Thanks to the enthusiast community’s uproar over Ford’s hot Focus ST, the underdog from the blue oval has flown under the radar perfectly. While the Focus still has a ton of competitors from the Volkswagen GTI to the Subaru WRX, there is very little in the subcompact segment with regards to hot hatches. New to North America for the 2014 model year, the Fiesta ST is in a class of its own both in terms of value as well as driving dynamics. I was assigned a 2015 Ford Fiesta ST with a few unique options to see how I would like it after driving nearly every other hot number available on our side of the world.
Immediately upon setting foot into my Molten Orange tester (a $550 option, completely worth it!), I was surrounded by hints of the ST’s performance-oriented nature. The Recaro front buckets are among the most aggressive performance seats I have ever been in, and easily the beefiest of any subcompact available today. They are perfectly contoured to hug my body firmly, making sure I don’t flop around as the car is thrown into corners, as the ST inevitably will be. The fabric material used to upholster the seats is rugged and sporty at the same time. Pedal placement is absolutely perfect, and it only took me mere seconds to get the perfect driving position and hit the push-button start.
Pushing on that magic button (with the clutch depressed, of course) wakes up the 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder that lives under the hood. This motor is good for 197 horsepower at 6000rpm and 215 lb-ft of torque, available at 4200rpm. The only available transmission is a traditional 6-speed manual, a phenomenal unit. The numbers may not be mesmerizing at first, especially considering this powertrain is shared with the Escape and Fusion, but the Fiesta ST is a very hot little hornet. The throttle is sharp, the shifter and clutch have a Romeo/Juliet relationship, and the noise from the exhaust reflects all of this. This is a car that’s clearly been tuned for the purist, and it delivers this experience wonderfully.
At 2720lbs, the Fiesta ST is incredibly light on its feet. Even though the steering wheel itself is a little bit on the big side, the quick response and short wheelbase help the little hatchback change directions very quickly. Thanks to Ford’s Torque Vectoring Control system, this is easily one of the best handling front-wheel-drive cars available today, and could put handling champs such as the Mini Cooper S to shame. Though the exhaust sound is natural and sounds great, Ford has added some artificial synthesized engine noise through the speakers for added oomph. It may not be the “au naturel” sound that purists crave so desperately, but it does sound good and shouldn’t really be the subject of controversy.
The 6-speed manual transmission on the Fiesta is definitely worth talking about a little bit more. In an age where the manual transmission is dying a slow death in favour of quick shifting double-clutch units, a well-sorted manual is something very special. The shifter in the Fiesta ST is slick and very easy to get acquainted with, and clutch travel is perfect. The great pedal placement means heel-and-toe downshifts as well as quick rev matching became second nature, and driving the ST became more of a passion than just a means of getting from point A to point B.
Okay, so by now it’s become pretty clear that this car is oodles of fun within the city as well as on the curvy country roads, but how does it fare on the highway where hundreds of thousands of Canadians commute daily? The Fiesta is adequately quiet, but there is some exhaust drone and the short wheelbase that helps handling so much does mean it’s a bit bouncy. Additionally, the Recaros can be a bit too aggressive for long stretches and cause a bit of pain. Either that, or I’m just getting old! We observed 7.8L/100km in combined driving on premium fuel, and saw highway numbers dipping as low as 6.6L/100km. It’s worth noting that this combined cycle was not skewed towards the intention of maximizing fuel mileage.
Visual cues that set the ST apart from the plebian Fiesta include a unique front bumper, ground effects, a decklid spoiler, rear diffuser, 17” wheels, and subtle changes all around the car. On the inside, the aforementioned Recaro seats are standard equipment in Canada (American buyers of the ST have to pony up an extra $2000), as well as ST-specific cues throughout the cabin. Though it’s immediately evident that aside from all of the go-fast bits, this is very obviously a Ford Fiesta, it’s clear that this one is a little bit more special than the others. Even though it has been nearly two years since the first Fiesta STs began to hit Canadian streets, we still got a considerable amount of positive attention from fellow gearheads, including thumbs-ups and nods/smiles of acknowledgement.
With a base price of just over $24,000, the Ford Fiesta ST is amazing value considering the sheer amount of performance you get. Apart from the standard setup, my test car also had some “Over The Top” racing stripes for an extra $495, the SYNC/Sony navigation system ($800), and the $550 paint job. Things like Bluetooth connectivity, intelligent key, USB ports, and fog lights are all standard, as well as automatic climate control, heated mirrors, and heated seats. Personally, I’d skip on the racing stripes and maybe even the navigation system, but would opt for the power sunroof, an extra $1200 that would get plenty of use.
This is a car that, just like other vehicles infamous for providing cheap thrills, is an absolute hoot to push to 7/10s of its potential without breaking any laws, speed or otherwise. Its cornering abilities are like no other front-wheel-drive car and make highway onramps and twisty backroads a pleasure to navigate. The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ are similar in their driving dynamics, but lack the torque to actually get going. The Fiesta’s 200+ lb-ft help it putt around the city while keeping a huge smile on the driver’s face, and perfect steering helps dodge obstacles and potholes that this city is so famous for. The new Mini Cooper S 5-door is very comparable, but is considerably more expensive and lacks the lightweight feel of the ST.
I much prefer this Fiesta to the larger Focus ST. After spending a great week with it and carefully exploring every little bit of the hot hatch, it became very evident to me just how much we North Americans are missing out on a segment that’s so important in Europe. The Volkswagen GTI and Focus ST get all of this praise for being the perfect hot hatches, but it’s these boosted subcompacts that really do it for me as a car guy. Our market could hugely benefit from BMW’s 135i and the stiffened up Renault Megane, even if it’s marketed here as a Nissan. I’ve already begun to fantasize about how brilliant a day at the local autocross club would be with this crazy little bumblebee. For car guys/girls living within the city or even in the suburbs that require a daily driver, the 2015 Ford Fiesta ST isn’t just a good choice – it’s the choice.