Turns out, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST is a gosh darned little whippersnapper of a car packaged in pea-sized sheet metal. Seriously, if you can’t tell immediately from looking at this hot hatch and its subtle aesthetic cues, once you sink into the driver’s seat, you’ll know that happy days are on their way. For years, Americans have been bitching and moaning that the “good cars” never make their way to this side of the pond. And that’s because car manufacturers have traditionally reserved their sportier flavors for European drivers, leaving us to splash around in our comfort zone of mass market cruisers with vague steering, unresponsive handling and sluggish performance.
Those days are now officially over. At least for Ford. Team RS in Europe and North America’s SVT have been brought under one global umbrella, so we now get virtually the same stuff with which the Europeans have been blessed for ages. Ford has tinkered with its genetic lineage and now offers a Global Performance Vehicle DNA that nudges the scales for spirited driving in all the right places – steering, handling, ride, braking, performance feel and seating comfort – resulting in much more aggressive offspring.
The Ford Fiesta ST is the second vehicle, after the Focus ST, to get a European style overhaul. The result is a holistic and extensive revamping both inside and out. The exterior benefits from a trapezoidal grill with honeycomb mesh, a rear diffuser, special 17-inch alloy wheels, twin chrome tipped exhaust pipes, side skirts, rear spoiler, revised bumper with integrated fog lights and special ST-only paint options including Race Red, Molten Orange and Spirit Blue.
Inside the cabin, the optional heavily bolstered Recaro sports seats provide a snug fit while a special leather-wrapped ST steering wheel and gearshift knob keep you connected to the car. Of course there are the ubiquitous metal pedals. And keeping with the latest automotive fad, Ford’s “Sound Symposer” introduces engine noises inside the cabin so you can hear what’s going on under the hood.
The suspension is rejiggered for better body control, cornering and steering precision by way of new front knuckles with shorter arms, a unique rear twist beam, tighter springs and dampers and a ride height reduced by .6 inches for a lower center of gravity. In addition, the electric power-steering system has had a firmer tune for better responsiveness and feedback.
Stopping power is increased by way of beefier center front discs with 54mm piston calipers. Discs brakes also now come standard in the rear. A new tandem brake master cylinder offers increased braking performance and greater feedback. And larger fade resistant brake pads are installed all around.
Ford offers a Torque Vectoring Control (TVC) system to help reduce understeer, the achilles heel of front-wheel drive performance cars, during high speed cornering. The 3 mode advance trac system offers three options for varying degrees of electronic interference: ESC ON is full-on nanny mode; ESC WIDE SLIP allows you to get a little wild before the car’s computer kicks in to save you; and ESC OFF throws caution to the wind.
While the engine is the same all-aluminum 1.6-liter EcoBoost four banger found in the base model, it has a uniquely tuned intake system, high-flow exhaust and custom calibration which helps it to serve up 197hp and 202 lb-ft of torque. The sprint from 0-60 mph takes 6.9 seconds while fuel economy is surprisingly good with 26 mpg around town and 35 mpg on the highway.
So what’s it like to drive?
From the moment you sink into the super snug Recaro seats it feels like the only thing missing is a racing harness. Rowing through the light and smooth 6-speed gearbox (no slushbox is offered) is effortless and a pure joy. Power delivery is decent at the low end thanks to the uber-short gearing that gets the turbo in on the action early. Once you hit 3,500 rpms, you’re firmly in the band.
Even with the boosted steering system, there is a natural weighting which feels nice and on center. The Fiesta ST is a canyon carving machine and shredded the full stretch of Mulholland Drive both up and down with amazing dexterity and finesse. The constrictive Recaro seats, which at first feel like overkill, are a welcome addition once some G’s are in full effect. There is plenty of sensory feedback along the way including an almost throaty exhaust note, progressive turbo whine, blow-off valve hiss and engine “roar.”
Understeer is extremely muted and the ESC system works marvelously well in WIDE SLIP mode to let you have some real fun without heading off the side of a cliff. Even with everything turned off, the roll stiffness up front keeps everything in order with all tires firmly planted on the ground.
The ride is definitely on the firm side as uneven pavement can prove to be somewhat jarring. That said, there is enough ride height and proper damping to take the edge off serious potholes.
The base price of the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST is $22,195 which includes plenty of niceties such as My Ford Touch with Sony Premium Sound, HD and Satellite radio, Push button Start, electronic climate control and a full size spare. The Recaro package adds partial leather Recaro heated seats and heated exterior mirrors. This runs $1,995 but seems like a ‘must have’ for this car.
When compared to the competition, the Fiesta ST trumps the Fiat 500 Abarth and Mini Cooper S in both power and price. The Hyundai Veloster Turbo and Honda Civic Si are similarly potent but edge up higher on the pricing charts. In this segment, only the Chevy Sonic RS is cheaper but it also gives up almost 50hp to the Fiesta ST.
Overall, the Fiesta ST was truly an unexpected and very pleasant surprise… Ford has quietly managed to transform a seemingly mediocre, nondescript, diminutive commuter into a real contender that performs like a champ.