2014 Ford Fiesta ST review: Hot hatch thrill ride suffers from tiny touch screen

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Advanced engine tech means minimal fuel economy sacrifice for big power in the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST. Corner braking helps already sharp handling. Ford Sync supports excellent device connectivity, and the Fiesta ST comes standard with Sirius Travel Link.

The Bad The MyFord Touch interface appears very small on the 6.5-inch touch screen. App support and online destination search are not available.

The Bottom Line Inexpensive yet high-performing, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST rewards people who enjoy driving, while cabin electronics support all those mundane tasks that need doing when not on a twisty back road.

7.7 Overall
  • Cabin tech 7.0
  • Performance tech 9.0
  • Design 7.0

As Subaru will only offer the WRX and STI in sedan formats, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST may well be the hottest hatchback in the land. In ST form, the little Fiesta subcompact gets 197 horsepower, a suspension affording easy apex rotation, and brakes that shave off just the right amount of speed. Down a twisty track, I reveled in the perfectly responsive steering.

The only thing I found to complain about with the Fiesta ST is that the car just isn't outrageous enough. The array of bright colors (green envy, race red, and molten orange) don't quite bring it over the edge. Nor does the sport spoiler hanging over the hatchback.

What Ford really needs to emphasize the car's ST-ness is something like a turbo gauge on the A-pillar, or a G-meter showing up on the head unit. The standard 17-inch "sparkle silver painted" aluminum wheels don't have the swagger the Fiesta ST deserves.

Such showy frills aside, the Fiesta ST proved to be everything I could want on the road. It follows the formula of its big brother, the Focus ST, with excellent handling that makes for serious fun, and even allows a little experimentation in cornering. The Fiesta ST proved very forgiving when I wanted to try trail-braking or other turn strategies.

The Fiesta ST can only be had as a hatchback, the standard Fiesta body adorned with a black grille, the aforementioned spoiler, and liberally placed ST badges. As a high trim Fiesta, Ford includes its MyFord Touch cabin tech interface, which shows on a 6.5-inch touch screen, standard. Navigation, a plug-in SD card-based system, is optional. The Fiesta also comes standard with an eight-speaker Sony audio system.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST
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Ford only offers the Fiesta ST in hatchback form, which should be the most desirable body for its demographic. Josh Miller/CNET

On my example, the option that I could easily do without was the Recaro seat package. Large bolsters hugged me just a little too tight, and inhibited easy access, something that would quickly become annoying in a daily driver.

High revving
Where the standard Fiesta gets a simple 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, the Fiesta ST adds those two miracles of engine power and efficiency, direct injection and a turbocharger, pushing its output up to 197 horsepower and 202 pound-feet of torque. Ford boasts that the Fiesta ST is more powerful than the Mini Cooper S, and I would also note its stronger showing than the Fiat 500 Abarth, although both those hopped-up competitors steal a march on the Fiesta ST in style.

Despite the big turbo, I didn't note any lag during acceleration. However, the engine moan at high revs generally induced me to let the tach needle swing around to 5,000 and even 6,000 before I upshifted, potentially masking lag. Funny thing, Ford actually pipes that engine sound into the cabin for the enjoyment of the driver.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST
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The six-speed shifter could be a little more precise, but it gets the job done. Josh Miller/CNET

With this mill, the Fiesta ST gets EPA fuel economy of 26 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, only a couple of mpg less than the 120 horsepower standard Fiesta. While cruising down the freeway at 65 mph, I noted the trip computer holding an average of 32 mpg. Over a course of freeway and high-revving mountain driving, with a little city traffic at the end, my overall average came to 29 mpg, not bad for such a sprightly little car.

The only transmission option is a six-speed manual, which should suit buyers just fine. None of Ford's automatics that I've seen would really do the Fiesta ST justice. The shifter linkage felt a little sloppy to me, lacking that mechanical precision you find in Japanese manuals. However, it never caused me to miss a shift.

Turn in
Where the Fiesta ST really shines is its handling. The Mustang proved Ford could engineer remarkable handling with a live rear axle. For the Fiesta ST, Ford shows a rear torsion bar suspension doesn't have to equal inferior ride and handling. Although the Fiesta ST, sitting 15mm lower than the standard Fiesta, exhibits a more rigid suspension than its less powerful sibling, the ride was rarely uncomfortable.

Diving into turns, the suspension showed a springiness that worked in the car's favor, helping the tires retain contact with the road. Expecting understeer, I was delighted in the Fiesta ST's quick turn-in and ability to hold the line I steered.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST
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The Fiesta ST's natural element is the turn. Josh Miller/CNET

After a lengthy and exhilarating drive, I eagerly got back online to see if the car had a limited slip differential. Much to my surprise, it did not. Instead, Ford includes what it calls "electronic Torque Vectoring Control," a system that applies brakes to the inside front wheel in a turn. The new Subaru WRX, when optioned with the automatic transmission, uses a similar system.

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