By now, you may have read the new 2018 Ford Fiesta ST is brilliant. Nobody who’s driven it has been able to hide their excitement at the latest fast Ford star. The fact Ford’s priced the new ST hot hatch from just £18,995 only adds to the wonderment.
We won’t leave you guessing: we too are besotted by Ford’s new pocket rocket. The old Fiesta ST was a cracking driver’s car, but not without its flaws: the ride was hard, the seats too high, the infotainment abysmal. Ford’s challenge was to rectify it without spoiling the magic. It’s succeeded.
Here, then, are 12 review highlights of the new Fiesta ST, drawn from our early first drive. These are the reasons the competition – Peugeot Sport 208 GTI, Renault Sport Clio 200 Turbo, Volkswagen Polo GTI – will be asking their engineers for their response.
These are the reasons you will want the new 2018 Ford Fiesta ST.
Phew! The engine is excellent!
The first thing we did when we read preview details of the new Fiesta ST was panic. Really? A 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine? Was Ford serious? It was, and by Jove, if we had a hat to hand, we’d eat it. This is a cracking hot hatch engine.
For starters, it’s fast – 0-62mph takes 6.5 seconds and it will do 144mph flat-out. 200hp is delivered at 6,000rpm and pulling power of 213lb ft comes in from 1,600rpm, remaining flat until 4,000rpm. It’s the latter that makes an engine feel fast in real-world use; as the new ST has a significant 20 percent more of it than the old one, at more accessible engine revs, the step-up is appreciable.
It’s a free-spinning, driveable thing too, responsive to blips of the accelerator pedal and never having the treacley feel less sporty engines can. Where a 1.0-litre Ford Ecoboost can hang onto revs during gearchanges, this is much less susceptible.
It’s the character of the new motor that really stands out though. The whubba-whubba pulse at idle and as you pull away (audible both outside and in) is amusing; the throb as you build revs is pleasing. And at high revs, you’ll swear it howls and wails like a Porsche 911.
The gearbox is manual. And it’s brilliant
In fact, all the controls operate with the precision you’d normally associate with Porsche. Particularly the gearchange. Ford hasn’t made the mistake some rivals have, and insisted you have the Fiesta ST with a DSG auto. It’s manual-only here, and what a six-speed shift it is.
Nicely weighted, well-oiled and exceptionally precise, it’s another great Ford gearbox, rounded out by a stubby, short-shift gearlever with a cool-to-the-touch metal inlay.
Ford hasn’t forgotten the other key component of a great gearshift, either. The clutch is positive, child’s play to feed in and out, and adds to the feeling of a tight, ultra-precise transmission that’s as sharp as a dual-clutch auto but way more satisfying.
Porsche and BMW know the importance of good clutch pedal feel. So too does Ford.
It no longer rides like concrete
The first few miles driving the old Fiesta ST could be breathtaking. Literally. That’s how stiff the suspension was, and if the dealer was located in a particularly urban part of town, the pounding from the potholes and stiff, frenetic vertical shake of the ST’s ride left you in no doubt it was a hot hatch (and possibly wondering whether the delivery spacers had been left in the suspension). This was a sporty-car ride of the old-fashioned type.
Although it became far more adept and fluid as speeds rose and roads smoothed, Ford still knew it had to do something. After three times the amount of development time it normally spends on suspension setup (and a few patents along the way), the new ST is it. The transformation is quite something.
It hasn’t gone pillowy soft, and still has the taut firmness you’d expect of a roller-skate hot hatch. But it’s way more pliant and far less aggressive in town. Big bumps won’t wind you. The feeling you’re riding a skateboard down a cobbled street is gone. You can now live with the Fiesta ST’s comfort every day, no matter which part of town you live in.
It likes to cock a wheel in the air
No Ford on sale anywhere in the world has a stiffer rear suspension beam than this. It’s to take away any passive rear-steer effect – the feeling of ‘sway’ you get when you turn the front end into a corner and then, after a split-second, the rear suspension rolls, compresses and follows suit.
And in making the back end so stiff and direct, Ford’s introduced another trait – it’ll lift a rear wheel in really tight bends, at a canter. Because it’s so hard, it won’t bend and distort; the trait classic Golf GTIs used to be famed for is back.
The pay-off for such a sog-free rear suspension is ultra-sharp and faithful cornering, with the sort of precision and accuracy normally associated with genuine sports cars. That Ford’s achieved this while still delivering a better ride than before is miraculous.
Red pinstripes are so 1980s. Blue pinstripes (and green ones for the hotter alternative) are 1990s. The latest Fiestas ST is all about subtlety because, Ford designer Jens Sieber told us, that’s what the cool kids are seeking these days.
The ST instead portrays its sportiness in other ways. Its 18-inch alloys (a £350 option on ST-2 trim, standard on ST-3) perfectly fill the wheelarches, with an immaculate ‘tyre-to-wheelarch’ gap. The aero bits that are there, such as the big tailgate spoiler, are there purely for functional reasons. There are no lairy graphics, and even the twin exhausts are subtle.
It’s a class act that doesn’t shout, but you still know it’s the hottest Fiesta of all.
The Performance Pack is magnificent
For £850, Ford will, for the first time, sell a Performance Pack option on the new ST. This has launch control (more later), Ford Performance Shift Lifts… and a Quaife limited-slip differential.
Fitted to the front axle, a limited-slip differential (LSD) helps better distribute engine power between the wheels. On normal cars, power can be ‘spun away’ through the most lightly loaded wheel, either spoiling acceleration or forcing traction control to cut in. Either spoils progress. An LSD avoids this, for more positive acceleration even in tight corners.
Better still, it gives a more positive, planted feel to the front end. The steering feels more geared-up and responsive (there’s even a touch of squirm under power, for added directness). The whole car seems that bit more alive – and the way you can use the power to tuck the nose of the ST in during cornering is hugely satisfying.
Ford expects every other Fiestas ST buyer to go for the Performance Pack. Don’t be surprised if the proportion’s higher still.
The engine note is a bit fake, but who cares?
Full disclosure: the engine note discussed earlier isn’t fully real. Ford says it has Electronic Sound Enhancement, which does exactly that – ‘enhances’ what’s already there and makes it sound richer, prettier, nicer. Think of it like an Instagram filter.
This is different to piping in fake engine noise. What you hear is actually there. It’s just been turned up a bit via electronics. Over to you if you find this objectionable: we thought it was fine, and it certainly didn’t sound ‘fake’.
Besides, the Fiesta ST has an active exhaust noise control valve for good measure, which introduces some ‘real’ fruitiness to things. This bit really does sound real – and, tellingly, it sounds the part to those outside as well. Hear a Fiesta ST park up and you’ll be in no doubt it’s an ST rather than an ST-Line.
The more you thrash it, the more it comes alive
How a car holds up to a good thrashing is always a good indicator of the depth of the engineering beneath. Some feel great at first and then quickly run out of ideas as speeds go up and road conditions degenerate. The Fiesta ST feels great, then simply gets better.
It has a huge array of ability for a pocket rocket hot hatch, tackling fast, challenging, undulating roads with composure and staying sharp even as you barrel hard into yet another tight hairpin. The integrity of it doesn’t fade away as you put it to the test. That’s another trick supercar drivers will also know from Porsches and McLarens.
Launch control is hilarious
Launch control with a manual car sounds bizarre. Normally, it’s in autos, and involves simply planting both feet on the pedals, then lifting the brake and you’re away. You still plant two feet on two pedals with the Fiesta ST’s launch control – only the left one’s a clutch, not a brake.
Fast getaways in manuals usually require sensitivity on the accelerator. With launch control engaged (you do it via the steering wheel buttons and the in-dash menu), just nail your right foot. The car will do the rest.
Lift the clutch smartly and a perfect start is delivered each and every time, and if your clutch pedal action is swift (and you don’t forget to change gear), 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds should be yours. It’s enormous fun.
All the bad bits of the old Fiesta ST have been fixed
Hard to believe with all the eulogising, but the old Fiesta ST 1.6T had more than the odd failing. Its seats were positioned far too high, so it felt a bit like a practical people carrier, not a poised hot hatch. Here, Ford and Recaro have not only developed another classic set of hip-hugging chairs, they’ve also enabled them to be positioned nice and low for a far more natural driving position.
The garbled mess of a button-packed infotainment system, complete with tiny screen buried deep into the dash, is rectified by a crisp, large-format Ford Sync3 setup, positioned close to the driver for touchscreen control, and equipped with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (standard cars have a 6.5-inch screen, ST-2 and ST-3 have a punchier 8.0-inch setup).
All other buttons and controls are more intuitive. The dials are clearer. The driving position is perfect. The sense of quality within is much higher. Even little things like using the climate control (standard from ST-2) is now a nicer experience. Ford’s clearly been going through the reviews and owners’ forums, and fixing the failings, one by one.
It apparently has cylinder deactivation (but we forgot all about it)
Big news: the 2018 Fiesta ST’s 1.5-litre three-cylinder Ecoboost engine can turn into a 1.0-litre two-cylinder during low engine loads, to save fuel and cut emissions. It does this by cutting the fuel supply and using a clever switch to disable valve operation for that one cylinder.
It’s seamless, undetectable, and the only thing you need to do is drive steadily and gently, if you can bear. The car does the rest.
Another disclosure: it’s so seamless and undetectable, and the ST such a riot, we forgot all about it. There were periods where we weren’t thrashing it, so it theoretically would have been active, but we simply didn’t notice. There was no hesitation, no lag in power delivery, no change in engine note.
The benefit should be real-world fuel economy. When we get it back into the UK and can try to drive more sensibly, we’ll let you know how close to the 47.1mpg claimed average we get.
It gives you supercar breeding and excitement from £18,995
You can perhaps by now tell we think the Fiesta ST is a class act. It sounds a bit like a Porsche 911 and drives even more like one, exuding immense depth and connoisseur’s breeding. The faster you drive, the better you drive, the more it gives back – while doing all the regular Ford Fiesta stuff like being compact in town, easy to handle and comfortable to drive daily.
That it costs from under £19,000 is this headline news, particularly in the days of the £18k Suzuki Swift Sport (a car with a full 64hp less power than the Fiesta). Buyers perhaps won’t buy the ST-1, but they will take the ST-2, which still costs under £20k in three-door guise, and £20,645 as a five-door. Let a Ford dealer massage the PCP calculator to get you the Performance Pack and a pretty metallic (choose from seven different colours) and you’ll have a supercar supercar steal.
The new Ford Fiesta ST really is that good. Five stars? You bet. After this first drive, if we could give it six, we would…
Verdict: 5 stars
Specification: 2018 Ford Fiesta ST
Engine: 1.5-litre turbo Ecoboost three-cylinder
Gearbox: Six-speed manual (with launch control)
Torque: 213lb ft
Top speed: 144mph
Fuel economy: 47.1mpg
2018 Ford Fiesta ST prices
- ST-1 three-door: £18,995
- ST-2 three-door: £19,995
- ST-2 five-door: £20,645
- ST-3 three-door: £21,495
- ST-3 five-door: £22,145