring Control, an extension of the stability control that brakes a spinning inside wheel, replicating some of the effects of an LSD.
Suspension is 15mm lower than regular Fiestas, spring and damper rates are appropriately a mite stiffer, as is the rear torsion beam, while there are 17-in alloys wearing 205/40 Bridgestone Potenza all round.
The power steering is electrically assisted, and is a different, faster (2.4 turns) rack than on regular Fiestas, though remains linear: unlike a Servotronic, system it doesn’t get faster as you wind on more lock to increase agility.
What is it like?
Very good. Our drive so far has been limited to routes around Ford’s proving ground in Lommel, Belgium, and you’d expect a car developed there to feel good there.
In our experience (of most quick Fords for a generation), however, cars that drive well on Lommel’s varied surfaces also drive well on the real roads that a proving ground is meant to emulate. I’ll be astonished if the ST turns out to be a duffer when we drive it in the UK.
The driving position is pretty good, but not ideal for yours truly. I found the seat squab is too angled if you set it low, giving too much under the thigh, while the Ford's steering wheel doesn’t stretch quite close enough either.
It's best to sit a little higher with a more upright seat back for easy wheel-twiddling, I found. But it’s a small niggle: you can get comfortable enough in the Fiesta ST.
Around the rest of the cabin are dotted a few highlights that mark the Fiesta out from the cooking models. Nothing you wouldn’t expect, mind, just a few jewelled highlights, including a pleasingly sculpted (and round) steering wheel.
Mechanical detail, then. The motor fires to a quiet idle and the clutch and throttle actions and gearshift are slick. Ford chooses its control weights well, and the ST is no exception.
There’s a tiny amount of mechanical resistance on the gearshift (like you’re dragging a stick through Rice Krispies rather than oil) but it’s very precise and easy, and throttle response is good, with little appreciable lag at low revs.
Immediately the ride feels firm, but well damped. There’s a reasonable amount of vertical movement, but the ST doesn’t react harshly to the bumps that cause them. Yet it retains tight control of its body movements as a result of the tautness. Instantly it feels good.
It’s quick enough, too. The official claim is 6.9sec to 62mph and that feels about right, to me. Swapping cogs is easy and the engine revs with some enthusiasm to a 6500rpm redline.
As in the Focus ST, there’s a sound-symposer under the bonnet to increase induction noise – in essence, it’s a pipe running from the air inlet system to the dashboard, situated along which is a box containing a membrane like a loudspeaker’s.
It just amplifies the noise of air going into the engine, so it isn’t an artificial noise, nor is it active like a Focus ST’s – which valves it depending on throttle and revs. It’s just on, mutedly, all the time.
Personally, I liked it: sucky but not boomy. And quiet enough on a tickled throttle that a motorway cruise is easy and quiet, a good match for the car’s fine stability and sufficient comfort.
The Fiesta steers well, too, it’s slick and oily, with a decent simulation of the weight that you’d get from a hydraulic system: a gradual built up of resistance, as if you’re beginning to ease lateral pressure onto the car's tyres.
You’re not really feeling it, mind; electrically assisted systems, improving daily though they are, are still less communicative than the best hydraulic set-ups. (It’s a bit like listening to a digital rather than a real piano: so clean and consistent that you can sense it’s a replicant.)
Still, it’s better than even a half-decent hydraulic rack. Let’s not kid ourselves, carmakers can turn out good and bad steering systems regardless of the hardware; Ford does them well.
If you’re pushing on? The ST is happy to be pushing on with you. It turns with agility and, even in the damp conditions we tested the car, showed good traction even out of tight second-gear corners.
Across challenging cambers and crests, even if they arrive mid corner, the Fiesta’s body control is terrific and the chassis is composed and controllable. Not, it’s not as keenly focused as the recently departed Renaultsport Clio, but it isn’t really meant to be.
Eventually the Fiesta will push wide at the front first on a steady throttle and, in the dry, will apparently lift a rear wheel. Not in the damp, mind, but with some provocation - more than the Renault would ask - it’s happy to oversteer controllably on the way into a corner.
The stability control has three modes: on, sport, which will allow sufficient slip for most drivers even on a track day, or all off.
So it’s a giggle. Yes, it’s less hilarious than the previous-gen Clio (at the time writing we haven’t driven the latest one), but less wearing, too. In short, it’s where Ford intended it to be.
Should I buy one?
Sure. If you’re looking for an entertaining hot supermini that you could happily drive daily without it doing your head in, the Fiesta is as competent and capable as they come.
They might come more competent and capable in the next few weeks (as I write, we’re due to drive the new-generation Renaultsport Clio and Peugeot’s 208 GTi within the month), but if they’re as good as this, they’ll be good indeed.
Ford Fiesta ST
Price £16,995; 0-62mph 6.9sec; Top speed 137mph; Economy 48.0mpg; CO2 emissions 138g/km; Kerbweight 1100kg (est.); Engine 4cyls, 1596cc, turbo, petrol; Power 179bhp at 5700rpm; Torque 199lb ft at 1900-4000rpm; Gearbox 6spd manual