First Drive Review
It hasn?t been very long since Ford was the grouchiest grocer in the automotive world, forbidding us more of its tastiest fruit than anybody else. That has changed in recent years with the welcome decision to bring the Fiesta ST and even the Focus RS into the United States. Yet, despite the company?s global strategy, there are still some variants that don?t make the cut. This new Fiesta ST200 is the latest of them.
It nearly made it across the Atlantic. Matthias Tonn, the ST200 project boss, says that there were some serious negotiations about creating a similar version of the U.S.-spec four-door model. Sadly, the numbers just didn?t pan out. On the basis of our drive of the Euro-spec two-door version on some of the finest roads in France, that should be cause for regret.
Fifteen More Ponies
The ST200 is a mild upgrade rather than a comprehensive reworking. It?s based on the Europe-market Fiesta ST, which, for marketing reasons, sees the power output of its 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine quoted without the additional oomph of the 20-second ?overboost? period; Ford confirms that the 182-hp European-spec engine and the 197-hp rest-of-world version (like the one sold in America) are effectively identical. Apply the same logic and, had it made it to the States, the ST200 could have carried ST212 branding, since the engine produces 212 horses in its overboost mode, together with 236 lb-ft of torque. Official European output of the ST200 is now 197 horsepower, so the 200 badge allows some rounding.
In essence, it?s a Ford factory version of the Mountune performance kit that is already offered as an officially approved bolt-on option in some markets, based on the logic that Ford can sell the ST200 in territories where such aftermarket power kits are prohibited.
Another noteworthy change is the arrival of a shorter final-drive ratio (4.06:1, replacing 3.82:1) that, in effect, closes up the gearing of the six-speed manual transmission. The ST200 gets a revised suspension with a rear torsion beam that is 27 percent stiffer. It also has slightly softer springs and dampers and reworked steering. However, because of production constraints at the Cologne, Germany, factory that builds European Fiestas, these chassis settings have been applied to all of the STs manufactured there; it?s basically a free upgrade before a new model arrives next year.
All other revisions are visual, with the ST200 getting the single color option of Storm Grey paintwork. This is the first time the shade has been offered on a Fiesta; it?s a hue that will instantly remind Rust Belt denizens of spray-can primer. The car comes with black wheels, charcoal Recaro seats with a natty pinstripe effect, and the all-important ST200 badges.
Works on the Road
Ford introduced the ST200 in the South of France, giving us a chance to drive it over the Route Napol?on and up the Col de Vence, infamous both as a rally stage and, in some years, as part of the Tour de France bicycle race. The ST200 feels predictably punchier than the standard ST; the solid midrange mostly disguises that it?s not keen on revving to the 6500-rpm limiter. It still feels as if it has a big flywheel, too, hanging on to revs determinedly after the driver lifts off the accelerator to shift. The lower gearing is immediately obvious, though, giving the ST a greater sense of urgency; even on some of the Alpes-Maritimes? more demanding roads, we found we were regularly using fourth gear in situations where the standard ST would doubtless never get out of third. A run along the autoroute confirms that an indicated 75 mph translates to an acceptable 3000 rpm in sixth gear, so it?s hardly packing a set of sprint ratios.
All the rest feels quite familiar. The Fiesta ST?s shifter action feels better than that in some purpose-built sports cars, and the model still has abundant grip, but it also has an entertaining rear bias to its handling balance. If the front starts to run out of grip, easing off the throttle pedal progressively tightens the cornering line. The revised suspension settings do seem to have sharpened the turn-in response compared with that of the standard ST, but the region?s many hairpin curves also confirm that the fundamental limitation of the open front differential remains. The Fiesta fights for traction as the turbocharged torque arrives. The brakes have not been upgraded, and they quickly started to lose enthusiasm on the mountain roads, exhibiting more fade than we expected in these conditions.
The softer springs and dampers worked extremely well, and the ST200 felt more compliant than the standard ST, so, unconcerned by the frequent signs warning of chauss?e d?form?e?bumpy road?we decided to maintain speed rather than slow down.
The ST200 is only a fractional improvement over the stock ST, but that still means it?s a better version of one of our favorite hot hatches. Given that the Fiesta is a world car, it?s a shame that we aren?t going to get a chance to sample this variant in the United States, even if that would mean it would come in the gawkier four-door form that Ford has convinced itself Americans prefer. European buyers seem to be eager, though, with more than 2000 ordered before sales started. And that?s despite a substantial $3800 premium over the price of a standard ST. That means roughly $23,300 at current exchange rates, so it?s not hard to see where the business case fell down.
- front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 2-door hatchback
ESTIMATED BASE PRICE (GERMANY, MINUS VAT):
- turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
- 97 cu in, 1596 cc
- Power: 212 hp @ 6000 rpm
- Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
- 6-speed manual
- Wheelbase: 98.0 in
- Length: 156.8 in
- Width: 67.3 in Height: 57.3 in
- Passenger volume: 89 cu ft
- Cargo volume: 10 cu ft
- Curb weight (C/D est): 2600 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
- Zero to 60 mph: 6.7 sec
- Zero to 100 mph: 17.2 sec
- Standing ?-mile: 14.9 sec
- Top speed: 150 mph
FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
- EPA city/highway: 26/35 mpg
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