For a major corporation obsessed with converting cars and trucks into dollars and cents, hot hatchbacks like the Ford Fiesta ST are mutant blips. Ford won’t say how many STs it hopes to sell in the U.S., but 10,000 a year would induce happiness at the Glass House in Dearborn, we’re told. That amount is roughly the number of F-150s Ford builds every year with whalebone dashboards.
Five for the Colonies
Hot Fiestas have been in European showrooms for a couple of decades, but the 2014 ST is the first such car for North America, as Ford makes more and more of its products global. The ST, which goes on sale in the U.S. this August, emerged from Ford’s engineering center in Cologne, Germany, and was finessed at its proving ground in Lommel, Belgium. The car will be assembled for North America in Mexico, with an engine shipped in from the United Kingdom. That’s a lot of frequent-flier miles for one small car.
For its $22,195 base price, you’re getting a vehicle essentially identical to the European version, from the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder to the autobahn-firm suspension tune to the single-spec Bridgestone Potenza RE050A summer tires. Well, there is one major difference: The Euro ST will only be a three-door hatchback, whereas the American ST will come only in five-door form.
No three-door Fiesta is currently available in the U.S., and the dumpy-looking Fiesta sedan, a local concession to America’s inexplicable hatchback hatred, would look silly in this hero costume. It would also cost more to produce with noncommon parts, so the five-door it is. The two hatchbacks share wheelbases, but the five-door weighs about 130 more pounds than the three-door.
Dishing Up the Deets
The question with sporty variants always boils down to how much steak you get with the potato. In this particular tater tot, there’s one big change under the hood, and there are dozens of small changes elsewhere that produce a thoroughly fun little filet. Note, however, that we were only shown the three-door Euro version, and only with the optional Recaro seat package ($1995), navigation ($795), and 17-inch metallic gray wheels with red brake calipers ($375), which together would push a U.S.-spec ST over $25,000. A $795 sunroof is also offered.
The cast-aluminum, direct-injected 1.6-liter turbo is basically the same engine as offered in the Fusion sedan, meaning it’s a big motor in a small car. Here, governed by revised calibrations, it makes 197 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 214 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm. Peak power is made in “overboost” mode, when the turbo is squeezing in a maximum of 21 psi. To stretch the engine’s durability, Ford programmed the computer to cut pressure after 20 seconds at wide-open throttle, a situation you’re likely to encounter only at Bonneville or the N?rburgring, or when fleeing the cops. But lift just once, and the overboost timer resets.
Because some days are good, there’s only one transmission available, and it has six speeds and one clutch pedal. The lower ratios are relatively short, which means 60 mph takes two shifts and is probably about 6.7 seconds away. The upper ratios stretch out into a double overdrive for fuel-economy purposes. Ford and the EPA haven’t produced numbers, but expect the combined figure to fall in the low 30s.
The Fiesta’s basic front-strut, rear-twist-beam suspension layout is retained, but with major differences. The ST’s front knuckles have different attachment points to the control arm and steering linkages that increase the camber gain as the wheels stroke, a dynamic geometry change that makes the steering more darty. Meanwhile, a thicker front anti-roll bar pushes more of the roll to the back, which, along with computerized torque-vectoring control that brakes the inside front wheel in turns, helps the ST corner more sharply and with less understeer. The electric power-steering system has a firmer tune, and the ST’s rack gets a quicker ratio, dropping from 14.6:1 to 13.6:1.
In back, the ST’s twist beam has its own part number, as the center tube is stiffened with thicker-walled steel. The spring rates rise about 20 percent, and the shocks are revalved for firmer body control. The rear disc brakes replace the standard Fiesta’s drums, and the front rotors grow to 10.9 inches.
Compared with the newly launched Focus ST, which starts $2300 higher, Ford pushed the Fiesta a little further with its suspension tune, says vehicle engineering manager Tyrone Johnson. Partly it was a learning curve from one product to the next, and partly it was because Ford wanted the Fiesta to be a bit more randy for its expected younger audience.
The visuals include a larger grille of meshed honeycomb along with extra air ducting below the bumper, including one for the intercooler. The base wheels are as-yet unseen, although the optional five-spoke jobs echo the Focus ST’s. Aft, a rooftop spoiler sits up top, and a frowning rear undertray graphic frames twin exhaust outlets poking from the single muffler.
Inside, the ST hyperbole is kept to a minimum: The special steering wheel has an ST logo and dimpled leather covering the usual grip points, and the wrapped shifter is cut with six notches in the pattern. We only experienced the optional and narrowly cut Recaro seats, which grip your backside firmly with a mix of leather and what looks like gray Speedo swimsuit material dotted with padded nibs. They are similar but not identical to the Focus ST’s, we’re told. The base seating will be black-cloth buckets.
Every example of the car looks and feels great running the smooth roads that traverse the high massifs looming over the French Riviera, so Ford’s choice for the launch location was well played. Here, the ST is a continual delight, with fantastic helm control and punchy power delivery from its bee-filled bonnet. The engine makes decent torque down low but really starts its workday in earnest around 3000 rpm, clocking out at 5000. You spend a lot of your time shuttling between third and fourth gear using the light and direct shifter and frequently don’t need to downshift. Instead, you just stand on it and let the turbo munch on gas flow and make the big torque. On the highway, the stick slides up into sixth, and everything settles in for a reasonably relaxed cruise.
Not much chatter makes its way up the steering, but the electric boost is shaded down to deliver very natural weighting. The front-end roll stiffness combined with the electronic torque-vectoring system keeps both tires planted and digging through corners. This small car really scoots hard on uphill passes and through tight ess-bends, with little understeer and no tire spin to kill the joy. When you need to stop now, as we did when a yellow La Poste truck nosed into the road dead ahead, the brakes answer with a solid, strong bite.
Yes, the ride is tuned firm, so it’s going to toss heads a bit back home on America’s broken pavement, but enough wheel travel remains to round off the sharper edges, despite a ride height dropped by 0.6 inch.
The spunky little ST is more important for what it says about Ford than what it does for the company’s bottom line. It proves that Ford isn’t without a soul, that somewhere inside that giant transnational monolith that pays the bills with pickup-truck sales, there are people who actually care about small cars.
Text Source: Car and Driver