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Life with a Ford Fiesta ST-Line: Month 3
Our car meets a forebear, but are the family ties easy to spot? - 4th July 2018
I recently caught sight of a lovely old Ford Fiesta XR2 that is part of Ford UK’s Heritage fleet and resembles our Fiesta ST-Line longtermer. It’s red, sits on silver wheels, features beefed-up styling and looks decidedly purposeful for its size.
That got me thinking: is a 1980s hot hatch comparable to a modern warm hatch on the road too? Has Ford, perhaps by accident as much as design, created a modern incarnation of the XR2 with this most peppy version of its standard Fiesta? The numbers suggest so.
Our car, with the most powerful variant of Ford’s 998cc triple, troubles its front wheels with 138bhp – 42bhp more than the 1.6-litre Escort XR3-sourced four-pot under the XR2’s angular snout. But Ford Heritage’s 29-year-old machine weighs just 839kg, which means it’s 305kg lighter than the newcomer. Power-to-weight is, therefore, fairly close, with the XR2 offering 114bhp per tonne to the ST-Line’s 121bhp. That light weight should leave the XR2 feeling sprightlier on the road.
To test this theory, I headed to Ford’s Dagenham site, where the XR2 and other classics are let out from under their dust covers only on very rare occasions.
Hopping into the boxy XR2 was like stepping back in time. Whereas our new car’s cabin feels tough and protective, the old one’s is airy and offers even better visibility thanks to those frighteningly slim pillars. The XR2 vibrates when the engine fires into life and there’s a strong smell of unburned petrol during cold running. Ah, nostalgia.
On the road, the XR2 is hard work. There’s no power-assisted steering so low-speed manoeuvrability requires muscle, although once you’re moving, the large-diameter wheel offers plenty of feedback. The throttle-cable-connected engine also feels deliciously responsive, albeit not particularly potent, but it’s the brakes that really grab your attention because they require a heavy press of the middle pedal to have any impact.
Our Fiesta, by contrast, has highly assisted brakes typical of modern cars (bitey at the top of the pedal), an engine with lowdown lag and very light steering that only provides information as to how the tyres up front are getting on when you really load them up through a bend. But the new car, somehow, doesn’t feel any less fun for it.
When you wind the Ecoboost motor up, the ST-Line exudes energy. It does so in a very different way to the old Fiesta, and it doesn’t lean and buzz like that car as you drive enthusiastically, but it’s quick to respond to steering inputs – far more so than the XR2 – and pulls hard when you work it through the meat of its torque band (which peaks at 1500rpm).