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.