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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The result was joy. Through turn after turn I felt the front wheels dig in, coupled with a little drift at the rear for quick rotation. This performance made me think the Fiesta ST would rule on an autocross course, its tight wheelbase and responsive steering rewarding a competent driver. The Fiesta ST performed equally well on broad sweepers, holding traction with ease at high speed.
Adding convenience for errands and commutes, the type of driving that will take up 95 percent of the Fiesta ST's time, there are the cabin electronics, comprised of Sync and MyFord Touch.
The Sync part of the equation covers phone and device connectivity, anything plugged into the car's two USB ports or paired over Bluetooth. Unfortunately, Sync AppLink is not present, as Ford makes that feature mutually exclusive with MyFord Touch, the 6.5-inch touch screen interface.
While I like that Ford brings the full force of its cabin electronics to the Fiesta ST, the 6.5-inch screen is a bit small and too far away from the driver for easy use. Onscreen buttons, which look fine on the larger screen of the Ford Fusion, become difficult to touch accurately in the Fiesta ST.
However, the system is responsive and includes voice command, which works effectively for just about every function in the car. Sync device support also let me ask for music playback by artist, album, genre, and song name. With destinations, it let me say street addresses in a single string.
I had found problems with this SD card-based navigation in previous Ford models, but it worked well in the Fiesta ST. Even when I drove among tall buildings or through forests, the system did not lose track of the car. Maps showed in plan and perspective views, the latter showing 3D-rendered buildings in downtown areas to help me identify landmarks. The only problem I found with navigation was that rendering occasionally lagged.
The MyFord Touch system bundles SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, which uses the satellite radio service to receive data about local traffic, weather, fuel prices, and even movie times. Traffic and fuel prices, integrated with navigation, are particularly useful, but Ford will need to adopt a cell data connection to remain competitive. Travel Link doesn't support online search for destinations, a feature rapidly being adopted by other automakers.
I like that Ford consolidates all the audio sources, whether broadcast or stored media, onto MyFord Touch's audio screen. Buttons for audio sources appear in a stack to the left of the now playing screen. What I could do without, however, was an interstitial screen that let me choose to Explore Device, or Browse Music when I wanted to access the music library of the iPhone I had plugged into the car's USB port. When I'm barreling down the road at 65 mph, I don't need or want this level of granularity in how I choose what music I want to hear.
Because MyFord Touch eliminates Sync AppLink, the Fiesta ST does not support any music apps. However, with a phone connected to the car through Bluetooth, I could listen to Pandora, or whatever else was playing on my phone. Bluetooth streaming in the Fiesta ST does not support music selection from a device using the car's interface.
The Sony audio system is a nice upgrade, producing much better sound than might be had in a simple four-speaker system. I didn't find the audio quality particularly elevating, but it let me enjoy a variety of music when I wasn't running high revs and listening to the engine.
The 2015 Ford Fiesta ST makes for an amazingly fun little racer, but it is also focuses on a very specific demographic. The car is at its happiest when the tach needle points above 5,000, putting peak horsepower to the front wheels. To appreciate the Fiesta ST, you have to enjoy excellent handling and strive to improve your own car control.
However, in good hot hatchback style, the Fiesta ST serves double duty as weekend warrior and daily driver. There is room for a few grocery bags in the cargo area. The ride is reasonably comfortable, although doing without the Recaro seat option will make getting in and out more comfortable. Additionally, 197 horsepower and fuel economy averaging around 30 mpg is a win-win.
Functionally, the cabin electronics work very well, and every feature except navigation comes standard. Voice command offers good feature control, route guidance is accurate and calculates quickly, and the stereo includes a good number of audio sources. The touch screen, however, is a little small. The real failing is that, as the Fiesta ST comes standard with MyFord Touch, Sync AppLink is not even an option.
|Model||2014 Ford Fiesta|
|Powertrain||Direct-injection, turbocharged, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||26 mpg city/35 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||29 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, SD card, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Sony eight-speaker system|
|Price as tested||$25,580|