Stacks Image 4 drives the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST

By: Ron Myers

Despite the seeming abundance of 'hot hatch' fans in North America, the manufacturer-induced drought of new iron as been met with much ire if you believe the comment sections of popular automotive-related blogs.

While we hear the oft-cited rallying cry of "Europe gets all the good stuff," some inroads have been made. Doing its part, Ford stepped up and finally made the Focus ST a true 'world' car, offering North Americans a model with the same level of performance as their crumpet-eating cousins. And, that gamble seems to be paying some dividends. Reviews of the Focus ST have been pretty overwhelmingly positive, and the enthusiast crowd has responded in kind by snatching up quite a few of them. More importantly, many of these new ST owners are moving from another make and model of car, the coveted 'conquest' sale, in industry parlance.

The move up-market, both in price and size for the Focus, allowed Ford to justify bringing back the Fiesta to North America. So, taking a bit of a flyer, Ford decided to apply the ST treatment to a b-segment car that Yanks and Canucks can purchase. Seemingly overnight, this positioned Ford as the hot hatch leader on these shores. While I can only imagine the arguments that went on at Ford HQ about whether this was a good business decision or not, let's see what the fruits of their labor have produced.

First, let's consider the Fiesta ST's size. While hardly small--considering the cars we considered sub-compact a decade or two ago--the Fiesta fits within today's b-segment template. However, many pie-eating Americans will scoff at the dimensions. Even putting my pro-small car bias aside, I have to say that this car has as much room necessary to carry one, two and up to four people to their destination. You won't be carrying a lot of gear if you have butts in all the seats. But, if that's the case, then you really shouldn't be considering this car from the outset.

What the Fiesta is able to pull off with its tighter proportions, that the Focus ST cannot, is that it looks scrappy. If you like your hot hatches to have a bulldog stance, then you'll like the Fiesta ST. Just looking at it, you know the drive won't be boring.

So, what's it like to drive? Many who do drive (including some reviewers), or even buy, this car without understanding its true mission will complain about the stiff ride and the brake dust. To them I say, maybe I can interest you in a nice Fusion. If you don't understand why you can't use this car in the winter without getting a second set of tires, then this car is not for you.

Please excuse that slight detour before getting down to the nitty gritty. But, for this car to succeed, it has be to understood and embraced by the right audience.

With that in mind, what do you get when you "write the check"? For one, you get Ford's 1.6L I4 EcoBoost™ engine, tuned to its highest output of any vehicle in Ford's entire lineup. That means 197HP and 202 ft-lbs of torque. This will move you to a factory estimated 0-60 time of 6.9 seconds, all while returning mileage of 26 city/35 highway. The performance and efficiency of this engine is actually pretty amazing. On the road, power delivery is extremely progressive especially when you consider this is a small, turbo-charged engine. From launch, the car pulls until you soon realize you are into the triple digits, although Ford shuts down the fun at 137mph. But seriously, who needs a car with a higher top speed for a daily driver?

The Fiesta ST also gets its version of the Sound Symposer found on its big brother. While dismissed by some as gimmicky–it amplifies the intake sound into the cabin under hard acceleration–it doesn't do this artificially. For that reason, I find it perfectly acceptable. With all the extra sound deadening of today's cars, it helps to have a direct line to the performance end of the engine. That's why most people buy so-called "cold air intakes" in the first place. The sound son. The sound.

That engine alone in a garden-variety Fiesta would be something to write home about. But, being an ST, Ford couldn't just stop there. You'll find the usual kit: a honey-combed grille engineered to optimize cooling and aggressive front and rear fascias, side skirts and spoiler. Also, the rear gets a unique diffuser and twin exhaust.

You'll find 17" alloy wheels, which can be upgraded to Rado Gray along with red brake calipers, and the aforementioned "summer," high-performance tires. Do yourself a favor and order some snow tires on a second set of wheels from Tire Rack now before winter comes. You'll thank me later.

Inside is fairly standard Fiesta fare, except for where it really matters. Without a doubt, the optional Recaro seats, which are similar to the ones found in the Focus ST, have to be one of the best performance seats available on any car under $30K. They are offered in a two-tone Smoke Storm color or in an over-the-top Molten Orange (with certain exterior colors). A word of caution: try the Recaros before you buy. While they are a must have, they can be considered too tight for some larger folks. If you aren't comfortable in them, you'll be bummed. (Maybe Ford can consider offering a gym membership as an option.) ST buyers are also treated to a more performance-oriented steering wheel and shift knob, along with a set of alloy pedals. One of my only noticeable complaints with the car, though having only an hour of seat time, was lack of a true dead pedal. There is a flat, carpeted area on which to rest your left foot. But, with the mission statement of this car, the lack of a complete performance pedal set is not excusable. I don't know why the decision was made or not made. Hopefully, the aftermarket will, pardon the pun, step in quickly.

In regards to the six-speed, manual transmission, I'm not going to wax philosophically. It's action is pretty much what you need in a car of this nature, but it does suffer from throws that are bit long for my taste. However, the ubiquitous aftermarket short-shift kit will undoubtedly bring it into spec. What you may not know about the transmission is that it's based on a common, long-running Ford part. So, not only can you expect it to be fairly robust from years of incremental updates, but there are already aftermarket limited-slip differentials available. Can I get an Amen?

Handling-wise, the Fiesta ST has a bit livelier chassis setup than the Focus ST. Of the two, it's the "driver's car," in my opinion. Some of that can be attributed to the shorter wheelbase, but I confirmed with the Ford engineers that the car was tuned to be edgier in the handling department. In day-to-day driving, I find cars like this more fun, as you can explore their limits without calling someone to bail you out of jail. To achieve this increase in handling performance, the Fiesta ST features new front knuckles (no, it's not RevoKnuckle) that optimize geometry and quicken the steering ratio. The car rides 15mm lower than other Fiestas with unique springs and dampers. The rear suspension's twist-beam has also been upgraded. Ford's electronic steering system (EPAS) has been tuned for sharper response and greater feedback.

On track, it will be interesting to see exactly what the Fiesta gives up to the Focus. I can say that if the lapping lasts for more than a few circuits of the course, the Fiesta will make up the deficit with its brakes. I spoke to an anonymous source who has extensive seat time in both cars. They told me that when the brakes on the Focus are pressed to the point of getting cooked, no amount of cool down laps will bring them back to their optimal performance. They will need to be bled, whereas the Fiesta (with minimal cool down) will be back and ready for more. Some of this is due to the Fiesta's lighter weight. But, there are differences in the pad material unique to each car, along with the engineering of the braking systems themselves. This all adds up to better on track performance. Aftermarket pads can be fitted, etc., but we're talking like-for-like, stock.

The brakes on the Fiesta ST should be applauded. First off, not only have the front rotors been increased to 54mm, but the ST is the first Fiesta to also receive rear discs, something that is--mostly due to cost--a rarity in the b-segment. In addition, it gets its own, newly-designed, tandem master cylinder. All this, along with the specially-spec'd pads, produce a car whose brakes really stand out once you drive the car in anger.

This brings us full-circle, back to the beginning of this article. The internet is full of people who say they want small, fast hatches. Yet, they always seem to have some excuse as to why they won't buy car 'X.' It doesn't have this. It doesn't do that. In the Fiesta ST's case, many of them have the "no 3-door, no deal" recorded and playing on a loop. I encourage everyone, despite their pre-conceived notions, to test drive a Fiesta ST. As a matter of fact, Ford has rolled out the EcoBoost Challenge, which is a national series of events that will let you drive both the Focus ST and the Fiesta ST on an autocross-type course. Do it. Plus, go to your local dealer and drive it on roads familiar to you to really get a feel for the car.

The excuse that "Europe gets all the good stuff" holds no water in this instance. If you consider yourself a fan of small, hot hatches, and you come away not wanting to buy a Fiesta ST, you may have to reconsider your description of yourself. It's that simple. So simple, in fact, that I'm planning on buying one.