Very good. Our drive so far has been limited to routes around Ford’s proving ground in Lommel, Belgium, and you’d expect a car developed there to feel good there.
In our experience (of most quick Fords for a generation), however, cars that drive well on Lommel’s varied surfaces also drive well on the real roads that a proving ground is meant to emulate. I’ll be astonished if the ST turns out to be a duffer when we drive it in the UK.
The driving position is pretty good, but not ideal for yours truly. I found the seat squab is too angled if you set it low, giving too much under the thigh, while the Ford's steering wheel doesn’t stretch quite close enough either.
It's best to sit a little higher with a more upright seat back for easy wheel-twiddling, I found. But it’s a small niggle: you can get comfortable enough in the Fiesta ST.
Around the rest of the cabin are dotted a few highlights that mark the Fiesta out from the cooking models. Nothing you wouldn’t expect, mind, just a few jewelled highlights, including a pleasingly sculpted (and round) steering wheel.
Mechanical detail, then. The motor fires to a quiet idle and the clutch and throttle actions and gearshift are slick. Ford chooses its control weights well, and the ST is no exception.
There’s a tiny amount of mechanical resistance on the gearshift (like you’re dragging a stick through Rice Krispies rather than oil) but it’s very precise and easy, and throttle response is good, with little appreciable lag at low revs.
Immediately the ride feels firm, but well damped. There’s a reasonable amount of vertical movement, but the ST doesn’t react harshly to the bumps that cause them. Yet it retains tight control of its body movements as a result of the tautness. Instantly it feels good.
It’s quick enough, too. The official claim is 6.9sec to 62mph and that feels about right, to me. Swapping cogs is easy and the engine revs with some enthusiasm to a 6500rpm redline.
As in the Focus ST, there’s a sound-symposer under the bonnet to increase induction noise – in essence, it’s a pipe running from the air inlet system to the dashboard, situated along which is a box containing a membrane like a loudspeaker’s.
It just amplifies the noise of air going into the engine, so it isn’t an artificial noise, nor is it active like a Focus ST’s – which valves it depending on throttle and revs. It’s just on, mutedly, all the time.
Personally, I liked it: sucky but not boomy. And quiet enough on a tickled throttle that a motorway cruise is easy and quiet, a good match for the car’s fine stability and sufficient comfort.
The Fiesta steers well, too, it’s slick and oily, with a decent simulation of the weight that you’d get from a hydraulic system: a gradual built up of resistance, as if you’re beginning to ease lateral pressure onto the car's tyres.
You’re not really feeling it, mind; electrically assisted systems, improving daily though they are, are still less communicative than the best hydraulic set-ups. (It’s a bit like listening to a digital rather than a real piano: so clean and consistent that you can sense it’s a replicant.)
Still, it’s better than even a half-decent hydraulic rack. Let’s not kid ourselves, carmakers can turn out good and bad steering systems regardless of the hardware; Ford does them well.
If you’re pushing on? The ST is happy to be pushing on with you. It turns with agility and, even in the damp conditions we tested the car, showed good traction even out of tight second-gear corners.
Across challenging cambers and crests, even if they arrive mid corner, the Fiesta’s body control is terrific and the chassis is composed and controllable. Not, it’s not as keenly focused as the recently departed Renaultsport Clio, but it isn’t really meant to be.
Eventually the Fiesta will push wide at the front first on a steady throttle and, in the dry, will apparently lift a rear wheel. Not in the damp, mind, but with some provocation - more than the Renault would ask - it’s happy to oversteer controllably on the way into a corner.
The stability control has three modes: on, sport, which will allow sufficient slip for most drivers even on a track day, or all off.
So it’s a giggle. Yes, it’s less hilarious than the previous-gen Clio (at the time writing we haven’t driven the latest one), but less wearing, too. In short, it’s where Ford intended it to be.