By Derek Price
CNHI News Service
— High-performance cars often come with high price tags, but the Ford Fiesta ST is proof that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Not only is the Fiesta ST a remarkably quick and thrilling car — with nearly 200 horsepower on tap in a compact, lightweight, nicely tuned chassis — but it’s also surprisingly affordable with a base price of $21,400.
Granted, that’s a big premium over the ordinary Fiesta’s $14,000 price tag, but it’s also perhaps the best bang-for-your-buck performance car on the market today. It’s a faster car than its legendary competitor, the Volkswagen GTI, for around $3,700 less.
And, from a raw performance perspective, it’s not like you’re skimping. The Fiesta ST is tuned brilliantly for precise, neutral handling, which is difficult to do in a front-wheel-drive car.
Ford’s engineers did such a good job removing the nasty understeer that so often plagues cars like this. I couldn’t even discern much torque steer, that irritating feeling of the steering wheel pulling to the side when accelerating through corners.
Like the best sports sedans in the world, you can point it into a corner and tweak the angle of attack with your gas pedal, only you’re dialing in understeer in the Fiesta rather than oversteer like in rear-wheel-drive cars.
Power from the 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine is equally impressive. It makes 197 horsepower and 202 pound-feet of torque, which are huge numbers in a car that weighs just 2,742 pounds.
The only places I can discern some cost-cutting are in the cabin materials, which aren’t quite as upscale and refined as the best cars in this class, and the small digital display on the dash.
Using the Microsoft Sync system was a whole lot easier on the bigger screen in the Ford Fusion I drove last week. The smaller Fiesta’s screen meant my fat fingers were hitting the wrong digital buttons most of the time.
Other parts of this car are spot-on perfect, though, including the exhaust note.
Ford fitted the Fiesta ST with something called a “sound symposer” that pumps engine noise into the cabin at some times, like under full throttle, but keeps the engine quiet at other times.
The end result is a car that sounds wild and raw when you’re driving it hard but gets church-chapel quiet when you calm down. That can be a problem for other cars in this class, such as the Fiat 500 Abarth I drove a few months ago. The ST seems like a more refined car because it doesn’t suffer from the coffee-can-exhaust drone of the Abarth at highway speeds.
To be clear, the Fiesta ST isn’t designed to be a comfortable commuter car. It’s got an extremely firm suspension and can be fitted with Recaro race-inspired seats that pin you into place in corners, obviously intended more for high-speed thrills than long road trips.
It’s a great choice for driving enthusiasts who want to have a lot of fun without spending a fortune.
Derek Price is an independent automotive columnist. Reach him at email@example.com.