Life, etc

Ford Fiesta ST: Rocket rising

By Deon Schoeman 4 July 2013

The race for pocket rocket supremacy is hotting up. Already in the starting blocks are established protagonists such as the VW Polo GTi and Opel’s Corsa OPC. Waiting in the wings are the Peugeot 208 GTi and the Renault Clio RS – both due for local launch soon. But already on our roads is Ford’s feisty contender for pocket rocket stardom: the Fiesta ST. DEON SCHOEMAN drives it.

Ford and motorsport have been synonymous for almost as long as the brand has been around.

I can’t really imagine one of Henry Ford’s original Model Ts tearing up a track, but it’s true that the Blue Oval has an extensive and illustrious motorsport heritage. It involves almost every facet of the sport: from Formula 1 to rallying, from endurance events to cross-country racing.

That heritage is also at the core of the brand’s current performance models, the Focus ST – and now, the much-anticipated Fiesta ST. This is the second-generation Fiesta to wear the ST badge, and it’s been a long time coming.

At first, Ford was adamant that there would be no ST-badged performance version of the latest Fiesta. But the popularity of the original, and the fact that the Fiesta became the Blue Oval’s weapon of choice in the World Rally Championship, always seemed to suggest otherwise.

And so, it came as no surprise that the ST badge has finally found its way onto the feisty hatchback’s rump. The only question is why it took Ford so long.

The ST has arrived just in time to square up for an epic battle – the tooth-and-nail fight for supremacy in the burgeoning pocket rocket category. Here, a new generation of lithe and lean machines are contesting the high octane-soaked turf once the domain of Golf GTIs, Focus STs and Mégane RS.

As iconic as those nameplates are, their move to more upmarket, more sophisticated territory has left the field wide open for younger, hungrier, fast-and-furious contenders. And the ST’s mix of athletic looks and dynamic promise suggest it may be a front-runner.

In the looks department, the little Ford reflects the most recent updates to the overall Fiesta range. That means it gets burdened with that awful, gaping grille – a vast aperture that is more guppy than yuppie. At least the gloss-black honeycomb effect unique to the ST provides a measure of visual relief.

That aside, this hot Fiesta is compact and handsome – especially since it employs the three-door shape. The ST treatment adds a full body kit, bigger wheels and a lower, angrier stance to the package. It’s the kind of car that looks fast, even when standing still.

It’s easy to forget that the Fiesta is a lot smaller than a Focus or a Golf. The proportions are just right, with a sense of cohesion and alacrity created by the wheels planted at each corner, the steep rake of the windscreen, the deep front airdam, and the way the roofline extends into a substantial spoiler.

The unexpected sense of generous scale continues in a cabin that, while certainly not cavernous, doesn’t feel cramped – and that despite the presence of a pair of pukka, heavily bolstered Recaro bucket seats.

They’re the kind of seats that feel almost intrusive at first, but keep you so resolutely supported that they combine confidence with comfort, even when hammering the Ford through the twisties.

The Recaros also assist in creating a driving position that feels just right: the thick-rimmed steering wheel, directly ahead, framing clearly calibrated instrument dials, while the gearshift lever is exactly where your left hand expects to find it. Even the alloy pedals are nicely spaced for heel-and-toe downshifts.

Augmenting this intuitive driving office is a list of luxury and convenience kit that seems almost incongruous in this fast-and-furious context. Keyless entry and starting, climate control, cruise control, multifunction steering wheel controls, Bluetooth connectivity, a trip computer.

And then there is the Ford MyKey system – a programmable key that allows certain parameters to be pre-set. Those parameters include vehicle speed and sound system volume. The key can also prevent the user from switching off the stability control system.

But the cabin also has its shortcomings. Access to the rear is compromised by those very seats I like so much, even though they slide all the way forward. They’re just bulky. Rear accommodation is adequate, at best – and that’s nothing unusual in this sector, either.