First things first: the ride. That’s what you’ll notice initially. Set off in a Fiesta ST and within a few metres it’ll occur to you that this is quite a firm set-up.
The ST isn’t harsh – it doesn’t crash – but it moves all of a piece, with significant vertical interference. It’s sufficient to make you think: “I hope this is worth it.” At low to moderate speeds, you could almost wonder whether it’s worth the trouble over a Fiesta Zetec S, which is a car that has a fine ride/handling balance.
It’s all right: it is worth the trouble. Because as you increase the speed, the Fiesta’s demeanour begins to sort itself out. The immaculate control of body movement works decisively with the driver, not against him or her.
Control of each of its four 205/40 ZR17 tyres, meanwhile, is exceptional, with a ride that remains flat and, across bad roads at speed, kicks you off line far less than you’d expect, given the low-speed firmness.
There’s genuine excellence at work here, and it has the measure of not just the latest Clio 200 and the 208 GTI but just about every other hot hatch on sale, too. Perhaps a Mégane Cup, at a rather hairier price, would match the Fiesta for involvement – and beat it for pace, inevitably – but the Fiesta steers just as pleasingly and is the more agile.
It is inevitable that a new hot hatch from the supermini class has electric assistance to its steering, but the ST’s has excellent tuning. At 2.4 turns lock to lock, it’s pretty brisk but never nervous, and despite the speed and electric assistance, there’s still that very Ford build-up of torque from around the straight-ahead.
There’s a bit of feel, too, which will please many. At the limit, the handling is all-round excellent. In short, it’s the new best-handling small hatch around.