By Steve Berry
WHEN Ford release a model with the letters ST or RS attached to the name, then you can be sure of one thing: expectations are sky high.
The nation has had a long-standing love-affair with performance Fords which started back in 1970 when the Escort RS 1600 appeared on the scene.
So, when Ford say the latest incarnation of their beloved Fiesta ST will come with a reduced engine capacity of 1.5 litres, there is the stark possibility of a nationwide power-sulk, which will only deepen with the knowledge that the engine also has a cylinder missing. Yes, Ford’s baby ST is a three-pot.
So, is it time to reach for the Peugeot 208 GTi catalogue? Or think about upping the budget for a Mini John Cooper Works or VW Polo GTI? I think not.
Let’s start with that 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine and how it affects the two things that really matter: Speed and, er … more speed.
The turbo-charged unit makes 200PS (197bhp in old money) and 290Nm of peak torque which is 18bhp and 50Nm more than the four-cylinder model and
on-par with the out-going limited edition ST200 model. It’s slightly quicker too, with a 0-60mph time of 6.5 seconds and a licence-sacrificing top speed of 144 mph.
But for any performance Ford to earn its badge it needs to handle well and put a smile on your face every time you find an open road. Thankfully, after spending a week with a three-door Fiesta ST-3 (£22,245 OTR) I can say you won’t be disappointed – especially if you opt for the £925 ST Performance Pack.
The pack includes a Quaife limited slip differential that allows you to power out of corners without losing traction or too much speed, and along with the standard-fit torque-vectoring this can add up to many, many smiles. The pack also provides performance shift lights and – in what must be a first for a super-mini – a launch control system.
The 1.5 engine also incorporates Ford’s cylinder deactivation technology that, under certain conditions, can shut down a cylinder to save fuel and improve emissions. You’ll be hard pushed to notice though as the engine sounds quite sporty no matter how many cylinders are active.
But, first things first: How much? Well, Ford have kept things simple and there are just three trim-levels: ST-1, ST-2 and unsurprisingly, ST-3. All have the same performance and are available with either three or five-doors.
Highlights of the Fiesta ST-1 (£19,495 OTR) are 17in alloy wheels, flat-bottomed steering wheel with red stitching, LED rear lights, Ford SYNC with 8in touchscreen, DAB radio, emergency assistance, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two USB sockets and six speakers.
Recaro sports front seats in fabric trim are also included along with manual air conditioning, keyless start with Ford power starter button, cruise control, halogen projector headlamps with daytime running lights, ST sports suspension and selectable drive modes (Normal, Sport, Track).
That lot should be more than enough but if you really crave Illuminated cup-holders then you’ll need to go for the Fiesta ST-2 (£20,495 OTR) which also throws in machine-finished 17in alloys, auto air conditioning, heated Recaro sports front seats with fabric trim, rear privacy glass, Ford SYNC3 DAB Radio with 8in touchscreen, and B&O premium audio system.
The Fiesta ST-3 (£22,245 OTR) adds the likes of 18in five-spoke alloy wheels, Ford SYNC three navigation with 8in touchscreen and FordPass Connect (Embedded Modem).
Personally, I’d recommend the Fiesta ST-1 with ST Performance Pack for an unbeatable hot-hatch bargain that has all the oomph and toys you’ll ever need.
However, inside is where you’ll find the biggest change as the new Mk.8 Fiesta’s interior is in a different league to the old Mk.7. There are softer-feeling plastics on the dash-top and doors while the 8in infotainment screen dominates the central dash, looking a little like an after-thought, but nonetheless it works well and the display is clear and easy to read even in bright light.
With rake and reach adjustment in the steering wheel and plenty of adjustment in those body-hugging Recaro seats, you shouldn’t struggle to find a good driving position, with the pedals perfectly placed too.
Rear seat passengers have a decent amount of leg room while headroom is a little tight for those over 6ft – but this is a supermini, right? You’ll find rivals are very similar and the same can be said about boot space.
Outwardly, the new Fiesta ST looks better with a meaner-looking grille and an altogether sportier back-end. The interior and tech available are massively improved though and just sitting inside the Fiesta ST may be enough to convince Mk.7 owners to upgrade.
Ford have done wonders with the ride quality too, and while the suspension is necessarily on the stiff side, it won’t jolt and grate on your senses like the old model thanks to automatic damping adjustment.
Both steering and gear-shifting are a delight. A brand-new steering rack design means it is 14 per cent quicker than on the old model and the short-shifting stick is precise with a satisfying engagement feel to it.
Get it out on sweeping A-roads and you’ll be hooked as the little ST eats up the corners with no fuss at all with excellent turn-in thanks to torque-vectoring springs.
Whether you’re already a Fast Ford aficionado or someone who is simply curious to see what all the fuss is about, I guarantee you’ll be at the salesperson’s mercy after a test-drive.
AT A GLANCE: Ford Fiesta ST-3
OTR Price: £22,245
Engine: 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 197 bhp
Transmission: 6-speed Manual
0-62mph: 6.5 secs
Top Speed: 144 mph
Combined Economy: 47.1 mpg
C02: 136 g/km