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Mechanical Testing of The 2017 Ford Fiesta ST

Next year, the Ford Fiesta ST, one of our favorite hot hatchbacks, undergoes a redesign and surgery to remove one of the four cylinders from its engine. Early indications are that this change isn’t reductive: The three-cylinder, 2018 Fiesta ST still will pack the same 197 horsepower as today’s four-cylinder model. Gauging the side effects of the operation must wait until we drive the new car—that is, provided Ford decides to sell it in the United States.


So far, the new ST and its updated Fiesta siblings are confirmed only for European markets. It couldbe sent here. There’s also a chance we could see a repeat of the disappointing strategy Ford employed on the original Focus, meaning we’d get only a refresh of the current, aging Fiesta while the rest of the world enjoys improved designs. Or we could get no Fiesta and no ST, period. Ford isn’t yet saying. The current Fiesta ST is too good a car to be killed off quietly or to see its life cycle extended long enough to become “old,” and this test of a 2017 model is a clear reminder of why this one-time 10Best-awarded hot hatch deserves a follow-up. 



 

Quite Literally a Party
What makes the Fiesta ST so great? The way the engine, chassis, and lightweight body combine to form a wonderfully balanced performance envelope. There is just enough handling for the power at hand . . . or just enough power for the handling, depending on your point of view. The turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four has precisely the perfect amount of beans. Its 197 horsepower adds a Fiesta-sized drizzle of accelerative thrills without overwhelming the front-drive ST’s drivability the way the larger Focus ST’s 252-hp engine does.

Torque steer is minimal, and any tugs attempting to make their way through the steering column are mostly quelled by a brake-based, digital imitation of a limited-slip differential. (We’d love to see a mechanical limited-slip added to the next-generation Fiesta ST, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.) If the new ST can match this car’s sprightly 6.9-second rip to 60 mph, great-feeling six-speed shifter, and rorty engine note, we’ll be good.  





Ditto the ST’s lowered, firmer suspension relative to regular Fiestas. This setup is capable of incredible grip when paired with the standard Bridgestone Potenza summer tires. We recorded 0.93 g, which places the Fiesta solidly in sports-car territory. Bemoan the Ford’s front-wheel drive all you want, but its grip is slightly better than the rear-drive Mazda MX-5 Miata’s (which, incidentally, rides on similar Bridgestone rubber). The Ford behaves differently, of course, preferring aggressive late braking into corners to swing its unpowered rear axle wide and to tighten its line. The handling is eminently predictable, the steering quick and communicative. Like the Miata, this is a car with which you could easily use to teach a newbie how to drive quickly.

It’s Not Perfect, Just Close
Just don’t have that novice try to change a radio station using the standard Sync 3 touchscreen. The screen and menus themselves are fine, but they’re mounted so far away from the driver that touching the display is difficult. The reach belies the underlying Fiesta platform’s age: In non-ST form, the car originally wasn’t offered with a touchscreen, meaning Sync 3 is slapped into a high-mounted cove on the dashboard that once held a nontouch display. Another oddity? No backup camera is even offered, not that it’s totally necessary, since the tiny Fiesta is easy to maneuver.

Other interior foibles include weirdly grained plastic on the door panels that’s rough to the touch, chintzy-looking gauges, and minimal cubbies to stash stuff. On one hand, this is an inexpensive car. On the other, these are all easy fixes, and it would appear as though Ford handled most if not all of them with the new Fiesta. If your body fits in the optional $1995 heated Recaro sport seats, they are worth it for the extra bolstering they provide. The upgraded chairs lock front-seat occupants in place, but to some they feel confining and are slightly too big for the Fiesta’s tight cabin. The 10-cubic-foot cargo hold is twice as commodious as what’s available in the Miata and can be expanded by folding the rear seats flat.

Daily Goodness
Commuting duty is no problem, thanks to the livable ride quality and relatively quiet cabin. In fact, if you’re in a hurry, the Fiesta ST is one of the best cars for dicing through plodding traffic during rush hour. Its small size allows it to squirt into gaps between cars, and the immediacy with which it changes direction makes darting into those holes a snap. A useful swell of torque is always a buttery downshift and a mashed accelerator away. Simply aim anywhere between 2500 and 4000 rpm to tap into the turbocharger’s overboost function that increases peak boost (and thus power) in that range.

Best of all, the Fiesta ST is affordable to buy and run. We beat the snot out of our Fiesta for two weeks and recorded 25 mpg; separately, on our 75-mph, 200-mile highway fuel-economy loop, it notched 38 mpg. To its $22,015 base price, our test car added $795 navigation, the aforementioned Recaro seats, $375 black-painted wheels, and $595 Orange Spice metallic paint. The total damage came to just $25,775. Unlike many cheap speed machines, the Fiesta ST wears a tastefully subtle body kit and, in its less extroverted hues, is generally incognito compared with the peacocking Mini Cooper S, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, and Honda’s latest Civic Si.

Having not yet driven the new ST, we can at least say Ford carried over the current model’s restrained look to great effect. As for the rest of it, we hope the suspension and steering bits are just as sweet as the current car’s and that the newfangled turbo triple is as tractable as today’s turbo four. Because if Ford decides to sell three-cylinder 2018 Fiesta STs in American dealerships next year, its updates had better not be malpractice.


HIGHSPerfect blend of engine, handling, affordability, and everyday usability.

LOWSTouchscreen is a reach, optional Recaro seats are confining, no backup camera.




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