With apologies to Bob McNamara, William Westmoreland and – not incidentally – Country Joe McDonald, we’ve employed the Fish Cheer not for any latent hostilities toward the conflict in Southeast Asia (although they remain), but rather, for the wide-open fun that can be found behind the wide-mouth grill of Ford’s Fiesta ST. Combining almost 200 horsepower in a fun, affordable and – not incidentally – well-built package, the 2014 Fiesta ST is a worthwhile entry in Ford’s long history (80 years and counting) of bringing accessible performance to the street.
Of course, if you were old enough to read (or watch TV) in the early ‘60s, you know it was then that Ford management and engineering elected to kick their pursuit of performance into overdrive. From Nascar to the NHRA to LeMans, Ford was seemingly everywhere, including the winner’s circle. And the effort was truly global, with Galaxies competing on the Nascar circuit while Cortinas rallied and Ford’s money fueled the Lotus-Cosworth V8. We reference this by virtue of the Fiesta ST’s numerous virtues, all of which clearly recall a time when Ford dominated the strips, ovals and road courses.
Although not as ubiquitous on U.S. roads as Ford would probably like, you’ve certainly seen the newish Fiesta, either as a hatchback or sedan, in or around the neighborhood. Regardless of its trim level, we’re extremely fond of the hatch, while wishing money spent on the sedan’s trunk had been (better) spent on interior plastics. Introduced with a ‘cooking’ 1.6 liter four, the Fiesta delivers performance best described as zippy, its modest power helped in no small part by its modest weight. With the intro of the ST the Fiesta’s weight remains modest – roughly 2,700 pounds, some 500 less than the next-step-up Focus – while its performance is stirring.
What Ford describes as its high-output 1.6 liter FTDI EcoBoost I-4 delivers 197 horsepower @ 6,350 rpm and, even more fun, just over 200 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. Built at a Ford plant in Bridgend, U.K., the turbocharged four absolutely reeks of Euro-influenced goodness, with an engine seemingly able to rev faster than the tach, a Healey-like low-end and an exhaust note that might have been found in the soundtrack for Ron Howard’s Rush. We’ve driven Ford’s EcoBoost-powered F-Series and Fusion, but nothing so justifies the EcoBoost descriptive as this engine in this platform.
Connecting the ST’s prodigious power to the pavement is the only available trans, a 6-speed manual with an amazingly short 1st gear, well-connected linkage and a reasonably relaxed 5th and 6th. The .69:1 sixth gear, in combination with a 3.82:1 final drive, equated to just 3,000 rpm while traveling at 80 miles-per-hour. And that is an eminently civilized speed in which to pilot this blatantly uncivilized piece of transportation.
Behind the well-shaped, leather-wrapped wheel you’ll enjoy a clear view of the dash board, with heating and ventilation controls separate from the Fiesta’s high-mounted – and appropriately smallish – screen. The MyFord Touch continues to get more intuitive, but we were hoping those 6.5 inches of screen could be replaced by a set of classically styled rally(e) gauges; that would be the shizzle…
Seating in our test Fiesta was courtesy of the folks at Recaro. And while the uptick is $1,995, we were far more impressed by their level of support – in combination with reasonable ingress and egress – than we were in the example offered in the Focus ST. The Fiesta’s buckets offer appropriate support without seeming too cumbersome or, on exit, too confining. In short, we’d spec ‘em, while suggesting a seat insert in something like Jimmy Clark’s family tartan.
Ride and handling is provided by MacPherson struts at the Fiesta’s business end, with a twist beam supported by coil springs and gas-charged shocks at the rear. A modified front steering knuckle (we’re told) makes for a quicker overall steering ratio. And the rack-and-pinion with electric power assist is both quick and communicative; more so, of course, from a stop under hard throttle, but very good at all speeds over most surfaces.
The ride is decidedly firm, and the Fiesta’s short wheelbase contributes to one which can occasionally prove decidedly choppy, but all of it simply adds to the fun. This ain’t no Lincoln (thankgawd), and those buying into its well-connected dynamic – which includes the aforementioned steering and capable braking – will accept the necessary compromises in ride and handling.
Just as the weight is almost 20% less than its Focus sibling, so is the footprint much more personal. Although capable of carrying four to lunch or dinner, you and a (moderately sized) companion will fit perfectly for any distance you’re inclined to cover. And if carrying things, you’ll enjoy some 85 cubic feet of total passenger volume, in combination with a reasonably generous hatch opening and fold-down rear seats. Again, this isn’t a Lincoln (not even a Mazda3 hatchback), but is much more practical than anything – short of a Countryman – offered on a Mini showroom, and is exponentially more useful than Fiat’s 500 Abarth. The only thing missing is Charlie Sheen’s mug in a TV campaign.
At the end of two weeks we were – and I’ll try to be objective here – completely smitten by Ford’s Fiesta ST. Among ‘hot’ hatches we think this is the no-brainer, as $24K will get you little more than a stripped Cooper S, or perhaps a lightly-optioned Abarth. Chevy’s Sonic RS is less expensive, but not sufficiently cheaper to accept its sixty fewer horsepower. If Honda were to offer its Civic Si in 4-door hatchback form it could be a credible alternative, but they don’t. And we enjoy the versatility implicit in the small hatch configuration.
With Ford’s all-new Mustang rolling out (with a base price of around $24K), there might be some perceived overlap between the all-new Mustang and this aggressively upgraded Fiesta. Were it our $24K we know what we’d do: Buy the Fiesta, and begin every day blowing by base Mustangs. And it’s one-two-three-what-are-we-driving-for?