Ford aims for continued leadership of the supermini-shaped hot hatch segment with this car, an improved version of the third generation Fiesta ST. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
Want to know just how much fun it's possible to have in a ferociously fast small supermini? Then try one of these - Ford's Fiesta ST. It's been developed like a proper performance car - and drives like one, ready to paint a smile upon your face corner after corner. This third generation model has had a light update and the three cylinder 1.5-litre EcoBoost 200PS engine now gets a fraction more torque, but otherwise, the package is much as before, the handling super sharp. Of course, for not much more than the price Ford asks, you can buy more power. But after a drive in one of these, you probably won't want to.
Here we are again at the end of an era. We'll be saying that quite often to you over the next few years as familiar combustion model lines give way to full-electric ones but in this case, the change is particularly significant. The Ford Fiesta will soon be no more, production scheduled to end in Summer 2023, including the best-loved variant in this enduring model line, this car, the Fiesta ST.
This ST model has long been acknowledged as the driver's choice amongst small runabouts and has a shopping rocket legacy that goes all the way back to the XR2 of 1981, with a history subsequently embellished by the more powerful RS1800 and RS Turbo variants that followed it. Curiously though, none of these early fast Fiesta models ever quite hit the spot for serious enthusiasts. Throughout the Eighties, Nineties and Noughties, they tended to prefer French hot hatch rivals, first a series of small Peugeot GTis, then in more recent years, the Renaultsport Clio. Only with the second generation Fiesta ST of 2012 did Ford finally get their attention. And the company kept it with the replacement MK3 Fiesta ST of 2018, which four years into its production cycle was updated to create the car we're going to try here.
Over the Fiesta's life cycle, the Blue Oval brand has used various performance badges with this model line. Track-spec RS derivatives are long-abandoned, while at the other extreme, 'ST-Line' designates nothing other than a sporty body kit. The 'ST' (or 'Sports Technology') badge though, is different and designates a car purpose-tuned by the talented engineers from the brand's Ford Performance division. The idea here being to create the kind of car a red-blooded racer could enjoy but still use every day. Is that what we have here? Let's see.
The 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine is still the same in this revised Fiesta ST and it still produces 200PS, but pulling power through the gears has improved thanks to a torque enhancement from 290 to 320Nm. The key performance stats though, are unchanged: 62mph from rest in just 6.5s on the way to 143mph. It sounds great too, particularly if you switch into the two dynamic drive modes provided, 'Sport' (which sharpens the acceleration and steering) and 'Racetrack', which delivers an even firmer response at the helm and slackens off the stability control for circuit use. On the pre-facelift car, you only got a short-cut steering wheel spoke button for 'Sport' mode on the limited-run 'Edition' model, but here we're pleased to see that's now been standardised.
A welcome update for this facelifted model is the standardisation of the previously optional 'Performance Pack', which includes a Quaife limited slip differential for extra cornering bite, plus 'Performance Shift Lights' and a 'Launch Control' set-up. As before, more fundamental handling features include frequency-selective race-style dampers which are passive but create much of this car's keen cornering feel. Credit for that goes also to the special 'force vectoring' springs, which have allowed the engineers to simultaneously sharpen cornering turn-in whilst simultaneously improving ride quality - no small achievement.
Other elements of Fiesta ST DNA include a wide track, a super-sharply responsive steering rack, a rigid body, a high performance braking system, eTVC torque vectoring for extra cornering precision and a specially developed set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. The result of all this engineering is a very special package indeed. As you'll realise after the first few seconds of driving it.
Design and Build
It's easy to go overboard and get all Max Power when it comes to a car of this kind, a temptation Ford has thankfully resisted here, but there's a fresh exterior design for this revised version incorporates a slightly more aggressive appearance, together with a higher-tech feel thanks to the sophisticated Matrix LED headlights. The upper and lower honeycombed grilles are finished in distinctive Chrystaline Grey and ST badging along with an aero-optimised lower lip Ford Performance spoiler provide finishing touches. Standard 18-inch alloy wheels feature a brooding dark Magnetite finish and exterior colour options include bold ST Mean Green. Only a five-door body style is now offered.
Inside, disappointingly, the old Recaro sports seats are no more. Instead, Ford Performance Seats have been developed instead. These incorporate integrated headrests and 14-way adjustment, with distinctive red contrast stitching and Sensico trim for a premium feel. A flat-bottomed sport steering wheel and a matte carbon-effect foil with red detailing add further sporty character to the cabin, as does the silver finishing for the pedals, gear knob and Ford Performance-branded door sills. As before, you get blue seatbelts and an 8-inch centre-dash SYNC3 infotainment touchscreen. You've to pay extra though, for the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that most customers will want.
And rear seat space? Well, it's better than the rising beltline might lead you to expect. True, the heavily bolstered front seats do slightly hinder your access into the back, but once you're there, the Fiesta surprises with headroom manageable even for a six-footer - though his or her legs will be crushed pretty snugly against the seat in front. There's also a 292-litre boot, extendable to 1,093-litres by flattening the 60:40 split-folding rear bench.
Market and Model
There is one trim level from which to choose - 'ST3', only available in five-door form and at the time of our test in Autumn 2022 costing just under £27,500. That sum gets you selectable drive modes, as well as a flat-bottomed steering wheel, sports seats and ST sports suspension. Crucially, it also includes Ford's 'Performance Pack', which used to be an expensive extra and includes a Quaife limited slip differential for extra cornering bite, plus 'Performance Shift Lights' and a 'Launch Control' set-up.
You get better headlamps - of the clever adaptive Matrix LED kind - and larger wheels with this facelifted model too; the previous 17-inch rims make way for these more attractive 18-inch 5-spoke Magnetite grey-finished alloy, which come complete with the red calipers of the Ford Performance braking system and are shod with specially-developed Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. Whether this updated model's Ford Performance front sports seats are an improvement is debateable; most loyal owners will have liked the grippy old Recaro chairs. Still, these replacement items are 14-way-adjustable and feature distinctive red contrast stitching and Sensico faux-leather trim.
In keeping with its single full-fat 'ST-3' trim level, this car also comes with plenty of niceties - like climate control, keyless entry, a rear view camera, rear privacy glass, LED rear lights, cruise control, rear parking sensors and a Quickclear heated windscreen. Media stuff is taken care of by the SYNC 2.5 8-inch centre touchscreen, which includes a six-speaker DAB audio system and 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring capability.
The main option you're probably going to want to add is Ford's 'SYNC 3' centre screen upgrade, which gets you the sophisticated 12.3-inch instrument screen, plus a wireless charging mat and for the centre monitor, navigation and the FordPass Connect Wi-Fi set-up. The same package can also be had with an improved 10-speaker B&O audio system.
Cost of Ownership
The whole point of sporty Fiestas has always been to offer a generous slice of fun coupled with modest running costs, a trend which continues with this third generation ST. The whole point of switching to this MK3 model's 1.5-litre three cylinder unit back in 2018 was to boost efficiency and, sure enough, thanks to clever cylinder deactivation technology, you're looking at up to 42.2mpg and up to 151g/km.
The inherent efficiency of the EcoBoost 1.5-litre engine certainly helps this Fiesta's cause, as does Ford's recent design focus on reducing body weight. What else? Well servicing is required every two years or 18,000 miles - whichever comes first. Two pre-paid servicing plans are available; one that covers you for two years and two services; and another that is transferrable to future owners and covers three years and three services. if you're thinking of doing a few track days - and so much fun is this car that it'd be a shame not to - remember to budget for extra wear on brake pads, discs and tyres.
Insurance is group 26E. As for the warranty, well like all Fords, this one comes with a 36-month 60,000-mile package that also includes one year of Europe-wide breakdown assistance. On top of that, there's an anti-corrosion guarantee for 12 years. That only leaves depreciation. If you're a prospective customer, then you'll be glad to hear that Fiesta residual values are on the up as both new and used markets respond well to the increase in quality of the latest generation car - and its impending demise.
This remains a really special little car, usable every day but as focused as you could want when your favourite road opens up and you can flex your right foot, sink into the grippy sports seats and dial up a responsible amount of red mist. We'd also honestly say that it's pretty much the only car in its segment that's ultimately rewarding enough to consider taking on a track day. Which, we think, says everything, the difference, if you like, between a supermini with skirts, spoilers plus a more powerful engine: and a properly developed performance car.
Which is what this is, still as much a go-to choice in its market sector as a Porsche 911 would be if you were looking for a performance sportscar. In all honesty, you'd have more fun in this little Ford on a public road than you ever could in something pricier and more powerful. Think of it as one-up for the common man, small perhaps in price and performance but big in smiles per mile. Which, at the end of the day, is exactly what a hot hatch should really be all about. We'll miss it.