The 2014 Ford Fiesta ST is finally here! When I found out that I’d be covering the Fiesta ST for TTAC in place of E-I-C pro tem Jack Baruth, said E-I-C offering some lame excuse about pneumonia, I went over the comment sections of previous ST posts to find out what the B&B were wondering about. I received information on the car from Ford engineers over lunch, then had the Fiesta ST for about 3 hours on back roads around Ann Arbor, and here’s what I found out.
We often hear Americans complain that the U.S. doesn’t get the same cars as Europe, especially the “hot hatches”. Not this time. It’s pretty much the same car the Euros get. Just like theirs, ours is developed in Germany and picks up its engine in England. However, Fiesta ST production for North America will be sourced from Mexico. No matter, if you buy one, your neighbors will assume you bought an “American” car. One that’s the size of a Mini.
Some respect is due to Ford for their new dedicated performance team that worked on this car. Ford recently took Europe’s Ford Team RS and North America’s SVT unit and combined them into one group. The mission of this new group, according to Chief Engineer of Global Performance Vehicles Jamal Hameedi, is to, “create excitement and value for the Ford brand with an inspirational and profitable product line-up for performance enthusiasts.” The goal was to develop a global performance DNA that can be felt in all of their performance cars regardless of model. Each of their global performance cars should have a similar feel in the way they drive, steer, handle, ride, sound, and more. As far as I can tell Ford is the only OEM doing anything like that. The engineers we met with made it a point to say that they fought hard to insure Americans received the same car as the Europeans did. There would be no dumbing down of the car this time. Ford insists that any differences in horsepower ratings are due to testing variances by country.
When you pay the extra cash for an ST, you don’t just get the engine. You get: trapezoidal grill with honeycomb mesh to optimize cooling, rear diffuser, ST body kit, spoiler, 17” wheels, optional Recaro seats, ST leather wrapped steering wheel, ST gear shift knob, aluminum pedals, dual chrome tipped exhaust, fog lamps, automatic temperature control, push button start, larger brakes with rear discs, and sound symposer. The engine is exclusively mated to a transmission with six gears and a third pedal.
Insert applause here.
Of course the biggest difference between the ST and a base Fiesta is under the short hood. Ford’s GTDI 197 hp (as long as you spring for 93 octane fuel), EcoBoost 1.6 I4 delivers 202 ft lbs of torque @ 4,200 rpm. It does zero-60 in 6.9 second with a top speed of 137mph. Ford claims you should be able to see 26mpg city and 35mpg highway “easy”. For some reason, I did not come close to that during my test drive. It’s all electronically assisted by Ford’s Torque Vectoring Control (TVC) system to brake the inside front wheel to aid agility, and 3-mode Electronic Stability Control. The three modes are:
ON = intervenes fully to prevent loss of control,
WIDE SLIP (or sport) = ESC intervenes later to allowing skidding, and
OFF = no intervention.
The TVC is always on regardless what you do with the ESC. Peak power is made in “overboost” mode, when the turbo is putting in a maximum of 21 psi. To stretch the engine’s durability, Ford programmed the computer to cut pressure after 20 seconds at wide-open throttle. As hard as I tried I couldn’t reach that 20-second barrier. Surprisingly Ann Arbor does not have any salt flats nearby. Unless you’re fleeing the cops (see below), you’ll probably never feel the turbo cut out, and if you do, just lift for a second and the timer resets.
I have to admit that I really liked the “sound symposer”. It’s a BMW-Z4-style tube that pipes sound from the top of the engine through a port in the firewall and into the cabin, similar to the one in the Focus ST, except without a valve to control it. I found the sound quite pleasing with the windows up, but surprisingly, the engine doesn’t sound that loud with the windows down and you can’t hear the symposer at all then.
Our Fiesta ST came with the Recaro package that includes partial leather front heated seats and heated mirrors for an additional $1,995. The seats felt snug on my 6’0” 175lbs frame but fit perfectly. If you’re any bigger than me I’m afraid they may be a little tight. In fact, the side support of the seats was so snug on me that it actually hurt to leave my keys in my pocket. If you choose this package, just know you’ll have to empty your pockets every time you get in the car to avoid having your gum wrapper imprinted on your leg. After 3 hours the seats were still reasonably comfortable in every other way. If you pass on the Recaro package you will receive the base Fiesta seats, with an ST cover over top.
I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of what driving the Fiesta ST reminds me of and it finally came to me. It feels very similar to driving the brand new 1997 Honda Prelude that my dad let me drive in high school. The horsepower, 0-60 times, and heck even back seat space are almost identical. The Prelude was a sports car through and through with what I considered at the time to be neck snapping power and crisp handling. While sitting in the ST, you forget you are driving a B-segment 5-door hatchback. With better low-end torque than the Prelude, I dare say it may be even a little more fun. The shifter felt very light and there was power on demand when you needed it. You can floor the throttle almost at will and it never struggles for speed, or to find grip for that matter. Though the power is fun, it isn’t enough to make you feel out of control.
Unlike the Prelude, with its pronounced lack of low-end torque, the ST has a turbo that kicks in very early. On the highway there is no need to downshift, just step on it and let the turbo take over. In 6th gear, I went from 70 to 80mph is about 3 seconds. Plenty quick enough for a highway pass. The 17″ rims with low profile summer only tires stuck to the ground. Not being any sort of trained performance driver, I pushed the car as much as I felt comfortable in the twisting back roads. I’m sure I was nowhere near the limits, which is right were most of the buyers will spend their time, but I had a blast. The car is very difficult to get any tire squeal or understeer out of.
Based on my amateur test, 1st gear took me to 30mph where a very smooth limiter kicked in. Instead of the violent shaking some rev limiters give you; this one just holds the speed at 30 waiting patiently for you to decide to shift without any excitement at all. 2nd gear found me reaching 58mph, and 3rd took me to 85mph.
Surprisingly Ford sent us down some roads that were rather bumpy. I should say they felt rather bumpy in the Fiesta anyway. Compared with the Focus ST, which starts $2300 higher, Ford pushed the Fiesta a little further with its tight suspension. They did this partly because of what they learned from the Focus and partly because they believe the Fiesta ST will appeal to a younger audience who will appreciate that. Traveling on the highway and other relatively smooth roads you don’t even notice the stiffer suspension. When the road gets rough however, the harsh ride will get your teeth chattering. Despite the rough road and the Fiesta’s uncompromising approach to it, I noticed no rattles or body flex.
If you want rear seat room, this isn’t the car for you. In high school my only concern regarding rear seat room was seeing how many people we could physically fit in the Prelude (the answer is seven, including 1 in the trunk, on the way home from a Matchbox 20 concert). As a side note, learning that trying to see how many adults you can fit in a car is somehow not socially acceptable has got to be one of the worst things about growing up. Now I choose cars based on how they fit golf clubs — and car seats.
Car seats are tough in the Fiesta, but possible. Rear facing is not practical unless your passenger is very short. Even front facing can be challenge. At my height, I wouldn’t be able to have a car seat safely behind me, but one would fit behind my considerably shorter wife. Adults (with legs) would not be comfortable in the back seat behind me for much more than a quick trip. Even getting into the back seat is tough because of the larger Recaro seats.
People buy hatchbacks because of their useful space for storing things, like golf clubs, right? Well… nope. Not in this case. Unless you fold down the rear seats (which creates a nice storage area even though the seats do not fold flat), you aren’t hitting the links.
I found the seating position perfect for my height, and that was assisted by the telescoping steering wheel being pushed all the way in. The pedals were small leaving just enough room for a dead pedal, though it was tight. The ST comes with HD radio, 2 USB ports, an auxiliary input, SD card reader, SYNC with MyFord Touch and 6.5” screen, and Sony premium sound system. Ours also added the optional Navigation. The stereo was good for this segment of cars, but the word “premium” is being used loosely in this case.
Forgoing all common sense on a 90 degree day I decided to give the readers what they want and find out how well the seat heaters in the Recaros work. You’ll be happy to learn they take you from zero to swamp butt in less than 1 minute. Very impressive.
At $22,195, including delivery charge, the retail price is nearly $7,000 more than the least-expensive Fiesta hatchback (the one I drove was priced at $24,985). The standard 205/40 performance summer tires it comes with were great, but since they don’t recommend using them in temperatures under 40 degrees it guarantees buyers who live north of the Mason-Dixon line will have to purchase of another set pushing that cost up. The Fiesta ST comes with more standard features than the Focus ST because 85-90% of the buyers for the latter car have been choosing loaded cars anyway, so Ford figured that this time they would just give Fiesta buyers the full whack.
So what are the competitors to a B-segment car with 197 hp that can get 26/35mpg for about $22K? The Honda Fit Sport feels bigger but it’s not even comparable to drive. The Mini Cooper S? Nope, it only has 181 hp and starts at over $28K and the JCW Edition is another $7,000 higher. What about the Fiat 500 Abarth? Not when you lose 1 gear and 37 hp for the same price. The Chevy Sonic RS? It’s a little cheaper but at 138 hp it’s a completely different car. If I were cross shopping a Fiesta ST, I’d be driving it back-to-back with the Hyundia Veloster Turbo that has almost exactly the same horsepower, mileage, torque, cost, and even the exact same rear leg room at 31”. Well, the Veloster and maybe a 1997 Honda Prelude.
An interesting comment made by an engineer was that the engine was designed for 150,000 miles / 10 year durability. Cue all the comments about how new turbos won’t last. When I questioned that they explained that it is pretty standard to design engines to that specification and most their gas engines would be the same.
This being TTAC, I feel it is my duty to share a few gripes I have with the car as well. If the U.S. is supposedly getting the same car as the European ST, then why do they get the 3-door and we only have the 5-door available? Ford says it is because the plant in Mexico is already outfitted for the 5-door and does not have the tooling to build a 3-door, and importing from Europe would be too expensive. The 5-door that America is getting has the exact wheelbase (98”) as the 3-door, though it does weigh about 130 pounds more.
The trunk is poorly designed. The load height is high which is nice, but what exactly is under the trunk floor? Well, nothing for about 5 inches. It’s just wasted space in a trunk that desperately needs more cargo room. The base Fiesta has a plastic cargo storage bin in that area. Unfortunately the Fiesta ST has a full size spare that is just barely too large to use the same piece of plastic. Instead of designing a new piece to fit in that space, I was told, “We checked what we had on the shelf, and didn’t find anything.” So they left the space empty. That’s weak sauce Ford, weak sauce.
The steering wheel mounted audio controls have a raised button in the middle that turns the voice controls on. The problem is that when driving with your hands on the wheel, it is very difficult to change channels or advance the audio track without hitting the mic button that is popping up. Controls should only be on the steering wheel if they are intuitive enough that you can use them without looking. There are also separate on and off buttons to control the cruise on the steering wheel, but no way to actually tell if it’s currently on. The adjuster to tilt the seat back is located way too far back on the base of the seat making it difficult to use. The door armrest ends before it even reaches my elbow.
The backseat headrests are enormous blocking much of your rear visibility. The good thing is that with the push of a button they can be folded down.
Ford added a push button start, but still use the same piece of plastic over the steering column but just cover where the key would normally go. My last gripe is that $22K is a lot for a B segment car. So don’t think of it as that, think of it as a sports car. In that case, its biggest competitor may be sitting across from it in the same showroom, the Focus ST.
The Fiesta does look good. So good, in fact, that it attracts considerable police attention. At least mine did. As the police officer approached I did what I always do in these situations, and asked myself, “What would Michael Schumacher do?” So I blamed the car. Upon returning home I googled, “Has anyone been pulled over by a cop driving the yet unreleased Fiesta ST in America?” and nothing came up. Since I checked everywhere I could think of I’d say it is safe to say that makes me the first. Police precincts in search of additional income take note: the on sale date has not been set, but we were guaranteed it would be before September 21st.
We will end with a bit of trivia. Can anyone name the 3 best-selling Ford nameplates of all time? I’ll give you a second to think.
The F-series, the Escort… and the Fiesta (the Fiesta has sold over 16 million units since 1976). But, will the Fiesta ST add any sales to the nameplate? Honestly, probably not. It’s a great car, but even Ford doesn’t seem to have any expectations for it. When asked what kind of sales figured they hope to achieve they responded, “We don’t have any sales expectations, we will build to meet demand.” To compare, the Focus ST accounts for 5-6% of all Focus sales.
The normal Fiesta doesn’t excite me, but the ST has really piqued my interest. I heard other journalist say it could be a modern day CRX. I’d have to say it’s a modern day Prelude.