What is it?
Impossible not to like the Ford Fiesta ST. Terrific handling, dainty styling, lively engine, cheap to buy and cheap to run - the Blue Oval nailed the supermini 'must-have' list like Marvel making an Avengers movie. The result arrived in 2013 – long enough to make it seem overdue – but also overtly good enough to immediately install itself as the spiritual successor to the rowdy perfectionism of the Peugeot 205 GTI and Renault Sport Clio 182.
Ford has sat on its laurels for three years, and doubtless used the model’s overwhelming popularity as an internal reason for not building an RS version. However, with the next Fiesta now incoming, it has finally opted to very gently remake its masterpiece as a faster prospect – equipping it with the 197bhp that earns it a new ST200 badge.
While the extra power seems modest, it comes with a slightly convoluted explanation. Technically speaking, the standard ST (still on sale beneath the special edition variant) already produces 197bhp – however, because it’s part of a temporary overboost function, Ford has never advertised it that way in the UK. Now, that figure is the steady-state, big-font number. Simple.
Except that the overboost remains, meaning that for 20 seconds of bulkhead-finding footwork you get 212bhp – the same 15bhp which stays in the grey and off the spec. To complicate matters further, it’s worth mentioned that Mountune, the Blue Oval’s chummy tuner, will already sell you a very simple kit to extract 212bhp from your ST (in fact, you can have one that produces 227bhp) – and it doesn’t set a time limit on the overboost. Ford knows this of course, and to help dissociate the ST200 from any sibling rivalry, it has deliberately equipped its flagship model with a shortened final drive ratio – an alteration unavailable to the tuner.
What's it like?
The net result of the gearing and the engine changes (essentially the same airbox/filter/chip transplant as with Mountune’s MP215 pack) is a slightly faster 0-62mph sprint and improved in-gear acceleration. The 0.2sec gain claimed for off-the-line performance sounds credible when driving the car – which is another way of saying it’s hardly distinguishable at all.
The ST200 picks up its skirt in almost exactly the same way as the standard ST - which is to say with irrepressible keenness and admirable traction but not a whole lot more recognisable energy (unless you count the mildly spicier sound waves coming from the airbox and sound symposer). Instead, it’s the ratio fettling and the overboost delivery of 236lb ft of torque – up from 213lb ft – that makes the latest model seem perkier and that bit more eager to please when in higher gears.
If that sounds more amenable, it is – and that makes it conducive to other changes being applied to the ST. These were cooked up specifically for the ST200 but have subsequently been applied to all versions of the model produced since last summer to help justify the costs incurred. They occur mainly in the chassis, where efforts to improve the car’s composure have led to a significantly stiffer rear twist beam, its resistance to roll climbing by almost a third.
At the front, a bigger anti-roll bar features. With torsional rigidity increased, Ford has been able to gently slacken off the spring and damper rates – and it’s the moderate advancement in basic compliance that ought to be noticeable to anyone trading in an older ST. The electrically assisted steering has been retuned to match the new settings; its sinewy enthusiasm for self-centring has been unchanged by an attempt to make the car’s initial rate of turn feel even more rigorous.
By and large, this all works a treat – mainly because rather than feeling like an ST that’s been significantly tampered with, it drives like a car coming triumphantly to the end of its life cycle (with any construction kinks firmly behind it). Only very occasionally does one yearn for the roller-skate robustness of the earlier chassis – it may ultimately prove to be the more throttle-adjustable version – but the aggregate of unyielding solidity in the steering column, tight-bodied response and an even more earnest accumulation of speed is the best-made, most convincing all-round ST yet.
It won’t be trumped in this generation, either, given Ford’s emphatic confirmation that it will go no further in the power output stakes. That seems eminently sensible; the ST200’s electronically controlled front-end torque vectoring is probably better than it has any right to be, but it’s clear from this showing that it’s at the limit of what you’d reasonably want to put through the front axle before things get needlessly messy.
Should I buy one?
It's a fairly safe bet that plenty of people will. The remainder of the ST200's garnish is minimal - Storm Grey paint, matt-black alloys, a brace of Recaros and some badging about covers it - but Ford has proven this sort of cosmetic fodder highly popular in the past. The fact that it hasn't limited the model's volume suggests it is preparing plenty of space in the order book for the run-out version.
Clearly, the model doesn't represent better value for money than the entry-level ST-1, still an outrageous steal for £17,745. But the ST200's extra poke is desirable, nonetheless, and the new badge comes with a good deal more resale kudos than the likeable Mountune equivalent. As a rival to the likes of the Mini JCW and Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy, its sticker is probably spot on. The car itself is just plain better. A fitting farewell for the finest supermini of its generation.
Ford Fiesta ST200
Location Nice, France; On sale Now; Price £22,745; Engine 4 cyls, 1596cc, turbo, petrol; Power 197bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 213lb ft at 2500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1163kg; Top speed 143mph; 0-62mph 6.7sec; Economy 46.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 140g/km, 25%