Has more tech blunted the ST’s edge or made it even sharper? We jump be­hind the wheel and put in the qual­ity miles to find out…!

Fast Ford - - Contents - Words DAN TRENT Pho­tos FORD

Be­hind the wheel of the lat­est fast Ford, the Mk8 Fi­esta ST.

Pretty much how­ever you quan­tify it the new Fi­esta ST is an im­prove­ment over the one it re­places. The en­gine is smaller and more ef­fi­cient but matches the out­go­ing one for power and torque, it’s a bit big­ger so there’s more space in­side, the toy count has gone up and there are to­ken tenths off the 0-62 time and a few more mph on the top end. Then there’s the new tech­nol­ogy, up to and in­clud­ing the driver modes, launch con­trol, op­tional Quaife ATB dif­fer­en­tial, self-ad­just­ing fre­quency de­pen­dent dampers and in­trigu­ing sound­ing ‘force vec­tor­ing’ rear springs.

So, it goes. But is the new Fi­esta ST ac­tu­ally bet­ter? That’s not some­thing you can mea­sure by com­par­ing num­bers on a spec sheet. It’s some­thing you can only find out by go­ing for a drive, prefer­ably one with lots of open roads, hair­pin bends and plenty of chances to drive it like a bit of a yob away from wag­ging fin­gers and speed cam­eras.

Ex­pec­ta­tions are high. But so are stan­dards.

You prob­a­bly al­ready know the ba­sics but to re-cap the 1.6-litre, four-cylin­der Eco­Boost is gone and re­placed by a 1.5-litre, three-cylin­der equiv­a­lent. In one of those funny lit­tle coin­ci­dences the stats are 200PS/197bhp and 214lb.ft, or ex­actly the same as the old en­gine on over­boost. Funny that, eh? De­spite putting on 101kg at the kerb and be­ing a lit­tle big­ger in ev­ery di­men­sion the new ST nails 0-62 in 6.5 sec­onds and tops out at 144mph, or four tenths and 7mph faster than the cur­rent car in its stan­dard form. Not a dif­fer­ence you’ll re­ally no­tice on the road, in other words. So, the com­par­isons will come down to how it feels. Or, more im­por­tantly, how it makes YOU feel.

You can have the new car in three- or five-door form, with a man­ual gear­box only and it comes in fa­mil­iar ST-1, -2 and -3 trim lev­els. Once again ST-2 from £19,995 looks like the sweet spot, the top trim adding 18-inch wheels and the kind of au­to­ma­tion for stuff like lights, wipers, traf­fic sign recog­ni­tion and all the rest any sen­tient driver should be able to do for them­selves. And if you re­ally need park­ing sen­sors on a Fi­esta you’ve got big­ger spa­tial aware­ness is­sues than bleep­ers and a rear-view cam­era can help with. Still, it’s all there if you want it and yours for £21,495. But if it’s ei­ther/ or you should in­stead be spend­ing the money on the £850 Per­for­mance Pack, this bundling in a Quaife lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial, launch con­trol and shift lights. Rea­sons why you’d want to do this were cov­ered com­pre­hen­sively in the Au­gust is­sue (398) last month, but given that’s sim­i­lar cost to a diff (be­fore fit­ting) on an ex­ist­ing ST, it looks like a no-brainer.

Down­load a brochure if you want the foren­sic spec info though – there’s driv­ing to be done. The mo­ment you get in you feel the in­te­rior qual­ity is def­i­nitely up a notch and from ST-2 up­wards the 8.0-inch SYNC3 touch­screen re­duces the clut­ter of the out­go­ing car, ST-3 gain­ing nav and other func­tion­al­ity. Re­caros are stan­dard on all mod­els and are just the right side of cosy while the wheel pulls out close into your chest for an au­then­tic Ogier-like seat­ing po­si­tion. Mean­while the stumpy lit­tle gear lever has some de­cent weight to it and a short throw around its six ra­tios.

The en­gine fires up with a naughty lit­tle rasp and you im­me­di­ately pick up on that off-beat, three-cylin­der noise. It’s thank­fully a lit­tle more ex­otic sound­ing than a Smart car, the vis­i­ble flap on one of the two pipes and ex­tra piped-in am­pli­fi­ca­tion up­ping the ex­cite­ment when re­quired. Thank­fully the lat­ter sounds nat­u­ral enough not to be in­tru­sive and way more con­vinc­ing than the mono­tone drone you get in hot VWs and re­lated SEATs. From the out­side or with the win­dows down it sounds even bet­ter, the crackly ex­haust note over­layed with an ex­cit­ing whis­tle of turbo that’s just the right side of be­ing so­cia­ble. Even when you give in to temp­ta­tion and drive around a gear or two down from what’s nec­es­sary.

Throt­tle re­sponse can’t match the fa­mil­iar four-cylin­der 1.6 though, the loss of a cylin­der and greater de­pen­dence on the turbo in­evitably mean­ing a softer pedal, even in the Sport or Race modes. The ex­haust man­i­fold is in­te­grated into the cylin­der head to shorten the gas flow and im­prove re­sponse but there’s no es­cap­ing the fact you need a mo­ment for the boost to build. It feels like there’s more in­er­tia in the en­gine too, which makes rev-match­ing gearchanges eas­ier but robs it of that zing the best hot hatches have. In short you need to keep it on the boil to get its best but that’s no hard­ship thanks to that gear­box and the spot-on place­ment of the ped­als.

It gets more in­ter­est­ing in the han­dling depart­ment. The steer­ing is su­per-fast, the rack ra­tio go­ing from 13:69:1 to just 12:1 and giv­ing the car a real sense of poin­ti­ness. If you had the same on the out­go­ing ST it’d prob­a­bly feel a lit­tle on the ner­vous side but the more so­phis­ti­cated spring and damper set-up makes sense of it and in­stead the new ver­sion man­ages to be both more re­fined and com­fort­able with­out giv­ing any­thing away in agility.

Some of the ex­ist­ing car’s raw­ness has been lost though, which will ei­ther be a good or a bad thing de­pend­ing on your

"Sport mode un­leashes some amus­ing pa-papa-PAP! the­atrics from the ex­haust as you come off the throt­tle..."

viewpoint. Cer­tainly where the cur­rent one feels al­ways on its toes and ready for a scrap the new one has a broader range of abil­ity and greater sense of re­fine­ment, which will in­crease the po­ten­tial au­di­ence for sure. At the risk of alien­at­ing the hard­core?

Well, it would if they’d also di­alled out the play­ful­ness. Thank­fully they haven’t, the fast steer­ing paired with the stiffest rear tor­sion beam ever used on a Ford Per­for­mance prod­uct. And you don’t need to be a sus­pen­sion en­gi­neer to know what the com­bi­na­tion of a pointy front end and stiff rear does to the han­dling bal­ance.

The en­gi­neers on the launch all apol­o­gise for the rain and greasy roads we ar­rive to, but re­ally they needn’t worry. Be­cause in these con­di­tions you get a feel for what the car can do at much lower speeds than you would on a dry road. And driven nor­mally in its stan­dard mode it’s an im­pres­sively fun and re­fined car. Grown-up al­most.

Those (wrongly) equat­ing a Quaife dif­fer­en­tial with the wheel-grab­bing an­tics of the orig­i­nal Fo­cus RS will be re­lieved to find there’s next to no in­ter­fer­ence to the steer­ing from the throt­tle and the Fi­esta can be driven fast, smoothly and safely with­out any dra­mas. What if you want to con­cen­trate on ‘fast’ and have some fun though?

Sport mode un­leashes some amus­ing pa-pa-pa-PAP! the­atrics from the ex­haust as you come off the throt­tle, a lit­tle more weight to the steer­ing and a slightly sharper throt­tle. In Track mode you lose trac­tion con­trol and the sta­bil­ity con­trol is at its ‘wide-slip’ mode; there’s fully off if you want to go full hero too. The po­si­tion of the but­tons means you might do that ac­ci­den­tally while se­lect­ing driv­ing modes but don’t worry, it’s still un­likely to bite you.

With the roads a bit slith­ery you can re­ally start to play, even in Sport mode with ev­ery­thing on. Bar­rel into a cor­ner on the brakes and you’ll feel the back end start to swing round just a smidge – not so

much as you’re throw­ing on cor­rec­tive lock but enough to tell you the car is ready to play. Such is the beauty of this set-up that you’re not throw­ing huge steer­ing in­puts at ev­ery­thing but in­stead con­trol­ling the an­gle of at­tack through throt­tle and brake, which is ex­actly what you want in a fast Ford.

That stiff rear axle means some very old-school cor­ner­ing stances are easy to achieve, the ST ready to cock a wheel in the air with­out too much provo­ca­tion while the clever rear springs keep ev­ery­thing tidy and on track. Ex­plain­ing them re­quires a sketch on a bit of pa­per by Ford Per­for­mance’s Euro­pean boss Leo Roeks but the prin­ci­ple is pretty sim­ple, di­rec­tional wind­ing and a slight ba­nana-shaped twist mean­ing the side­ways loads un­der cor­ner­ing can ac­tu­ally be used to stop the twist-beam de­flect­ing. This alone saves 10kg over a Watt’s link­age or the cost of a fancier multi-link rear set-up like that used on MINIs. Paired with Ten­neco dampers that can self-ad­just be­tween light damp­ing for low fre­quency bumps (mo­tor­way and the like) and more con­trol over high fre­quency ones you can prob­a­bly strike coil-overs off the up­grades list.

The sup­port­ing role of the Quaife diff in sta­bil­is­ing the front end is also eas­ily over­looked, its de­sign mean­ing it makes a dif­fer­ence even when you’re off the throt­tle. So, your as­sur­ance is high on cor­ner ap­proach, the car can eas­ily be piv­oted to get the front end point­ing where you want it go to and all the en­cour­age­ment you need to get on the power nice and quickly is there.

This is where the Fi­esta gets to show its party piece and a de­ci­sive ad­van­tage over its pre­de­ces­sor. Like the Peu­geot 208 GTI and megabucks Toy­ota Yaris GRMN, the ST’s re­turn to a me­chan­i­cal lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial (or torque bi­as­ing one, to be ac­cu­rate) is huge news, es­pe­cially at this price point. But given the pre­vi­ous elec­tronic Torque Vec­tor­ing Con­trol didn’t do a bad job and has been car­ried over in mod­i­fied form what are you ac­tu­ally gain­ing?

Con­fi­dence, in a word. Con­fi­dence that when you get on the gas on the in­side of a steep hair­pin with the in­side front wheel hang­ing you’re still go­ing to get drive torque to pull you through. Con­fi­dence that in a fast sweeper you can get on the power way ear­lier than you’d ex­pect and, if you hold your nerve, feel the front end hold its line like a ditch-hook­ing rally pro. Con­fi­dence that you can do all this and be flat to the floor with­out any fears you’re go­ing to be wrestling the steer­ing wheel for a say over which hedge the car is then go­ing to punt it­self through. Ba­si­cally, if you’re on the power and the front end is point­ing where you want it to go then all is good.

Quaife and Ford have been re­fin­ing this in­stal­la­tion from early in the car’s de­vel­op­ment and the way it’s been in­te­grated with the elec­tronic sys­tems

"The en­gine fires up with a naughty lit­tle rasp and you im­me­di­ately pick up on that off-beat, three-cylin­der noise..."

is re­ally im­pres­sive. Gaps in the diff’s range of abil­i­ties – such as when the in­side wheel is in the air or with zero grip – can be filled by brake in­ter­ven­tions but the rest of the time it’s putting the power down rather than hav­ing it cut as it would if you were re­ly­ing on a brake-con­trolled sys­tem.

And the car has been so well set up that you can ap­pre­ci­ate all this with­out saw­ing at the wheel or slid­ing about all over the road. Fast and a bit un­ruly was the pre­vi­ous car’s de­fault and only set­ting. With this new one you can still do that if you want. But you also have the op­tion of be­ing smooth, which is an ad­van­tage if you want to make progress with­out at­tract­ing at­ten­tion from on­look­ers in­side or out­side of the car. If you do want to cre­ate a bit of a stir at the lights there’s al­ways the Per­for­mance Pack’s launch con­trol mode too, eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble from the steer­ing wheel menu and a sim­ple case of floor­ing the throt­tle, hold­ing the car against the elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled rev lim­iter and then side-step­ping the clutch. It’s pretty bru­tal and if you’re in Track mode the lack of trac­tion con­trol will spin the wheels up. But it’s a nov­elty you’ll en­joy play­ing with, like­wise the flat­shift func­tion that lets you keep your foot flat on the power when you change up and holds the revs against an elec­tronic limit that sounds more than a bit like anti-lag. This is ob­vi­ously cool.

Achiev­ing this bal­ance in char­ac­ter was some­thing of a chal­lenge, at least ac­cord­ing to Ford’s se­nior de­vel­op­ment guy Joe Bakaj. From Mon­deo to S-Max, he’s been in charge of mak­ing sure ev­ery Ford has that lit­tle sprin­kling of han­dling magic we’ve all be­come used to. And he says the ad­di­tional grip of the new two-com­pound Miche­lin Pi­lot Su­per Sport ac­tu­ally pre­sented some­thing of a dilemma. If you’re go­ing for lap­ti­mes he says you dial out the lift-off over­steer but they wanted the car to be “the right side of neu­tral” and so bench­marked the play­ful­ness against the out­go­ing ST200. This “lift-off yaw over­shoot” met­ric was then used to tune the re­sponse of the new ST and, while he ad­mits it’s not as tied down as it per­haps could be, they wanted the car to have a sense of fun. Ex­pe­ri­ence from be­hind the wheel sug­gests they nailed that side too, cor­ner­ing speeds in­creas­ing as the roads dry and tyre squeal also. Still the ST can’t be fazed though, as happy with three wheels on the road as it is four, flat­ten­ing mid-cor­ner bumps and stay­ing play­ful and com­mu­nica­tive what­ever your skill level.

Greed­ily by this point you’re prob­a­bly ask­ing if this is the base pack­age for the new ST, where can it go from here? Leo Roeks only grins and says “I’m very busy!” when asked about the head­room for more power, the pos­si­bil­ity of dual clutch gear­boxes or other po­ten­tial ad­di­tions to the pack­age. Dare we hope for a re­turn of the RS name to a Fi­esta some day? A cost sen­si­tive mar­ket makes that dif­fi­cult, the chal­lenge of en­gi­neer­ing a de­ci­sive per­for­mance ad­van­tage with­out pric­ing the Fi­esta into a fight with cars in the class above leav­ing lit­tle mar­gin. Say­ing that cars like the Yaris GRMN and £30K-plus MINI JCW Chal­lenge have demon­strated there is a mar­ket for se­ri­ously up­graded spe­cial edi­tions and if Ogier keeps win­ning WRC ti­tles in Fiestas you’d hope Ford feels suit­ably in­spired. Ford fans are a pas­sion­ate bunch, af­ter all.

For now, and in con­clu­sion this is a more so­phis­ti­cated ST and a more ma­ture one. Both of those might sound like alarm bells for fans of a car with a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing nei­ther but the good news is this new fast Fi­esta re­tains its spirit while open­ing up to an even wider au­di­ence. The old one made a virtue of be­ing a lit­tle one-di­men­sional and its raw­ness re­mains as ap­peal­ing as ever. Sen­si­bly Ford knew which el­e­ments of that to keep and which to im­prove, the re­sult be­ing the same ST spirit. Just a bit more so. And this is just the start.


The Mk7 ST is a tough act to fol­low, but the new Mk8 looks more than up to the job

The new Mk8 Fi­esta ST is the lat­est of­fer­ing from Ford Per­for­mance

The cabin packs more tech but is less clut­tered than pre­vi­ous mod­els

Our man Dan get­ting a pep-talk from Ford Per­for­mance's Leo Roeks be­fore hit­ting the streets in the new ST

Com­bin­ing com­fort and per­for­mance – Ford have got the in­te­rior of the new ST spot on

It may have lost a 100cc and dropped a cylin­der, but the Eco­Boost is ev­ery bit as pow­er­ful as be­fore... and some ex­perts reckon more tun­able than its pre­de­ces­sor too!

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