The Ford Fiesta ST is a lightweight turbocharged little hatchback with an engine and transmission built in the United Kingdom. It is the very definition of a hot-hatch and one that made its way over the pond. For that, we are very happy. Even if it gained 2 extra doors in the process.
I’m generally not a fan of hype. The problem with hype is that it can make you see things that are really not there. It will make you excited for something initially and then taper off over time. Only after that hype has blown over, can you really see what’s in front of you. This happens in the car enthusiast world all the time. Maybe that’s also the reason I like Miatas and old 911s so much. Those cars have stood the test of time. They raised a lot of excitement when they first came out. Even after that initial hype quieted down they stayed popular and became automotive icons.
RallyWays Ford Fiesta ST Review
The Ford Fiesta ST is a car that has been hyped a lot since its latest release. The car also marks the hot-hatch’s arrival into the US market. Top Gear named the Fiesta ST their car of the year beating a McLaren P1 in the process. They say nobody can afford the P1, or some such something. Therefore, the P1 couldn’t possibly be the car of the year. Everyone from Jeremy Clarkson, to Chris Harris, to Matt Farah seems to love the little hatchling. That’s a lot of hype.
There is one thing very different about the Ford Fiesta ST’s hype however. Unlike the Scion FRS and Subaru BRZ that seem to be selling like dang hot cakes, the FiST (Fiesta ST, get it?) does not sell in huge numbers. I don’t have the actual statistics, so I’m going to make some up. For every Fiesta ST Ford sells, they sell 5 bargain basement Fiestas. Or is it 10? For every Fiesta ST sold, 2 Focus STs (FoST) are sold. So imagine how many base Focuses Ford is selling? You get the point.
The Fiesta ST, while very affordable, is not a $15,000 car. It’s more like $25,000. For this reason, only a very specific type of demographic buys this car. Who buys it then? Well, let’s see. This type of car falls in the market category targeted to young guys that like turbos. This means it will inevitably be bought by middle-aged balding men.
RallyWays didn’t jump into the Toyobaru bandwagon last year. Now that the hype is down on those, we’re looking into it. But the Fiesta ST is another story. This one we’ve been interested in checking out for a while now. The reason for this is simple. We don’t think the Toyota GT86 is better than a NC Mazda Miata. But the Fiesta ST… Well, in the USA, apart from the its big brother, the Focus ST and the Volkswagen GTI which are both considerably more expensive, the FiST’s only real competition is the Fiat 500 Abarth. Both are similarly priced and incentives at the time of this writing, are pretty good on both. But let’s not make this an Abarth vs Fiesta ST story.
Our good friends Crowley Car Company got RallyWays a brand new 2014 Ford Fiesta ST in Oxford White loaded with the $1,995 ST Recaro Package, $795 navigation system and $795 powered moonroof. The car comes from North County Ford in Vista, California, our neck of the woods.
Let’s look at the Fiesta ST specs that actually matter:
- Curb Weight: 2720 (roughly 200lbs more than a PRHT MX-5 NC Miata).
- Engine: 1.6L 16-valve Ti-VCT Turbo Direct Injection EcoBoost I-4
- Horsepower: 197hp at 6000 RPM
- Torque: 202 at 4200 RPM
- Transmission: 6-Speed manual of course
- Length: 160 inches (only 3 inches longer than a NC Miata)
- Width: 67.8 inches (.1 of an inch wider than a NC Miata)
- Height: 57.2 inches
The formula looks good. It’s a small, lightweight hatchback and it has 200 horsepower, plus it looks pretty good. Let’s dig deeper though.
The looks and initial impression
It’s a hatchback. You either like them or you don’t. Or you kinda of like them. Or… One thing is for sure, unlike the Abarth 500, the Fiesta ST is not retro. Apart from the classic Aston Martin grille shape in the front, the only thing retro about it is that in white it looks like a storm trooper baby. The car looks mean and aggressive for its size. If it were a dog, it would be a Jack Russell. There are sharp angles and creases everywhere. It’s definitely a highly stylized little car. Like all USDM models, it has 5 doors. The 3 door version is not available in the US.
The headlights are a bit like cat eyes. Or maybe like the eyes on an ancient Egyptian from the movies. Not sure how I feel about them, but they are definitely more stylized than those in the Focus ST.
The rear has a rather interesting touch. The little rear skirt is black, but then it has a white body-color piece below it. Very clever idea that looks amazing and adds a lot of depth to the car. It has a dual tip exhaust on the right side. Nice to see it isn’t trying too hard with exhaust tips on either side of the car. The little wing over the rear window is a nice touch as are the side skirts.
The wheels are perfect for the car. While similar, they are not as special as those on the Focus ST. But they do suit the car well and look easier to keep clean with the lack of extra holes in the spokes. These are the standard silver alloy wheels. There is a $375 option that gives you painted ones called “Rado Gray” which sort of remind me of a gunmetal grey. Those do look better. But then again, you could have the wheels painted aftermarket in whatever color you want for roughly $400.
A look inside also eliminates any kind of doubt that this is a modern turbo hatchback. The Fiesta ST is non-apologetic. It is what it is. The interior components are a feast of modern shapes. Of course, this one also has the ST Recaro package. The ST Recaro package is not the icing on the cake. It IS the cake. We’ll talk about the seats in a second.
The leather steering wheel is very nice, not amazing, but definitely very good. Hard to say if the shape will ever go out of style. Only the round center ones never do. For the time being, it does its job and it’s fairly pleasant to look at. Compared to the highly stylized flat-bottom steering wheel in a VW GTI, I can say the GTI wheel is cooler, but the FiST steering wheel is actual more comfortable to hold and use.
The shift knob is very nice as well. This is one shift knob that might only need replacing if you are adamant about modding things like this.
The interior colors are rather dark, this includes the headliner. This is a nice feature, specially on a car that has a sunroof. Too many cars have light grey interiors that tend to look very dirty if you are the type of driver that likes to drive with your windows down and sunroof open.
Another neat feature is the squishy dash. While the upper sill on the door cards is hard plastic and not that great for resting your elbow on, the entire dash is soft and squishy. Yes, it’s a bit of an average rubbery material, but it’s much, much better than a full dash of hard plastic with a fake leather pattern. The knobs and switches are a bit too plentiful and too modern for my tastes, so they were a bit of a chore to get used to. However, that said, they were intuitive enough that after a while things would start to make sense.
I’m not going to go into the functionality of the stereo system, MyFord Touch, or navigation. Yes, these things are important to some people… and they are expensive and relevant to any car purchase. However, I don’t like to focus on stereo systems as most of the time I can do much better aftermarket anyway. Also, with this awful tech-race of car makers trying to outdo each other with infotainment systems, some good cars can be ruined by bad electronics. Many reputable car reviewers such as Consumer Reports have been penalizing cars in their scoring system based on their infotainment systems. I can respect that. It’s very much relevant. Having said that, when searching for a great car with a very specific set of requirements and handling characteristics, I don’t want to have to worry about the sound system. If it sucks, and I love the car, I’ll rip the darn thing out and install something that works. After all, it’s the car what I want, not a home theater.
Those Recaro seats!
Some sport seats are ugly. Not these. These are über-cool. Not to mention, they are… SO DANG COMFORTABLE. They are snug. I’m 5’10” and 170lbs and I could swear they were designed by my tailor. Yep. You’ve guessed it. You might need a gym membership and a juicer if you want this car. However, I loved them. One of the things I most loved about the Recaro seats in the FiST is that they feel like a vertical hammock. The seat back is a like a big cup. Like a spoon for your body. There is no room for air gaps. I can only compare cars to other cars I drive often and the seats in the Fiesta ST are very different than those in the Volkswagen Golf GTI or the Fiat 500 Abarth. The seats in the GTI look great and are fairly comfortable. However, the seat back is sort of flat and the transition to the bolsters is very abrupt. The ones in the Abarth are simply not supportive enough. The ones on the Fiesta ST, wow, are just incredible. In fact, dare I say these Recaro seats are better than those in the $35,000 Mitsubishi Evo X?
One thing though, like all cars designed in recent years (think Ford Mustang), the head rests are shaped for people that have a permanent hunch in their necks. Imagine walking around with your head and neck tilted forward ahead of your body. Like that. Fine, it’s a safety feature. But really? Do they really have to be that far forward? Luckily, they didn’t bother me while driving. But when resting my head back at stoplights… there is no tilting your head back.
I decided to include a full section on ergonomics. To me, this is always a big deal especially on hatch backs where the combination of small and tall often yields some pretty awkward driving positions and ergonomics. Don’t get me wrong, I like the FIAT Abarth. I also like the VW GTI. I have one. However, in the FIAT, you are sitting too tall, too high and too straight. Some will like that. But those of us that prefer the feel of a sleek, low to the ground sports car, the sitting position in the Abarth is a bit weird.
The GTI on the other hand is another problem. For some reason, no matter how many times I drive it I never feel perfectly comfortable. Sometimes I feel the seat is too high and I end up lowering it. But then I feel sunk in a bathtub and the car feels ginormous around me. Then I spend a great deal of time adjusting and readjusting to find the right position. The seating position never feels quite right in that car. It’s always a compromise. That just me of course.
But in the Fiesta ST… oh, things are different in the Fiesta ST. The seats are just right. I found it incredibly easy to adjust my seat height to a perfect position. The seat back tilt is a little tricky because it feels like the lever is all the way in the back seat. But once I found it, all was well. The seating position relative to everything was spot on for my average build. The steering wheel can be adjusted way far back. Much further back than in the GTI which already does very well. You can definitely get into a racing position. A first in any hatchback I’ve driven.
The pedals are just right and they feel like they are exactly where they should be. I did feel the gas pedal was a bit too low in relation to the brake pedal for comfortable heel-toeing on the street (where you’re simply gently rev-matching). However, on a track, where you would be pressing the brake pedal much harder, the gas pedal’s position relative to the brake pedal would be just fine.
My only complaints in the ergonomics are in the center area, and they are rather minor. I feel the shifter lever is a little lower than I would like. Feels like a bit of a reach especially shifting out to 3rd and to 5th. It feels higher and in a better position in the Focus. Also, the center arm rest is darn tiny and too far back. And don’t tell me that you don’t have to rest your arms and that an arm rest is not needed. It works just fine in the GTI.
Having said what I said about the shift lever position, it is a buttery smooth and joyful shift lever to operate. For a remote shifter, the shifting action is a beautiful thing. While I still prefer the feel of a gear shifter that goes straight into the transmission, as is the case with rear-wheel drive cars, this one is the next best thing. To give you a comparison, I hate the feel of the shift-lever in my Golf GTI. I swear it feels like there’s a pillow in the shift turret.
I also like the FiST’s shifter reverse-lockout feature. This one’s similar to Subaru’s, where you pull up a little fitting under the knob to allow you to shift into reverse. I quite liked it. I’ve never owned a car with this type of reverse lockout but I have to say that after your learn how to use it, it feels better than pressing the lever down to shift into reverse. In my NC Miata this motion felt OK because the feel of pressing down was very assertive. The GTI uses the same type of system, but pressing down feels much softer and vague and you’re never sure if you’re pressing it right. Another win for the FiST gear shifter. Well done Ford.
The engine looks
What can I say about the engine? Well, it’s small. But the place it lives in is even smaller. It’s quite a tight fit. The engine looks like it should and not much else. I still don’t like it how car makers insist on covering the engine with some stupid giant piece of plastic. Maybe it’s so that non-car-people will not feel intimated at the sight of spark plugs and a couple of wires. What happened to the days of pretty valve covers and colorful spark plug wires? Let’s move on.
Initial driving impressions
The engine fires up using a shiny black start button to the right of the steering wheel on the dash. You just need the key FOB on you or close to you somewhere. It fires up like any I-4. Rather uneventful. After adjusting mirrors and what not you take off and things start becoming interesting. That’s when you start hearing the true nature of this pocket rocket. We all know the FIAT Abarth has a great sounding exhaust with no muffler. We can’t argue that. However, the FiST has a rather cleverly thought-through exhaust system.
The Fiesta ST has a rather throaty warble at mid revs. It’s nice and throaty and also loud enough for a factory setup. It’s a bit drony, but in a good way. It does sound really good and purposeful. But this is the best part… once you reach cruising speeds, it quiets down. This means you get the sporty sound when you want it, but you are also able to relax and listen to music when cruising around. While the car does have quite a bit of wind noise at freeway speeds, which is to be expected, there is no bothersome drone from the exhaust system when at fixed speeds.
Driving it feels really natural. Movements and inputs feel just right. And did I say how nice this thing is to shift? Lovers of the manual transmission rejoice! The steering is good, but the feel is nothing special. In a sense, the steering feels a lot like a Volkswagen GTI. It’s nicely weighted and adequate, but you don’t have the road feel you get from a Miata. It seems car manufactures are happy to set the bar high for electric steering and reap the benefits of it, but really have no need to achieve the feel of traditional hydraulic systems. I get it. Compromises must be made. Regardless, it’s a fun steering system and suits the car well.
More driving fun
We decided that do to a proper test we needed to drive around in town, on the freeway and on some curvy mountain roads. So that’s what we did. I was in the driver’s seat, I had my son as a co-pilot to get some of his impressions and we had a chase car with the guys from North County Ford and Max Fotography to take some rolling shots.
The first part of the drive puts us around town for a bit before hitting the freeway. Around town, the first impression was that the car was much more a pleasure to drive than many other turbo 4 cylinders. The reason being, the car is fairly lightweight and the power delivery is pretty smooth for a turbo. While there is of course a surge of power when you go into boost, the transition into boost is quite smooth. Turbo lag is not bad and not as pronounced as it is on heavier cars. This is of course great in all situations, but it’s especially nice around town since you get a much smoother off-boost driving experience.
Once we got on the freeway the car was nice and warm. I took it easy for a while and just drove around normally. I rowed through gears to get a feel for the car and the power band. I would also quickly rev-match to down shift from 6 to 5th and 5th to 4th to get a feel for the car’s response at various points in the rev-range as well as the engine and exhaust sound.
The engine really is very pleasant-sounding and the exhaust note is authoritative. The higher the rev-range, the more authority and presence. Drop into cruising revs and the engine and exhaust settle down for comfortable cruising. As said before, only the wind-noise, which feels to come straight from the windshield, is prevalent. This is after all a lightweight sporty car with little sound insulation – not a bulky grand tourer.
On the freeway it really doesn’t feel that fast. I was expecting a bit more power. My GTI has a few bolt-ons and I’m pretty positive it was tuned by the previous owner, so maybe that’s why. I’m a little bit spoiled. That’s not to say the FiST is slow. It has plenty of power and get-up-and-go for normal freeway passing. It’s a small car so the road needs to narrow down by a lot to get the Fiesta ST into its element.
Next up was a not-so-secret mountain road which is still fairly light in traffic on a Saturday afternoon. This road is a beautiful collection of sweeping turns and fun corners. It’s not a fast mountain pass with long flowy curves, but neither is it a tight set of super-narrow switchbacks. Imagine something roughly in between. It’s no surprise that this is where the Ford Fiesta ST shines. Luckily, we got a full open road with no cars ahead of us. Perfect conditions to drive spiritedly. I was in no way driving at the limit. I don’t like to do that on the road. You could say I was at 6/10ths or so. A good pace, but nowhere near the point of losing traction.
After you have watched all those Ford Fiesta ST reviews and videos of people tossing the car around into corners and wagging the back end you could argue my test drive wasn’t sufficient. But the fact of the matter is, the way I was driving was the way a typical safety-oriented FiST owner would have driven it. Fun, spirited, but safe. All those videos of the FiST burning tires around corners at a track sure are fun, but you know full well this is not the way you’re going to drive it. Because you will put it into a tree.
Now here is something that greatly surprised me… The Fiesta ST suspension is much more comfortable than I expected. Just about every single Ford Fiesta ST review and video I’ve gone through before my test always say, “it rides a little stiff,” or “it’s quite firm and sporty,” or “it’s a little stiff but comfortable enough.” But for some reason I translated that into, “It’s going to rattle your eyeballs.” Well no. It didn’t. I was hugely surprised at how comfortable it rides.
The only way you’re really going to understand it is if you have driven soft comfortable cars, super-stiff lowered ones and a couple of in-betweens. The best way to describe it is like this…
The suspension is low and the ride is firm yet not stiff. It’s definitely sporty, but it doesn’t do that tuner-car front to back and forth oscillating thing that lowered stiff cars do.
That’s the best summary of the Ford Fiesta ST suspension.
If you’re still not sure it’s comfortable enough, let me tell you that the suspension is sporty yet it’s not tuned for the maximum speed and grip through turns. It’s definitely a road car. Which brings me to… The car handles corners very proficiently and “learning” the car is quite easy. After 2 laps of that mountain road I felt quite comfortable and in tune with the car.
If you don’t usually drive small cars, the FiST will feel tiny. However, since I also drive Miatas I thought the FiST felt a bit bigger than its diminutive size would suggest. For one thing, it is bigger than a NA Miata and almost exactly the same size as the NC MX-5 Miata, only taller and 200 pounds heavier. Compared to that car, which I used to own and put tons of curvy road drives into, the FiST feels heavier and bigger. I do think it’s the height. Being a hatch, it’s not a sleek low-to-the-ground sports car. Sometimes around some corners, instead of absorbing some of the shock of bumps by sending the energy through the car (translating into harshness) the damping of the suspension would cause the car to do a bit of a “hoppy” thing. This was not in a bad way at all, but I can see guys that will ultimately use this car on the track or autocross course will want to take the suspension a little further into track-territory setups.
The car doesn’t roll very much around corners, but I did expect it to corner a little flatter. Maybe because that’s what all the Ford Fiesta ST reviews I have read kept saying. Given the hatchback DNA of the Ford FiST, you feel a little bit of that tippyness and pitch from the added height as compared to a low sports car. This is something only evident to guys that drive or have driven stiffer sports cars. Anybody coming from a big pig of a car is going to find the Fiesta ST to be as nimble and light as a go-kart. Regardless, in an era where cars are huge heavyweights, it’s nice to see car companies going back to the roots of driving with machines such as this.
I had a lot of fun with the Fiesta ST around those mountain roads. The job was done with shifts mostly between 3rd and 4th with rev-matching and heel-toeing in most corners. The smooth nature of the engine and the nice shifting transmission make it a treat to drive.
A couple of other notes
There are a few other things I’d like to mention about the Ford Fiesta ST.
Torque steer – You’d expect a front wheel drive turbo car to torque steer quite badly. I mean, many of them do. It really isn’t a problem in the Fiesta ST. I’ve heard torque steer is a quite strong in the Mazdaspeed 3 for example, then Ford trumped it with the Focus ST. The FiST seems to have it all under control. I didn’t notice any torque steer whatsoever under normal or spirited driving. I only noticed a bit of of torque steer when I purposely induced it. That was while purposely doing a few pulls in 1st gear, then in 2nd gear while holding the steering wheel very lightly. Even so, the electronic differential, or whatever the heck it is that corrects it, did a perfectly good job of keeping it under control. You could feel a little hint of torque steer to the right but it would immediately sort itself out. I barely had to correct.
I’ve also heard many things both good and bad about the e-differential and electronic nannies. Things like, “traction-control off, means off, but it still has the Torque Vectoring Control that brakes the inside wheel to send power to the outer turning wheel.” I don’t want to get too much into that. If you think that a mechanical LSD is better, fine, it probably is. My NC Miata had a torsen differential – as mechanical as they get. That car’s sticker price was $31,000. The FiST is around $25,000 loaded to the teeth. And that’s before incentives. Stop complaining.
The Fiesta ST is a small car. It’s the kind of car your want if you can deal with some space limitations. The space for you to sit and do your thing is perfectly adequate. Same goes for your passengers. It’s the cargo limitations that I’m talking about. That’s likely the reason why the Focus ST sells more. Most people don’t care so much about reduced weight and they’ll pay a little bit more for the bigger car with a bit more power. However, that said, it’s no Miata. You have 5 seats and small trunk and a roof where you could put a roof rack for bikes, surfboards and snowboards. With FWD it would be better than a Miata in the snow. It’s faster as well.
Yes, I still prefer the feel of a rear wheel drive car. I might also prefer AWD. And this is not talking about drifting and other BS like that which people never do but like their car to be able to. It’s about the feel of being pushed around corners rather than pulled. But even if it is pulling, the Ford Fiesta ST does a dang good job of it. And most importantly, THE PRICE. Heck, there are cars I like more than the FiST. But they also cost a whole lot more. Like I said earlier, the Abarth 500 is the only close contender. At least in the US. I like the retro looks and slightly lower weight of the FIAT. However, with the 5 seats instead of 4, better seating position, better steering wheel, more power, more torque, not to mention the amazing seats and the cohesive styling, the Fiesta ST is my choice.
Ford really hit the nail on the head with this one. In order for a car to be successful it not only has to perform as intended, but must make you feel good as it does it. Just as importantly, the performance and looks need to be offered at a specific price. The Ford Fiesta ST hits the right chords in performance and nails a bullseye in price point. There are better cars of course. But are there better cars at this price? That’s up to you to decide.
Big thanks to Crowley Car Company North County Ford in Vista California off the 78 freeway for lending us the car for this Ford Fiesta ST review. Also, big thanks to Max Fotography for the rolling shots of the car. Since I do most of the photography on RW, it’s a little bit hard to shoot and review a car at the same time. 😉 -Danny