What is it?
A Fiesta with the sporty looks of the ST but without that car's sparkling performance. As part of a rejig of its award-winning Fiesta line-up, Ford has replaced Zetec S trim with the Ford Performance-inspired ST-Line.

No shrinking violet, ST-Line versions are easy to spot because they wear a full body styling kit, including a rear diffuser and bigger rear roof spoiler, a lip spoiler on the front bumper, a black honeycomb-style grille and dark surrounds for the foglights. Sports suspension that lowers ride height by 10mm and intricate 17in eight-spoke alloys complete the exterior alterations.

On the inside, there are red-stitched sports seats, a leather-clad steering wheel, aluminium pedals and ST-Line kick plates.

There's slightly less to get excited about when it comes to engine options: initially, there are three versions of the three-cylinder 1.0 petrol unit plus the 94bhp 1.5 TDCi diesel. We tested the entry-level turbocharged Ecoboost petrol, which produces a cost-conscious 99bhp.

What's it like?
The racier styling of the ST-Line ups the anticipation before you get behind the wheel. Pushing the start button on the dash is a bit deflating, though, because it results in a weedy sounding trill from the little three-cylinder lump under the bonnet. Still, that's hardly a surprise.

Shift the closely spaced five-speed manual gearbox into first and pull away and the disillusionment continues. This ST-Line's 0-62mph time of 11.2sec isn't going to get you away from the lights before many other cars. That's the price you pay for this model's frugal official combined economy figure of 65.7mpg and its eco-friendly 99g/km of CO2 emissions.

However, there's more to this little hatch than off-the-mark acceleration. We've seen how well this diminutive engine performs in other Fords, including the ST-Line's predecessor, the Zetec S, in the past few years, so we know it should be good.

True to form, if you crank it up past 1400rpm it starts to zing. Its 125lb ft of torque may not sound like a lot, but it's enough for the ST-Line to zip around slower moving traffic on urban roads and get up a good head of steam on quiet A-roads.

Working the little powerplant hard makes it sound great, too; it's not the throaty hum of the ST-Line's far more potent big brother, the ST200, but it's a pleasant, whizzy thrum. This is a good thing, as engine noise is the main accompaniment to driving, especially at higher speeds when it blocks out most tyre or wind noise.

The deft handling of the 10mm -owered chassis, the superbly weighted and accurate steering and the short, crisp gearshifts all add to the mix, making the ST-Line a joy to drive. The suspension is a bit softer than that of its brawnier siblings, so it crashes a little less over uneven surfaces, but Ford hasn't turned the ST-Line into a wallowy soft touch and it still clings to the road with little body lean through bends.

It's not a perfect package though. Inside, the Fiesta's switchgear is showing its age compared with newer rivals. The plethora of switches on the dashboard and the tiny, hard-to-read 4.2in TFT infotainment screen look like they should have been put out to pasture a long time ago. At least it has Ford's SYNC hands-free Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity, so you can call a friend while you spend an entire journey trying to retune the radio.

The amount of black trim is rather overwhelming, too: roof lining, carpets and seats are all black, with only the red stitching on the fabric sports seats adding a splash of colour. And while the seat fabric looks durable, it doesn't exactly feel premium.

The three-spoke steering wheel clad in soft leather is good to grip though, and some nice touches to the interior feel a bit more special, such as the aluminium pedals and ST-Line kick plates. If you're after Audi-esque levels of sophistication, however, you should look elsewhere.

Should I buy one?
If you want to enjoy the looks and superb handling and poise of the Fiesta ST but can't stretch to its £17,745 starting price or afford its higher running costs, then the £1200-cheaper ST-Line should be on your shortlist.

In 99bhp guise, Ford's peppy turbocharged 1.0-litre Ecoboost isn't the swiftest but it is still fun, as well as being light on fuel and emissions. And the ST-Line handles just as well as its hotter ST sibling, so it's still more fun to drive than a Vauxhall Corsa SRi VX Line or Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI.

Ford has recently deleted the two cheapest trim levels from its Fiesta range, so the line-up now starts at £13,395, with the cheapest five-door 1.0 Ecoboost pitching in just below £15,000 in plain Zetec trim. If you factor in the ST-Line's bodykit, sports suspension and other extra kit, it seems rather good value for around £600 more. It's also cheaper than a Renault Clio GT-Line or Corsa SRi VX Line.



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