I’m an eighties child. I was raised on strict diet of Duran Duran, Queen, Status Quo and Back To The Future. I wore ridiculous clothes and professed my undying love for Siousxe Sioux out of Siousxe And The Banshees. And I was, almost inevitably, a fan of hot Fords.
Fords were the most desirable cars of the eighties and, growing up in rural Ireland, with a major rally event every other weekend, I got plenty of chances to be snared by their charms, starting, as we all did, with MkII Escorts before graduating to the Sierra Cosworth, the Escort RS Turbo and the daddy of them all, the RS200. Those cars has an astonishing combination of blue-collar practicality mixed with nomex-clad racing cred that was exceptionally enticing.
It remains so. While Ford’s recent hot road car packages have been a touch hit and miss (hits: 2003 Focus RS, 2009 Focus RS, 2001 Fiesta Zetec-S; misses: 2005 Fiesta ST, 2002 Focus ST) there is little doubting that, right now, Ford is the only mainstream car maker that can reach the lofty dynamic heights needed to challenge the premium German players on performance turf. No other affordable car maker imbues its standard cars with such good steering and chassis, so the transformation into a performance version requires, generally, just some minor tweaking and a gruntier engine. (Renault can also do this, in fairness, but only makes the effort for its high-performance models.)
That’s the recipe behind the latest Fiesta ST. It gets Ford’s new 1.6-litre petrol EcoBoost engine, with 182bhp and 240Nm of torque. Except it has a little more, really. A clever electronic cheat code allows the engine, for up to 20 seconds at a time, to deliver 200bhp and 290Nm of torque on ‘overboost’ – running the turbo hotter than you should for just a little bit. That makes the Fiesta ST a deliciously punchy performer, posting as it does a 6.9sec 0-100kmh time. Better still, aside from a slight touch of low-down turbo lag, it’s a very flexible engine, delivering power across a broad rev range, so it can cruise in the high gears just as comfortably as it can strut in the low ones. It sounds great too, with an acoustic pipe delivering an entertaining ‘baaaaarp’ into the cabin at high throttle openings.
Not that practicality has been overlooked though. It’s still a Fiesta, so it’s still spacious and has a big boot. It’s still comfy (although I found the Recaro bucket seats a touch snug; perhaps I should lay off the iced caramels.). It, in other words, plays the hot hatch card to perfection, nowhere more so than in the handling department.
The ST is just terrific to drive; poised and with plenty of feedback through the excellent steering (yes, shockingly, it’s an electrically-assisted rack) yet never feels nervous or edgy. The standard-fit electronic differential aids your progress seamlessly, braking the inside wheel and shunting power to the outside one to quell understeer and stabilise the car. It is simply a massive hoot on a truly challenging road, such as the French Alpine passes we drove it on, but it settles down into a comfortable, long-haul lope on main roads. It’s a little hard to judge the ride quality. It’s 15mm lower than standard and with stiffer springs and shocks. On well-maintained French tarmac, it felt just right. At home, on our roads, it could be a touch firm.
At least the pricing is good, on first glance anyway. €25,760 is an arresting price for a car with this much poke and talent, but it should be noted that Ford is being a touch stingy with the standard spec. Yes, you get the new SYNC Bluetooth infotainment system, seven airbags and a three-mode ESP system, but you’ll have to trade up to the €27,260 ST2 model to get air conditioning and LED daytime lights.
Is there much point to a hot Fiesta at a time of austerity and CO2-obsession? Well, Ford reckons so, saying that the halo effect on the rest of the Fiesta range (currently outselling its nearest competitor by as much as half in Ireland) is massive and that, given Ford’s reputation for producing handling masterpieces, it simply has to have a hot version to maintain that image. It may only sell as few as 25 ST Fiestas at home, but its effect is greater than its bottom line.
Besides, for the price of a bottom-end Mondeo, or for that matter a Golf diesel, you could have what is simply the best compact hot hatch around at the moment, a car that easily eclipses the likes of the Mini Cooper S and Citroen DS3 for driver appeal. Yes, the tough competition (208 GTI, RenaultSport Clio) is yet to come but for now, the Fiesta ST is calling to my eighties self. Now, who’s got the latest Roxettealbum on cassette? Anyone?