It’s still an absolute peach to drive, and not just because I’ve swapped straight from the XR2i. It’s immediately obvious that its chassis comes from the other side of Ford’s rediscovery of good driving dynamics. The ST has plenty of grip, good steering feel behind its power assistance and a handling balance that gets close to elasticated sweatpants for ease of adjustability.
Essex back roads quickly show that the ST feels vastly more composed when travelling quickly than either of its predecessors and its chassis has many more answers to awkward questions. It’s reactive and agile, with a degree of throttle adjustability that’s missing from the XR2i.
Yet I’m also reminded of why the ST struggled against the similar-priced R56-series Mini Cooper S and Renault Clio 182. It’s just not that fast. The 2.0-litre engine is adrift on power and needs to be beaten to deliver, with short gearing doing little to disguise the fundamental dearth of punch. It’s a sweet thing – nice enough to have me researching prices in the classifieds as soon as I get out – but it isn’t the best hot Fiesta.
Ford Fiesta Mk6 ST
Power 179bhp 0-60mph 6.7sec Years produced 2013-present
And now we're bang up to date with the still-current Mk6 Fiesta ST, which has served as the basis for the ST200. It also manages to be something that none of its predecessors were: a truly international hot Fiesta. Whereas the earlier cars were built in Europe for European tastes, this ST is sold around the world.
You’ll be unsurprised to hear that the Mk6 ST feels like it’s in a different league from the other cars here and maybe even playing a different sport. Before today, I would never have described this Fiesta’s cabin as feeling upmarket, but this boxfresh example feels like a well-appointed toy shop compared with even the decade-old Mk5 ST’s, with soft mouldings, climate control and even a colour display screen on top of the dashboard.
That’s obvious enough, though. More surprising is the way that, on the road, this ST proves to have far more dynamic bandwidth than the older ones, feeling vastly more comfortable and also sharper than all bar the original ST. The turbocharged engine pulls hard, and although there’s some lag, especially at low revs, this adds to rather than subtracts from the experience. Grip levels are much higher than in any of the other generations, but this ST is easy to place on the road and just as throttle-adjustable as the first one.
The really interesting observation comes when you consider money, with a new Fiesta ST-1 costing £17,645 without haggling. That is, obviously enough, the highest here by a considerable margin, but when you plug its predecessors’ prices into a historic price calculator, the result is that, with inflation factored into the equation, the Mk6 ST is a bargain. The 1989 XR2’s £8430 works out at £20,400 in 2016 money, the XR2i’s £11,553 becomes £21,600 and the Mk5 ST’s £13,595 becomes £18,300. Not bad considering the Mk6 ST has almost twice the power of the XR2.
If this were a straight group test, the current ST would win in the same way that a flamethrower beats a snowflake. Nearly three decades of evolution show just how far the supermini has come. But nostalgia is a powerful force and, given a free choice, I’d drive home in the XR2 and keep it for ever. It’s rough and ready, but it’s also the most charismatic car here.