MONTH after month, you’ll read headlines claiming that some new car is “the most eagerly anticipated car of the year”. But, in the case of the new Ford Fiesta ST, that may just be the truth.
You see, for hot hatch aficionados, the previous model was up there with the likes of the original Volkswagen Golf GTI and Peugeot 205 GTI, renowned as one of the best hot hatches ever.
However, when news first broke about this latest version, there were a few worried murmurs, not least because its engine has just three cylinders.
It’s perhaps also a little disappointing that this new ST doesn’t look all that different to some other Fiestas. Yes, it has a racy body kit, but you can get pretty much all of that on the cheaper ST-Line model.
Inside, too, the ST makeover is pretty subtle, with a sports steering wheel, sports pedals and carbon fibre-effect trim, but it’s not as classy as a Volkswagen Polo GTI.
On the other hand, when you fire up that three-cylinder engine and find an open road, you’ll soon realise where the ST’s strengths lie.
The first thing you notice is that the engine is a cracker, without any of the rough noise and vibrations that can affect three-cylinder units. It gives the car excellent performance, which is complemented by a slick gearchange and just the right combination of burbles and pops from the exhaust.
For all that sheer speed, where the ST really scores is with its chassis. Just as in the previous car, this Fiesta feels like it pivots around its driver; it’s agile and you can feel everything that’s going on through the seat of your pants.
Just a slight turn of the steering wheel will spear the car into a corner, and if you’re going too fast, lifting off the throttle will tuck the nose in and bring the rear end round. The result is a car that is engaging and exciting to drive — just like a proper hot hatch should be.
It’s also worth investing in the optional Performance Pack (£850), which gives you launch control and a limited-slip differential. This means that, as you accelerate away from a corner, the power is automatically split between the front wheels to ensure the best traction and rocket you away up the road.
However, it’s not all good news: while body control is superb, the feel through the steering wheel is a disappointment. It’s over-sensitive when you first turn the wheel and has a very strong self-centring action, which means the car can dart all over the road; and, when you turn the wheel further, it responds more slowly, so you never know quite where you are with it.
Secondly, although you expect a firm-ish ride in a hot hatch, the Fiesta ST errs on the side of bone-shaking. It’s so firm, in fact, that it could get wearing if you were to use it as a daily driver.
Some people may be prepared to put up with almost anything because the ST is so much fun to drive, but others may prefer a slightly more grown-up alternative, like the Polo GTI.
Then again, if you’re looking for a usable car that you can take for the occasional cross-country blast or on trackdays, the new Fiesta ST is just your sort of car — and a worthy successor to the previous model.
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Ford Fiesta ST rivals
Price £15,905 – £30,445 but save £2,262 on average at
Peugeot 208 GTI
Price £21,825 – £23,555 but save £4,002 on average at