Overview: We immediately warmed to the fun-to-fling Ford Fiesta ST when it emerged from the oven for the 2014 model year, and little has changed since then to curb our appetite for this hot hatch. Although it's hewn from the standard Fiesta, Ford comprehensively reworks that version's suspension for ST duty. In addition to applying the usual tricks of firming up the electrically assisted power steering and the dampers and increasing the spring rates (by about 20 percent), fitting 10.9-inch rear discs, and lowering the ride height by 0.6 inch, Ford also performed some comprehensive reengineering. For starters, it systematically reworked the attachment points of the front knuckles, fitted a thicker front anti-roll bar and a steering rack with a quicker ratio (13.6:1 for the ST versus 14.3:1 for the standard Fiesta), and last, but most definitely not least, incorporated a computerized pseudo torque-vectoring control that brakes the inside front wheel in turns, to help curb understeer and improve turn-in.
All of the chassis work would be pointless without an equally eager powertrain, so Ford fits the Fiesta ST with its 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and a six-speed manual transmission as the only powertrain. Producing 197 horsepower and 202 lb-ft of torque, the Fiesta ST soundly trumps the 120-hp naturally aspirated four-banger and the 123-hp turbocharged three-cylinder that power the standard Fiesta. The six-speed manual's sweet shift action makes the ST's power readily accessible.
Incorporating all that technology was an international effort. Engineered by Ford in Cologne, Germany, and tuned at its proving ground in Lommel, Belgium, the North American Fiesta ST is assembled in Mexico with an engine shipped in from the United Kingdom. Whether or not its international pedigree has anything to do with it, we can vouch for the car's fun-to-drive essence.
What's New: Ford recognizes a good thing when it sees it and wisely resisted the urge to fiddle with the Fiesta ST's powertrain and suspension for 2016. (Rumors of a pending Fiesta RS now look like wishful thinking, unfortunately.) As such, updates to the 2016 Fiesta were limited to just a couple of tech and cosmetic options. Ford's latest Sync 3 voice-recognition communications and infotainment system, with a larger 6.5-inch touchscreen plus AppLink and 911 Assist, offers improved connectivity choices. Otherwise, well, four new exterior colors-Shadow Black, Kona Blue, Magnetic (dark gray), and White Platinum metallic tri-coat-add a few more stops on the Fiesta ST's color wheel.
What We Like: In short, the Fiesta ST's dossier reads like a wish list for anyone on a budget who enjoys driving: light in weight, (relatively) big and rorty-sounding power, a stable chassis, and, most of all, P-R-E-D-I-C-T-A-B-L-E behavior when caned within an inch of its life. An ideal training vehicle for unseasoned drivers looking to explore their limits, the ST also can provide big grins in the hands of more experienced pilots. While driving enjoyment is the main attraction, the Fiesta ST also has a practical side. It is easy to park, reasonably thrifty with fuel, and can seat four as long as the rear-seat passengers aren't currently in the employ of an NBA team. (It's technically a five-seater, but no one should endure three-across rear seating for anything beyond a short jaunt.)
What We Don't Like: Forced to pick nits, we'd call out the Fiesta ST's interior for being a near carbon copy of the base Fiesta's. Although the leather-wrapped steering wheel gets an ST logo, the leather is coarse and cheap-feeling. It'd be nice if the rest of the ST's basic interior reflected its sporting intentions with some subtle styling cues to remind you of the fun the rest of the car is capable of delivering. Many drivers also complained that the seating position made for an awkward reach to the shift lever. However, those seats on our latest test car were the optional Recaros, which went a long way to dress things up while providing excellent support for performing all the hot-hatch driving shenanigans we could muster. As you might expect, the Recaros are narrow and feel even tighter than the similar units in the Focus ST.
Verdict: Significantly more entertaining than any Cinco de Mayo party we've attended-and without the risk of a hangover.
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