From £18,9959
Invites exuberance like little else at this price point and does so without overly compromising its everyday billing

What is it?

At the back end of last year, fast Ford fan clubs across the country cracked out the caterpillar cakes to mark the 40th anniversary of a car that is arguably the very embodiment of the phrase 'cult hero': the Fiesta XR2

At around the same time, Ford revealed an updated version of that pepper-potted delinquent’s modern-day descendant, the Ford Fiesta ST, which is an automotive rarity in arguably matching its hallowed forebear for both enthusiast appeal and critical acclaim, helping to appease the bluest-blooded fast Ford fans, who are no doubt still raging about the mainstream rebirth of the Mustang and Puma nameplates. 

A more aggressive front end treatment, upgraded driver aid package and digital gauge cluster are the defining differentiators from the pre-facelift ST, but you'll also have clocked the new Mean Green paint option (Snot Rocket must already have been trademarked). 

Arguably more significant is what's no longer offered: the three-door version, which has bitten the dust in line with Ford's ploy to streamline its line-up and clear order backlogs as it prepares to go all-electric. The standard car now exclusively has four entrances and exits as well, which – aside from whether you think the proportions and usability have been enhanced – does rather bring into question the supermini's ongoing viability, particularly when the larger (and thus now more popular) Ford Puma can be had for roughly the same money - including as a souped-up ST. 

What's it like?

The mid-life tweaks being as subtle as they are, there is no tangible impact on the way the Fiesta ST drives, which is still emphatically one of the most charismatic and rewarding driving experiences offered by anything south of the £100,000 mark.

The grumbling turbo three-pot has been breathed on to produce an ounce or two more torque but is otherwise left untouched, so it still naughtily rasps through a purposeful-looking sports exhaust and endows the fast Fiesta with both the bite (if not a very inspiring bark) to worry cars pumping out several times its power.

In day-to-day driving scenarios and with a carefully placed right foot, there's not a great deal to tell this apart from the common-or-garden 1.0-litre Ford Fiesta - which is absolutely an attribute. The engine is never overbearing at idle or part-throttle, the brakes are effective but none too grabby and the performance tweaks don't diminish the low-speed manoeuvrability, all of which strengthens the ST's credentials as one of few properly sorted sports cars that aren't a chore to use for the weekly supermarket run. That is, if you avoid the speed bumps on the way in: this apex-hunting suspension set-up is not one that translates into a refined treatment of potholes and the like. 

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The zippy three-pot is best deployed in tighter environments, where you can leave the ’box in third and keep the turbo on song between corners for a slicker and more instantaneous power delivery, but off the mark and right up to the speed limit (a sprint over which it will keep pace with the Mazda MX-5), this is a properly characterful motor. 

And it’s matched by a chassis that’s just as encouraging and supportive of ten-tenths driving. The steering is razor sharp, suitably hefty off centre and chattier than Alan Carr after a coffee, and it doesn’t get all out of shape if you put the power on before exiting a corner, which, together with the super-stiff suspension preventing all but a hint of roll, inspires confidence to push it where appropriate. 

These are less welcome traits in town and over rougher stretches of road, when the road noise and overly firm ride conspire to wipe the smile off your face at times, and even with a new gauge cluster and upgraded infotainment system in place, the cabin environment feels a bit more drab than you might expect of a near-£30,000 car. And would that first gear were a touch longer to do away with the somewhat inelegant process of quick-shifting your way across junctions and the like.  

But these are relatively small flies in the ointment, and far from troublesome enough to overlook what could be the finest and final iteration of the hot Fiesta as we know it.

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Should I buy one?

You would really struggle to dislike the Ford Fiesta ST. The Hyundai i20 N is quicker and more dramatic, and the Volkswagen Polo GTI arguably a plusher everyday companion, but the unwavering cheekiness and enduring grin factor on offer here are such that its foibles are easily forgiven. Ford didn't need to change much to keep its pocket rocket in the top spot, and so it hasn't - and while buyers might feel a tad short-changed by its humdrum cabin and rocky ride, they can rest safe in the knowledge that much more expensive performance cars suffer the same compromise.

You could argue the Fiesta ST is on a par with even the venerable Toyota GR Yaris for charisma and accessible engagement. All right, the pricier Japanese car has an extra 60bhp, a second driven axle and the promise of firmer residuals courtesy of its superior exclusivity, but the casual keen driver would have just as much of a laugh on the right road in either. 

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Fiesta XR2 6 June 2022

No 3 door? Blasphemy!

prynne 1 June 2022

I'm sure it goes well but typical hideous Ford styling.

The Apprentice 30 May 2022
You would just buy an I20N for mere 25k, still well loaded, more power, more warranty, probably more reliable. Ford could at least try to compete on price!