This is the best small hot hatch you can buy, and you could get two for the price of my favourite Ford
If you want the world’s best hot hatch right now, you will have to spend at least £32,320 on a Honda Civic Type R (and actually you’ll need the GT version at just over £34k). The default hot hatch – Volkswagen’s latest 2020 Mk8 GTI will probably be about the same when it comes out later this year. So it seems at least 30k is what you need if you want a fast, fun and furious hot hatch? No!
I’ll let you into a little secret right now. You can have 90% of the fun, 90% of the driving time (arguably more in real daily driving terms than the above two big boys mentioned) with 80% of the space and practicality for less than 70% of the price. You’re doing the maths in your head right? Let me save you the bother. Just know this, it’s better. Way better.
To be specific, I’m talking about the subject of this review – the Ford Fiesta ST. £21,775 will buy you an ST-2 (that’s what the range starts at) with a snorting, crackling, rally-style popping 200bhp 1.5-litre Ecoboot Turbo engine. There’s also 290Nm of torque (214lb ft) which gets the pocket rocket from rest to 62mph in 6.5 seconds and onto a top speed of 144mph.
In reality it feels quicker, considerably so. Whilst we dwell on reality, it’s worth highlighting the fact that this is a Ford Fiesta. The UK’s favourite new car – the best-seller for well over a decade now. Which means it’s a formula that’s been finessed to perfection; and that it’s easy to find, easy to run, easy to fix, easy to live with. Yes, even in this delinquent hooligan guise.
It’ll swallow a suitcase or two, it’ll accommodate most of your friends and family (up to four of them at a time, but try to not to pack in too many six-footers as knee and headroom could get tight in the back) and it’ll remain a dependable, daily drive. Useful enough, but compact enough to squeeze into fiercely fought-over city parking sports, slide through width restrictions, and stay light on the go-juice. I saw mpg figures well in the 30s and CO2 emissions are 136g/km – okay that’s a little on the high side, but this is performance car.
And as a sporty thing, it has a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and half-leather Recaro sports seats done right, plus a short throw 6-speed manual gearbox and launch control! Actually for that you have to add in another £925 for the Performance Pack which also adds a Quaife Limited Slip Differential and Shift lights.
This takes the price up to £22,700. Full LED headlights and a Comfort Pack are also on the options list, along with any colour apart from Race Red (even white is £250 extra, and the Silver Fox of the test car is £750 as is Blue – my preference). Talking of the test car, this is the ST-3 and it already comes with the Performance Pack and a lot of additional kit besides, including a B&O 10-speaker sound system. It starts at £24,395. Still a bargain methinks.
Particularly when it comes to the drive. Rev-limiting at 6250rpm, the engine is eager to yowl, and potent enough to catapult this thing down the road with alacrity that’ll leave you constantly grinning – and that’s just to the shops and back. Around town the controls are as light as you’d expect of a Fiesta (unless you put it into Sports mode for a heftier steering as I like it) and the gearbox is a delight to stir (although it was set just a little too low in the cabin for my liking). The pedals are perfectly positioned to encourage over-achieving drivers to practice heel-and-toe downshifts even in their boots and its compact size and good peripheral visibility makes it ideal for blasting about town and exploiting gaps normally reserved for bikers.
It’s reasonably steady and stable on the motorway with no less than the expected levels of refinement and road roar (drown it out with the B&O) and proves a competent distance cruiser. The ride is more composed on the smoother surface. Leave the highway for the more twisty and tortuous byways and the ride remains decent as opposed to bouncy, juddery and spine-crushing as it can be in some rivals.
The poise, precision, plentiful torque and truly engaging entertainment factor of this raucous little road rocket, presents a winning and enticing argument that even its bigger brother the Focus ST has no answer for. The Fiesta feels light, but grippy, planted but lively – there’s a hint of understeer if you provoke it, and there’s tram-lining if you don’t tell the steering who’s boss. But it’s never belligerent and it’s always exciting.
Quite frankly, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m smitten with the Mustang GT (ideally in Bullitt edition guise) this would be my new most-desired current Ford. But the Stang is £49k – I could have two Fiesta STs for that!