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Preview: Ford Fiesta ST is hot, firm and fun on the road

But Ford is at least giving them and us a chance with the new Fiesta ST, which will be available in Canadian Ford stores in midsummer, starting at $24,999.

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    Re: On 2013-04-30, at 10:53 AM, Towie, Brian wrote: Jim Kenzie ford Fiesta (Towie Submitted)

ST-PAUL de VENCE, FRANCE:  I like small cars.

From the Fiats and Minis of my youth to well, the Fiats and Minis of the present day.

Small cars are economical to buy and run, easy to park, nimble and usually fun to drive. I?ve never felt unsafe in one either ? I even hit a moose in my Fiat and lived to tell the tale.

The best small cars are the so-called hot-hatches, often using engines intended for larger cars, with sporty suspensions and looks to match.

Apart for the Volkswagen Golf GTI, we?ve been largely insulated from this mostly European phenomenon, mainly because we tend to get what Americans get and they inexplicably abhor the second-most intelligent body style known to personkind.

But Ford is at least giving them and us a chance with the new Fiesta ST, which will be available in Canadian Ford stores in midsummer, starting at $24,999.

Like the Focus ST we reviewed here in these pages (also here in St-Paul de Vence) last year, the hotshot Fiesta is essentially the same car that the rest of the world gets, with one major exception: Ford only builds four-door hatchbacks and the unfortunate-looking sedan (an inexplicable American preference) in their Mexico plant, so our STs will be four-door hatches. The cars we tested here have two doors.

The extra doors tack on about 60 kg, but otherwise, engine, suspension, exterior and interior upgrades and most options will be the same.

And that, hot-hatch fans, is a good thing.

No point in getting a car like this if your buddies down at the hockey rink don?t notice. So ST gets a wider, now-typical-for-a-hot-Ford Aston Martin-ish trapezoidal grille with black mesh inserts, an additional maw below that for additional cooling, unique wheels, rocker panel skirts, a rear spoiler-cum-roof extension, a faux-rear diffuser with dual chrome tailpipe tips (for the single exhaust pipe), and some cool and exclusive-to-ST paint colours.

Some found this all a bit boy-racer-ish, but I think it is nicely executed. Sporty sure, as intended. But not overdone.

Inside, a unique steering wheel, carbon fibre trim inserts, metal pedals and on our tester, optional (and spectacular) Recaro sports seats. The back seat is pretty snug, but at least our STs will be easier to get into thanks to the extra doors.

The engine ? a 1.6 litre four cylinder direct injection EcoBoost ? is essentially the same as available in Fusion, but a temporary overboost function on full throttle bumps peak power to 197 of our slightly less-stout SAE horses (versus 182 of the German PS-type horses).

Peak torque is 177 lb.-ft. at 1,600 ? 5,000 r.p.m., or 214 lb.-ft. at 2,500 r.p.m. when the overboost kicks in. It?s enough to propel the little car from rest to 100 km/h in about seven seconds.

Another appeal of small cars ? acceleration always feels faster, although this is considerably quicker than most of its similarly priced competition.

Only a six-speed manual will be offered, thereby ensuring Fiesta ST will be limited-production; so few of us can work a stick-shift any more.

The chassis doesn?t solely benefit from firmer springs, dampers and bars ? although it gets all of that.

The steering attachment point on the front hub is relocated, which, along with a quicker ratio, makes the steering noticeably more direct.

Ford?s torque-vectoring control, whereby the inside front wheel is automatically braked momentarily to help the car around tight corners, also helps reduce understeer. It isn?t a rear-drive car, but it feels more like one than most ?pullers.?

To help keep things under control, Fiesta ST gets disc brakes all around; the base car gets by with rear drums.

If all this seems like a lot of suspension tweaks for a low-volume car, well it is ? but it?s also the reason for much of the Fiesta ST?s appeal. Because handling is what makes this car a classic quart-in-a-pint-pot.

The electric power steering is among the best of its ilk for delivering tire-to-pavement communication, and is easily quick enough that you?ll never have to leave quarter-to-three except in the tightest bends.

Fiesta ST does give up over 50 horsepower to Focus ST. But there?s also a weight penalty of some 200 kg in the bigger car; the power-to-weight ratios aren?t far off.

I recently drove Fiesta ST?s bigger brother the Focus ST back in Canada. It exhibited way more torque steer there than I remember it doing when I drove it here; not really sure why.

The Fiesta, by virtue of having less torque, has a lot less of that.

The turbo boost comes in smoothly, and while it is fun to massage the light and reasonably precise shift lever, there are times when you might just prefer to leave the car in a taller gear and let the turbo do the work.

You’ll hear the engine working too, as Fiesta ST incorporates the ?Sound Symposer? from Focus ST ? a resonance tube allows induction noise into the cabin to amplify the sporty driving experience.

Fiesta ST?s bigger brakes are strong, as I needed to find out a couple of times. One problem with them is the ?Hill Holder? function ? depress the brake pedal when the car is on a grade and they?ll stay on until you re-engage the clutch to prevent you from rolling back into the car behind you ? which is much closer than need be.

But that clutch re-engagement/brake release switchover is very abrupt, and even if you don?t stall the car, it?ll look like you?ve never driven a stick before. I ended up using the proper pull-up handbrake in time-honoured traditional fashion.

Ford says the Fiesta ST suspension is actually tuned a bit more aggressively than Focus STs, because it is intended to attract a younger, more aggressive buyer. The Focus ST is already pretty firm on our home-base roads; we?ll have to see how Fiesta ST does in that regard once we get our hands on one back home.

All of which makes Fiesta ST a whole lot of fun to drive, which brings us back to why I like small cars.

Fiesta ST will cost you four grand less than Focus ST, a larger differential than the Americans pay. So while Fiesta ST is still more expensive in Canada, the pain isn?t quite so severe.

Does this make Fiesta ST the biggest bang for the hot-hatch buck?

It certainly belongs in that conversation.

Travel for freelance writer Jim Kenzie was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca.

Ford Fiesta ST

PRICE: $24,999

ENGINE: 1.6 litre inline four, dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, direct fuel injection, turbocharged

POWER/TORQUE, horsepower / lb.-ft: 197 @ 5,500 r.p.m. / 214 @ 2,500 r.p.m.

FUEL CONSUMPTION: Transport Canada figures not yet available; European standard data, Urban/Extra-Urban/Combined, litres per 100 km: 7.9 / 4.8 / 5.9

COMPETITION: Chevrolet Sonic Turbo; Fiat Abarth Turbo, Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Mini Cooper

WHAT’S BEST: Focused handling; excellent performance/economy balance; cheeky good looks; terrific (albeit optional) Recaro seats

WHAT’S WORST: Those seats do further compromise rear-seat room, which is skimpy at best; ride quality will likely be pretty firm for our roads; hill-holder function makes you look clumsy

WHAT’S INTERESTING: This might be a better hot hatch than its big brother which has 50 more horsepower

  • Preview: Ford Fiesta ST is hot, firm and fun on the road
  • Preview: Ford Fiesta ST is hot, firm and fun on the road
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