We were huge fans of the previous Fiesta ST and would have been perfectly happy if Ford had just tidied up the interior a bit and put a bigger screen on the dash.
However, along with those much-needed styling updates the Blue Oval has also made some wholesale changes – shock horror – under the bonnet. The previous four-cylinder engine, a peaky and characterful 1.6, is replaced by a three-cylinder 1.5-litre unit in this car.
Clever engine punches above its weight
It’s a simpler unit in some ways and more complicated in others. The old Fiesta ST had a stepped output that initially made it seem much less powerful than its rivals, but it could temporarily deliver more horsepower and torque when you were flooring it.
This time around that’s gone so it’s easier to boast about what you’ve got – 200hp and 290Nm of torque all of the time, meaning a 0-62mph dash in just 6.5 seconds, two tenths quicker than the old ST200. Top speed weighs in at 144mph, which is very fast indeed.
Although performance is the order of the day, when you’re not using the Fiesta ST’s full potential, the engine shuts down one if its cylinders to save fuel and emissions. Like most modern cylinder-on-demand systems we didn’t notice this working – so it was either broken or (more likely) very effective.
Power delivery is more predictable
The old car wasn’t exactly a slouch but you needed to work the gearbox hard to keep the engine within the reach of its turbocharger. No such problem here, oddly, given the smaller displacement and missing cylinder. There’s plenty of power low down and the delivery is less spiky – which arguably makes it marginally less exciting, but no less urgent. Make no mistake, this is a fast car.
It even sounds good – with the rally-car aping exhaust note we’ve come to expect from fast Fords and a not-unwelcome augmented sound generator in the cabin lending a tone almost six-cylinder in nature. Cars like the Fiesta ST major on providing a sensation of speed, and noise is a huge part of that, so this is very welcome news.
Overall the engine in the Ford Fiesta ST is extremely effective at propelling this little car along at a staggering rate, but regardless of its size and layout, it will always play second fiddle to the way it handles.
The Ford Fiesta ST has come to represent not just one of the best handling hot hatches you can buy, but one of the most fun cars full stop. That’s why we named it our favourite Thrill Seekers car for 2019, and awarded it with our prestigious Car of the Year, too.
Why? Well, some fast cars are very precise and can join the dots on your favourite road like a doctor stitching a wound, while others feel like alive and alert, and must be wrestled from corner to corner. The Ford Fiesta ST does both.
It is both approachable and playful in equal measure, rewarding an exacting driver with near- unflappable grip, while entertaining your inner yob with a chassis that is only too happy to allow the rear end to slide, given the right provocation.
Ford Fiesta ST Performance Pack: worth it?
Those attributes have been suitably enhanced by the optional Performance Pack, which adds (among other things, including Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres) a limited-slip differential to enhance front-end grip and driver confidence.
This allows you to get back on the power after a corner much earlier, rather than having to wait until the road and wheels have fully straightened out. Normal cars would simply wash wide at the slightest hint of throttle at this point.
That matters because the previous car was always very good at being controllably wayward, but fell apart slightly in the precision stakes at the limit, especially when compared with diff-equipped rivals like the Peugeot 208 GTi.
This time around the Performance Pack car just adds another dimension – not only is the Fiesta ST an absolute barrel of laughs to drive, it’s now much more capable when you want to get serious too.
There must be something wrong with it?
Ok, the brake pedal is set a little too high and the brakes themselves can be a bit grabby, while the drive modes (Normal, Sport and Track) feel broadly similar unless you’re really on it. Drive modes add an unnecessary level of complication and get in the way of fun. We liked the fact the last car had no drive modes other than ‘off’ or ‘on’.
Launch control is also a bit of a gimmick and frankly, dishonourable to use on public highway, while the gearshift light is of limited use. The gearshift itself also not quite as satisfying to use in this car as it was before, but we’re taking hair-width stuff here.
Overall this is a car that you will find an excuse to drive, a car that in the most time-honoured of clichés can turn a quick trip to the shops into a two-hour excursion. A brilliant hot hatch fully deserving of our highest praise.