After missing out for decades on the hot, small, and fun cars that personified Ford in Europe, now it seems the company can’t stop bringing them over to the U.S. Not long after the Focus ST’s arrival comes the Fiesta ST, a rowdy, unflappable, and hilarious little car. Smaller and lighter, it’s the ST formula distilled, and that is a very good thing.
First, a disclaimer. For the car’s launch, Ford invited journalists to Nice, France, to drive two-door hatchbacks that won’t be available in the U.S. The only trim we’ll see is a four-door hatchback with a manual. While it has two extra doors and weighs more, there are no other hardware differences between the U.S. and European models. From the engine to the suspension to the tires, all the parts are the same, although some tuning differences exist. For example, the rebound setting on the U.S. car had to be changed to meet a U.S.-specific pothole test.
As for the ST-specific hardware, there are the requisite drop in ride height, new dampers, and stiffer springs. A torsion beam with greater roll stiffness helps induce the tail-out antics, while new steering knuckles and revised camber give the wheel greater control. The brakes are discs all around; the bucket seats have thick side bolsters; and, of course, there’s that potent turbo I-4.
Though mechanically identical in other Fords, the calibration of the 1.6-liter here is specific for this application. It makes either 180 hp or 197 hp and 177 lb-ft or 214 lb-ft of torque depending on overboost, which is when the turbo breathes as much as 21 psi for 20 seconds maximum. (It reverts to 14.5 psi after.) Ford engineers say that the recovery time is virtually nil, so that lifting off the throttle briefly and going back to wide open throttle, either during a gear change or while navigating a corner, puts the engine back in overboost. That means outside of the autobahn, it’s always available on public roads.
Dipping into the torque is delightful. The engine has a strong midrange, pulling eagerly and loudly from around 3000 rpm to the 6500 rpm redline. A resonator tube dumps amplified induction sounds through a hole in the firewall into the cabin. Again like in the Focus, it sounds great, but the timbre is different; there’s less warble. Also unlike in the Focus, the tube is always on. It doesn’t drone at freeway speeds, but every throttle input invites the sound into the cabin. While the Focus generates more torque, the Fiesta doesn’t feel that much slower, a sensation that its 500-pound weight advantage helps. Because it’s carrying about an extra pound per horsepower, 0-60 mph acceleration should fall in the mid- to high-6-second range.
Though fun, forward acceleration isn’t the core of ST. It’s the way it handles. The Fiesta has the sort of go-lucky, do-anything-at-wide-open-throttle character that is at the core of excellent but less-powerful driver’s cars. Its 205/40R17 Bridgestone Potenza RE050As supply huge grip, and the Fiesta can maintain surprising cornering speeds even on public roads. A sport stability control setting, accessed by tapping the off button once, allows you to reach for and get a feel of the tires’ limits before reeling the car in. Though different than those in the Focus, the bucket seats here are no less effective at holding you in place. The electrically assisted steering, tuned specifically for the ST, works wonderfully, providing incredibly precise control over the front wheels. The steering wheel comes off center just as sharply as the front tires respond, giving the driver great agility.
Again like the Focus, the ABS system simulates the effects of torque vectoring and a limited-slip differential as you power through and out of corners, grabbing on one wheel to send power to the other. It’s effective at modulating torque and feel perfectly seamless. Exiting hard switchbacks flat on the throttle produced no major torque steer or wheelspin, even with the stability control defeated. The only telltale is that after an aggressive bit of driving, we could smell the brakes after stopping. We’re curious to see how they’ll hold up under extended use at a racetrack or autocross.
For a base price of $22,195, the Fiesta seems unmatched. The only real competitor in terms of dimensions and power output is the Mini Cooper S, which starts at a Focus ST-rivaling $24,000. The smaller Fiesta seems quite the bargain.
The Fiesta fits France’s roads well, which shouldn’t be surprising considering it was developed for this tight, narrow, and curvy asphalt. The ride does edge on firm and the throttle pedal sits a bit lower than the brake pedal, making heel-toe downshifts difficult to execute unless you’re near ABS intervention. Regardless, we’re eager to test whether the U.S. market four-door deliveries its driving enthusiasm with the same gusto.
A Second Opinion
By Paul Horrell
The Fiesta’s chassis deploys it remarkably urbanely. There’s very little of the torque steer that’s such a fact of life in the bigger, more powerful Focus ST. The Fiesta’s suspension is stiffened in anti-roll and lowered for ST duty, and it uses 17-inch wheels fitted with 205mm tires. All these measures tend to increase torque steer, but Ford has largely negated it by careful geometry changes that including new front knuckles plus countermeasures in the EPAS programming.
Stiff anti-roll bars also tend to mitigate against traction, but the Fiesta’s torque vectoring control uses gentle braking applications when an inside wheel is likely to spin, giving you strong purchase out of tight curves at full throttle.
As to your passage into and through these bends, the news is mostly excellent. The car reacts progressively and smartly to any steering input. Grip is true and body roll constrained. It’s been set up to resist understeer, and oh boy, does it – as if its little life depended on it. Turn in on a trailing throttle, or lift halfway around, and the whole car rotates beautifully — easy to catch, unlikely to go too far even with the ESP off, but with grinning playfulness. With the ESP in the Sport position, you can happily play these games on the road.
Steering is quick in its reactions in sharp bends, but well-damped and progressive enough to never feel nervous — it’s better than the Focus in this regard. But one star has been left off this otherwise Oscar-winning cast list: There’s too little feel for the front tires at the limit of grip. True, because there’s so little understeer, what you really need to know is coming through the seat rather than the wheel rim, but we would still have liked a bit more feedback through our fingertips.
Although the chassis majors in agility, it throws in a mighty pleasing ride. There’s a degree of suppleness that helps traction and stability on lumpy roadways, as well as giving comfort you wouldn’t credit in a tearaway little hatchback. Sure, it’s taut, but there’s little harshness or resonant shudder once a bump has passed beneath.
|2014 FORD FIESTA ST|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.6L/193-hp/214-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||2720 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||160.1 x 67.8 x 57.2 in|
|0-62 MPH||6.9 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||N/A|
|ON SALE IN US||Fall 2013|
By Carlos Lago