If you go around on the motoring interwebs, currently the seventh-generation version of the Ford Fiesta ST is the darling of the press. It's reasonably (startling, given its size) quick, practical, inexpensive, comes in a manual, and more importantly, handles very competently when the road starts to scythe away into the hills. When I first heard that Ford was toying with the idea of bringing the FiST to the U.S., I was thrilled. I said I'd buy one. Fast forward a year and a half from their initial tease, and here I am, proud owner of a 2014 Tuxedo Black Fiesta ST, equipped with Rado Grey 17-inch wheels, painted calipers, matte Shelby stripes, and non-Recaro seats (more on that later).
What is it like to drive?
Well, I'll be honest—it isn't the outright fastest car I've ever driven, but that's also hardly the point of this car. What it is like to drive though, is as close as I reckon there is in the US market of a distillation of what it means to be a hot hatchback. Plenty of power for surface streets, highways, and backroads, tight, focused handling, little regard for compromise in ride comfort, but generally very engaging. The steering is marvelously quick (I can't remember the specifics but it's something like 2 turns to lock). But I could rattle off stats, 0-60s, skidpad g, etc, and it wouldn't matter. What does matter is that even a task like getting a late night energy drink or some groceries can turn into a fun adventure (okay, sometimes not...more on that later). Lay into the throttle in second gear and into third, and you'll still chirp the tires, give it a bit of trail brake into a decreasing-radius turn, and the FiST will gladly wag its tail like the happy pup that it is. More than anything, this is a car with an amazing amount of raw character in an age of very numb, very droll boxes. The tires aren't the grippest in their category (Bridgestone Potenza RE050As in 205/40/17), but in much a similar fashion to the Toyobaru (which was what I cross-shopped this against), this works to the car's advantage, giving you enough grip to safely push the car, but breaking away in a very predictable fashion. Changing tires (to say, Yokohama AD08s or Direzza ZIIs) would make the car faster on paper, but more than likely decrease the fun factor. In fact, I've been told that Ford ST's Octane Academy uses even less grippy tires in order to slide the car even more.
A friend of mine who is into fun cars of all sorts, and has owned her fair share of Fords remarked to me that to her, it was 'what the SVT Focus should have been, but never was'. Remember, this is a car that weighs (fractionally) less than a Toyobaru, with a healthy (and as we've discovered, measurably underrated) 200+ foot-lbs of torque. Yes, it has a torsion rear. But that doesn't bother me. It doesn't seem to bother other owners I know who autocross and road race theirs. Which brings me to another point: this car is very much a driver's car, but almost at the expense of most of the things that make it accessible to your average consumer.
What is it like to live with every day?
You can live with this car. If you're a car enthusiast—and this is Oppo, so you are—you can live with this car every day. I do a lot of mixed driving, and I get about 30+combined MPG in hand-calculated, real world maths. Yes, I'm putting 93 into the car to get the most of it (One of the first things I did was get a COBB Tuning AccessPORT for the car, so am making the most of the 93), but overall, it's actually fairly frugal, without having to drive like a nun on the way to Sunday confession. The FiST also has reasonable back seats, and you can fit a couple people back there fairly comfortably. Now, you'll notice I didn't opt for the Recaro package, and that isn't because I don't like the Recaros. They're fantastic. But, I figured that a good seat of fixed-backs are in my future at some point, and I would feel somewhat bad about tearing them out. The immediate upside is that there is a smidgen of extra rear legroom from the less bulky front seats. As you can see from the above photograph, it can handle weekly groceries for me and my partner without issue, and so far, I haven't needed to fold my seats flat, but with some road trips coming up, I know I'll have to. There's less room than my old Focus, but it'll suffice.
There's a caveat here. While I don't think the ride is as horribly, almost infamously brutal as some of the automotive press have said, it's... unapologetic. Over highway expansion joints, you'll begin to wonder if the suspension on the Fiesta ST wasn't in fact designed by the Blue Oval, but rather, derranged sadists from a defunct Soviet gulag as a means of obtaining state secrets. I'm willing to put up with a lot in a car, but having spent about four highway hours at a time once or twice in this car, I can safely say the UnJalops in your family won't want to be in there for even half.
And another thing. Those 205/40/17-inch Potenzas? They have very little sidewall. And even less shoulder. So this happened within 1000 miles of delivery:
That is a big god-damn screw on the inside shoulder of my right rear. Since this car utilizes a torsion-bar rear, the camber at the back is more or less fixed and dialed in from the factory, and they dialed in uh... a lot more than the ho-hum base Fiesta. And at $218 a pop, these tires aren't that cheap to replace. You'll want to get something with a bit more rubber going on, or you're not going to have a great time. You might even wind up improving the ride a little. But if you're buying this car for the same reasons I did, then you're going to buy some horribly uncompromising Extreme Performance category tire that rides like rough concrete anyways, so why am I wasting my breath?
Another delight (or pitfall, if you value your savings account) about Fiesta ST ownership is the community and aftermarket. You're going to be spending money on this car. And by that, I don't mean you'll be on the side of the road, holding a bottle of distilled water, fanning a steaming engine waiting for a tow. What I do mean is you'll be tempted to pick up something like in the above picture, new exhaust, intercooler, suspension bits, etc. There's even a mechanical limited slip differential available, if you think the (much improved over previous attempts) brake-based torque vectoring system isn't up to the task. Big brake kits? Check. Turbo upgrades? Check. The aftermarket is responding. And you'll be out every weekend, going out to car meets. You will burn a lot of gas on touge runs, food at your local Sonic drive-in, interstate tolls, and visitor parking, autocross memberships, extra tires and autoX wheels, entry to shows...
But is that such a bad thing? The Fiesta ST is the kind of car that encourages you to not leave a day wasted at home trying to find something other than Here Comes Honey-Boo-Boo on cable, inhaling stale Rold Golds you bought ages ago because you wanted to see just how many bags you could fit in the hatch of the FiST. At night, you might not have somewhere in mind to go, but you're out there driving, listening to the happy, acoustically-piped in thrum of this turbocharged four-banger spooling, fluttering, humming and revving up to nearly 7,000 RPM. Like the Toyobaru, or a Miata, or even the Civics of days past, this car wants you to make the most of the attributes it was endowed with, no matter how far away that Cars and Coffee is, no matter how the road curls ahead. And in return, I've yet to meet a Fiesta ST owner who wasn't just as eager to get out there and do the same. Like the cult icons that have come before it, the Fiesta ST cares less about how fast it's actually going, but how it makes you feel when you're driving, or trying to drive fast. The Fiesta ST has that communication with its driver—electric steering or not—from the gearbox to how you can feel the rear wanting to come unstuck with some early apex, mid-corner lift.
Not Everything Has Been Great...
Remember how I mentioned getting groceries can be a rewarding adventure? Well, sometimes it isn't. My Fiesta ST, my partner and I were struck by an inattentive crossover turning left into our lane of traffic, causing a costly front-end collision. When all was said and done—and all of us were fine, so no concerns there—and the at-fault party issued some strong censure by local law enforcement, we were left with what amounted to nearly five thousand dollars worth of damage.
Doesn't look like a lot in this photo, but as a friend said when I showed him in person, the picture doesn't say much. Broken front strut, rashed wheel, buckled front bumper cover, broken horn assembly, headlamp housing (the lens didn't crack, but you can open up the hood and see that its come off of the mounting brackets entirely) and some other things. The frame was fine, but there was a lot of nuisance damage. More aggravatingly, the front struts have been on national back-order with the OEM supplier, and an accident which occurred in June has kept our Fiesta ST off the road until now (I should be getting it back in a few days).
In summation, I've had fun with this car so far, despite some very frustrating setbacks that, really are no fault of the car itself (well, the tire maybe). I'll have more to report on how the car is doing once I have it back in my hands. I can't say that I'm too pleased right now, as it was struck with only 2200 miles on it, but that's life, I guess. I have some events to attend and some drives I'm hoping to do before the cold weather really sets in, so there will be more photos and feedback soon enough.