10 Apr 2014

2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2 Review

Colin Hubbard reviews the Ford Fiesta ST-2

2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

It all came good for the Fiesta in 1981 when the XR2 was launched, a light little hatchback with sporting potential and a sweet, carb-fed 1600cc engine. The Fiesta progressed through various shapes to one of it's most iconic incarnations, the RS Turbo, in Mk3 guise. This 1.6 turbo featured a tidy bodykit, 3 spoke wheels and the all important Recaro seats trimmed in grey velour. Ford didn't make a sporty Mk4 Fiesta as such -  the 1.6 Zetec was the closest they came and that was nothing special. For the Mk5 Ford dropped in a 2 litre engine but this was a little heavy, gutless and didn't handle well.

In 2012 Ford followed the rest of the competition and Fitted it's Mk6 Fiesta with a 1.6 turbocharged engine, not any old turbo engine but one with Ecoboost. This uses variable valve timing to combine decent power levels but also low'ish fuel consumption so it was back to cheap thrills motoring again.

The test car was delivered on a Friday when I was at work.  My Wife described its colour as a kind of red and I couldn't wait to get home to have a go. At exactly 5pm I drove onto our drive and was met with a deep metallic Molten Orange Fiesta ST.

I parked up, gave the kids and wife a kiss then grabbed the keys for a quick drive before tea. I just intended to go the end of the road, around the large roundabout a few times and return home for Cottage Pie. After about half a mile I knew I was going to love this car, it just felt right so quickly. Whereas some cars need to grow on you, this didn't.  It was instant. The intended little ramble turned into a 10 mile run out with some fast A roads, industrial estates and tight country lanes. It was great fun and I couldn't wait to see how it coped over the next week.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

Saturday morning and I woke early, made a cup of tea and strolled around the car soaking in the details. Okay, first off it's a small car, less than 4m long, but packaged well with high a roofline so it feels roomy and spacious inside. That height is obvious from the side profile as the rear three quarter panel is very tall with a shallow glass area which has the look of an early Civic Type-R - no bad thing. There are two horizontal body lines running front to back, one through the door handle and a lower one just above the sill. These, along with some fairly rounded arches, help to break-up the vast expanse of bodywork.

From the front the car could pass for a baby Aston Martin, certainly more so than a Cygnet if you were to remove both car's badges. The headlights are very long and thin and line up nicely with the lines down the side car.

Its stance looks very low at the front and high at the back, a trick done by positioning a small side window just above the front wings with the glass line then constantly rising toward the rear. At the back it isn't that high - it's just a clever illusion. A fairly big rear spoiler sits on top of the tailgate which looks like it could actually add some downforce rather than be just for show.

The only bodywork I don't like is the rear valance. There's a large black cut-out in the back bumper, where many manufacturers have started putting faux diffusers, but Ford have chosen to install a colour coded plastic spoiler which to me looks out of place. This needs a little work to put right, simply painting the spoiler would make it easier on the eye.

The wheels are standard size 17' alloys finished in anthracite. As standard they come in silver but the 'Radio Grey' finish is a £275 option which also includes red calipers and illuminated sill plates. The tyres are surprisingly low profile 205/40/17, which I will pick up on later.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

The interior is a nice place to be, highlighted massively by the standard fit Recaro seats finished in a very unsubtle hue of bright orange cloth and dark grey leather. The moment you sit in the car you know it means business, the heavy side bolstering has a grip like a large baseball glove and clasps you firmly in place

The dash is standard Ford fodder with some flimsy and scratchy plastics and the ST equipped Sony hifi has far too many buttons, I counted 28 individual buttons and also a rotary dial. It's nice to see a modern car with both a proper hand brake and a manual gearlever and the ST is so equipped. The steering wheel could be lifted straight from a Mondeo with it's fairly ugly boss but whilst it is fairly large the rim has a chunky feel and is a good fit in your palms.

In the back there's room for 2 adults even with the driver's seat adjusted for me at 5'9. The driving position is excellent, the wheel has long reach and rake adjustment so can be set up just right for a rally style position with arms bent and close to the body but legs stretched out.

On start up and it has a light rasp of induction noise which gets bassier the higher it revs. On paper the engine is down on power compared to its rivals but it has the highest torque levels and lowest kerb weight in its class so remains a strong contender.

On the road it's supremely confident, it does have a hard ride but the damping and bushing have been perfected by Ford's chassis engineers so is really chuckable and confidence inspiring. I don't use the term 'handles like a go kart' lightly but this really does feel like a grown-up sized 4 seater go-kart. 

Ford didn't need to resort to flashy names for its chassis components to achieve this excellent handling, they just selected the right off-the-shelf components, geometries and tyre sizes until they were happy with the results. This is very much like the Ferrari engineers who were seconded to Fiat to develop the Panda 100 HP into such an entertaining little car, just experience, trial and error and an eye for detail.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

I noted the tyres were very low profile at 205/40/17 and I think the 40 side profile over most of its rivals 45 profiles helps with the agility, yes its ride is hard but the shorter profile seems easier to damp and control hence it is so forgiving.

When really going for it I was thankful for the support afforded by the Recaros, their vice like grip holds you in place during hard cornering and the depth of the side support is obvious in the pictures. The headrests sit forward and you can always feel them on the back of your head like they are sat up ready for an impact to protect your neck from too much movement.
The clutch is light but apparent that it has the same fault as the 208 GTI in that it doesn't have enough clearance to manouvre your left foot in between gear changes. It's not the alloy pedal covers but the actual clutch arm which juts out by about an inch to the left. It's not as bad the 208 but still annoying considering these are mass market cars.

The gear change is springy and positive in action and one that you will enjoy on a daily basis.  A manual gearbox being quintessential to the hot hatch, it has to be involving as well as fun and an auto just doesn't give you that satisfaction. The likes of RenaultSport and VAG should drive an ST to see how it's done, no boring double clutch gearboxes here just a fun, involving gearchange experience.

The engine is the ST's ace card, the EcoBoost unit features variable valve timing and is tuned for power and economy which equates to a very strong midrange so you rarely need to rev it to get the most out of it. At just past tickover there's a slight lull when you plant your foot but it rapidly builds torque and there's a very healthy surge from 3,000rpm which tapers off toward its redline just south of 7,000rpm. That torque is key to the experience and contributes towards the claimed high fuel economy as you can make good progress using the sweet spot from 2,500 and change up at 5,000rpm. Whilst it is down on power next to its key rivals the torque more than makes up for it and pulls stronger and cleaner than its rivals. It would be interesting to put the ST on a rolling road as the claimed 179bhp feels under estimated.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

The power is put down cleanly on the road thanks to a torque vectoring system.  The modest power output doesn't warrant a mechanical LSD. The system works by braking the inside front wheel so it effectively pulls the car round out of junctions and works with surprising results. The systems shines particularly in the wet when wheels would otherwise scrabble out of slow speed corners.  Instead they pull through cleanly with limited spin and in the direction you want to go.

As a package the Fiesta ST comes together brilliantly.  The engine's tirelessly torquey and the slug of midrange at 3,000 quite addictive. The engine has been allowed to sing a little in the ST, there's some healthy induction noise and a little exhaust rasp, nothing too much but enough for you to appreciate it. The chassis is exceptionally controlled and so much fun. It is just so chuckable and entirely predictable and if you could drive blindfolded on a track it could be a hatchback with a Lotus badge on the boot. The hard ride feels right in a hot hatch, like it means business and the steering offers some delicate feedback, again I put this down partly to those 40 profile tyres.

Considering there's no special names in the brake department and it doesn't have massive discs it has good stopping power to keep you out of trouble and fade free on some demanding country roads on test.

I personally found the ST to be an exceptional driver's car and one where its performance can be accessed on a daily basis, but there was someone who wasn't a fan - my wife. She liked the little touches like the illuminated sills which glow red at night and the fillerless fuel cap (why don't all manufacturers fit them?) but as a passenger the hard and bumpy ride agitated her motion sickness and she complained the headrest constantly banged her head. She did have a point, especially in the headrest positioning but as a driver you can ignore these trivialities and concentrate on enjoying your driving.

The ST starts at just under £18k and comes with a range of standard fit features such as heated half leather Recaros, Sony hifi with ipod control and DAB radio, two cupholders and obligatory electric windows, remote central locking etc. You really could drive away the standard car without any options and be perfectly happy and not need to worry about resale for not picking certain options.

There's a raft of competition in this segment, so much so that for ease I have listed them in a table below.

For me a hot hatch must have a manual gearbox, this is not supercar territory where shaving 0.1 seconds of the acceleration figures helps sell a few more cars, we want the broad driving experience and an auto can't deliver that. That takes out three cars from the competition. Next out is the D3S - it's a little down on power and the weight is up over the others, plus it looks a little childish with bright graphics and flashy wheels. Next I would rule out the Mini, yes its starting price is competitive but a few 'essential' options will see that rise considerably. The final three are the Fiesta, Corsa VXR and 208 GTI. The Corsa needs more work in the chassis department to shine in this company, a hard ride is no good without control.

This just leaves the 208GTi and Fiesta ST, both excellent hot hatches and if it were down to looks alone the 208 would get the nod, but it does have some flaws such as its wheel control, slightly squashy seats and the engine isn't as perky as the Ecoboost unit.

For me the Fiesta ST is the best in class, not quite the best looking but such an engulfing drive, a delectable chassis and a well equipped interior. It also happens to be the best value.


Car - Ford Fiesta ST-2 1.6 EcoBoost SCTI
Price - £17,995 (£18,995 as tested)
Engine – 1.6 litre, turbocharged inLine 4 cylinder, petrol
Transmission – 6 Speed Manual
0-62mph – 6.9 seconds
Top speed - 139 mph
Power - 179bhp
Torque - 214lb ft
Economy - 47.9mpg combined
CO2 - 138 g/km
Kerb weight - 1163kg unladen
2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

Review by Colin Hubbard