Ford Fiesta ST3 2014 reviewFord hasn’t been making an ST expensive enough to please buyers. So it’s loaded a model with kit, called it ST3 and launched it to lure yet more eager buyers.

RICHARD AUCOCK | AUGUST 2014

The Ford Fiesta pretty much outsells all its key rivals put together. Sorry, Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo, Peugeot 208 GTI et al. Ford’s found particular success with the Fiesta ST2: the base ST may have a £17k lead-in price but it’s the better-equipped variant most are buying.

Indeed, most are buying it, then adding on optional extras. Buyers seem to think the Fiesta ST is a bargain and are happy to spend more on it (not least because the driving experience itself is so incredibly rich and rewarding).

Ford, therefore, have spotted an opportunity. Launch an even better equipped range-topping Fiesta ST3, standardising some of the bits people are choosing as options. The ST3 thus takes an ST2 and adds electronic climate control, sat nav, Sony DAB stereo, cruise control and power-fold door mirrors with puddle lamps.

Headlamps, wipers and rear view mirror dimming are automated, and the Ford convenience pack is included as standard: this includes Ford’s KeyFree keyless go setup. In all, it easily adds up to more than £1000, yes that’s the premium Ford charges for it: £19,250 on the road. Is the ST3 thus the hot Fiesta to have?

What’s the Ford Fiesta ST3 like to drive?

It’s as fantastic to drive as the regular Fiesta ST and then some. There’s a BMW-like feeling to its hesitation-free steering, whose weighting and linear immediacy are as impressive as the feedback delivered (even the under-power torque squirm sometimes felt is a positive). BMW would also be delighted to make a FWD chassis this agile, faithful, grippy and poised.

Actually, BMW does – it makes the MINI Cooper S – but the Fiesta ST is an equal of that car, certainly in terms of mass-free feel and playful engagement. It’s maybe a bit less sophisticated than the MINI, but even this is a positive as it adds to the involvement.

The engine is a real gem too. Ford’s Welsh-built Sigma engine is very smooth and willing to rev – something those who remember the XR2i’s thrashy CVH won’t believe at first – with a dose of turbine-like eagerness at high revs. It’s not particularly quiet, but the burble is both eager and pure, and the torque-filled eagerness is ever-entertaining. The gearbox is very good too; not quite as rifle-bolt as Ford’s best, but still streets ahead of a 208 GTi’s slack, rubbery setup.

And that ‘then some’? Well, adding the extra kit does something interesting. It helps you overlook some of the flipsides such a committed chassis brings. Namely a taut ride. Yes, the Fiesta ST is a firmly set up car, one with appreciable more focus than its direct rivals. We cheer loudly that Ford has done this, and feel it’s not actually a ‘bad’ ride, just a focused one. But with a few luxuries to make it so plush in other ways, somehow the firmness becomes a bit more tolerable.

Is the Fiesta ST3 now the choice Fiesta ST?

The Fiesta ST3 is the most perfect iteration yet of the ST range. All the equipment to make it a bit like an executive car, but all the purist driving engagement to make it feel like something that, in a decade’s time, really will be marked out as a classic. We’ll be idolising this car in years to come and the ST3 could well be the one keen collectors seek out as the one to have.

The fundamentals in all ST are still there, of course. We found those body-bugging Recaros pretty much perfect, some of the best seats we’ve sat on in years (and the driving position itself is spot on), while the general Fiesta-themed practicality helped it generally fit into our life with disarming ease. There’s loads of integrity built into this car – again, like a BMW, it feels both built to last and built with plenty of longevity engineered into the drivetrain – and the icing was, when you can bring yourself to drive it normally, exceptional economy from the 1.6 turbo. Nearly 58mpg, anyone?

The only way it could be improved would be by making it as a five-door. Anathema to many, sure. There’s never been a five-door Ford supermini hot hatch (heavens the five-door Fiesta itself didn’t arrive until 1989) but this would be a perfect place to start. So well does it drive, it seems only right to broaden this out to those who really need five-door practicality – families, for example, or user-chooser fleet drivers who may find the low CO2, sub-£20k price and fleet-friendly standard spec viable, but the car not on the longlist because policy dictates no three-doors.

Interesting thought, Ford? After all, such buyers are currently turning to your Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo rival at the moment…

MR VERDICT: 2014 Ford Fiesta ST3

The Ford Fiesta ST2 outsells the base ST 15 to 1. The ST3 moves the range further upmarket and is likely to snare some of those ST2 buyers by encouraging them to trade up.

It’s a sign of how good the Fiesta ST is that, as the model evolves, Ford’s having to make it more expensive, not cheaper. That’s how superb it is to drive; how strong its engine is, how sublime its handling is. It really is the perfect package, to which the new Fiesta ST3 trim simply adds further polish.

Rivals

  • MINI Cooper S
  • Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo
  • Peugeot 208 GTi
  • SEAT Ibiza Cupra
  • Vauxhall Corsa VXR

The MINI Cooper S is a marvel. The new chassis has broadened its repertoire without spoiling the entertainment of the old one – and the 2.0-litre turbo BMW engine is a brilliant addition. The Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo isn’t what it was but is still good, as is the upmarket 208 GTi. The SEAT Ibiza Cupra never really inspired and is an also-ran; the Vauxhall Corsa VXR is raucous and ragged good fun but off the pace now.

Specification – Ford Fiesta ST3

Engine 1.6-litre turbo petrol

Gearbox Six-speed manual

Price from £19,250

Power 182hp

Torque 177lb ft

0-62mph 6.9 seconds

Top speed 139mph

MPG 47.9

CO2 138g/km