Capsule Comparison: BMW X1 S-Drive Vs Ford Fiesta ST
Much has been written about the narrowing performance and luxury gap between supercars and everyday pedestrian offerings. Even as supercars have introduced even wilder styling, interiors and technology the beige lemming wagon that fills your company’s management lot puts out 240 hp, sports bluetooth integration and can hit 60 in less than 8 seconds. But contained within the scale of Versa to Aventador, there exist smaller comparisons. Transpose that discussion onto one about buying a brand name versus value and you can have a thoughtful discussion about what exactly are you getting for your money.
On the surface, you might object to the idea of a Ford Fiesta and BMW X1. Certainly the X1 leans more to the SUV side of the scale, but if you put the preconceived notions of their respective mission aside, they aren’t that far apart.
On the outside, the BMW X1 is just under 6 feet wide, 14 feet long and a tad over 5 feet tall. The Fiesta ST is not even 3 inches narrower, has 8 inches less nose to tail and is 3 inches shorter. The wheelbase for the X1 is a hair over 9 feet while the ST is a scant 10 inches less. The front and rear wheel track of both vehicles is within 4 inches. But side by side, the BMW appears to tower over the Ford.
Inside, the difference is narrower in numbers and feel. The Fiesta is within 3 inches of the Bimmer in almost every measurement save one; The X1 has 2.5 times the interior cargo room and with the seats folded, the BMW more than doubles the ST ‘s 26 cubic feet of cargo space with 56 cubic feet.
In contrast the BMW is the porker of the two in almost every sense, especially price. This 2-wheel drive X1 stickered at $38,790. That’s with leather and the x-line package. The ST came with every available option, including the Recaro package, and stickered at $26,000. But this particular 2014 Fiesta ST came off the lot for $24.5 with 0% financing. While the X1 was almost a stripper model without GPS and the Ford was loaded to the gills, the price difference is still a decent optioned Nissan Versa sedan.
So, what does the almost $13,000 extra get you? To try and find out, I met up with a fellow racer, friend and owner of the ST, Chris Mills early on a Sunday morning and headed to Oklahoma’s best kept secret; Talimena drive.
It was still dark when we met and filled the tanks. The forecast was mid 40s with a high of 50 and rain all day. This gave us an opportunity to experience how each of the respective makes dealt with the drive dynamics of their vehicle.
As previously mentioned, these cars are not as different as they seem. BMW markets the X1 as a Sports Activity Vehicle, probably to delineate it from the bloated SUV image. Ford is unapologetic in the presentation of the Fiesta ST as a hot hatch. But they are still small 5-door cars and under the skin, both are motivated by 4 cylinder turbos. The X1’s 2.0L engine puts 240 horses to the rear wheels and the ST’s 1.6 sends 197 to the front. The Fiesta might be down on power but only needs to haul 2,720 lbs., while the Bimmer has to contend with 3,527. It takes the X1 6.3 seconds to hit 60. For a sizable price increase, you can trim that 0-60 down a full second with the 300 hp inline 6. The fully optioned Fiesta ST will hit 60 in 6.7.
It’s 6 AM, overcast and dark out. The sky warns of impending rain as we drive through rolling hills and light sweepers. The BMW is in its element and its grand touring roots are showing. The BMW interior is 77db at speed and the ST reads 80db.
At 7 AM on OK-3 just outside of Stonewall, it begins to drizzle. We have been traveling for an hour and via our Bluetooth phone conversation we trade some data. We are averaging 60.7 miles per hour; the BMW in with the auto trans in “sport” mode is yielding 29.4 miles per gallon but the Ford is much better at 30.4 mpg.
By 7:20 it’s finally raining. In Shamrock Oklahoma we swap vehicles.
There is no ambiguity in that the ST’s mission. I’m 6 foot, just under 200 pounds with a runners build and I have to force myself into the ST’s narrow Recaros. The only transmission available is the 6 speed manual, which falls readily to hand and the ergonomics are very purposeful. Ford’s maligned SYNC infotainment and phone integration is still miles beyond the BMW. The little things highlight the difference between the two. The Ford seat is all manual adjustment vs the BMW’s electric controls. The Fiesta seat warmer has one temperature while the BMW has three. The BMW smells of leather and the Fiesta still smells like a new car.
Even in the rain, this car is ready to go, now, anywhere. It will not let you be inattentive. The BMW is like an older golden retriever; calm, soothing and comfortable. The ST is a hyperactive border collie pulling on the end of its leash; smart, energetic and if you ignore it for too long, it will do bad things.
It is not uncomfortable to drive, but the seats are not conducive to a slacker seating position. The tires dart at every patch of standing water and the turbo keeps calling you to misbehave. Even in 6th gear, the slightest prod of the gas will grab some whoosh.
When we stop at Sardis Lake, the rain has abated. While grabbing some photos, we notice a semi-curvy road below the dam. We take to it, and for the first time I get restricted by the Fiesta’s stability control. I am actually impressed. The Ford employs a McNamara tactic of gradual intervention rather than absolute cut off. But unlike McNamara, the Fiesta’s system works, and I am able to hoon very effectively through the short parking area. Too much throttle? No problem. The ST will just even out that output to match the traction and the car pulls smoothly out of the corner. The rear wheel drive BMW is a bit hairier for my partner, pulling back onto the main road he notes the road was “a lot narrower that it looked from the top.”
We arrive in Talihina, OK at the base of OK-1 and grab breakfast at Pam’s Hatefull Hussy Diner on Main Street. Breakfast for two and a souvenir coffee mug is less than $15. If you are in town, it is highly recommended.
While there we discuss the driving impressions. Chris’s first observation was that in the rear view mirror BMW doesn’t even look like a BMW. I think about that for a while, he’s right. The other unexpected observation is the BMW is more spartan inside. The ST has all the bells and whistles up front and available. The X1 tends to be more subtle. While the ST is always at the ready, the BMW chassis tended to adjust over bumps rather than transmit them. He used the word float, but immediately corrected because it wasn’t a negative feeling, as the car stayed planted. He also took the transmission out of “sport” mode and noticed an immediate MPG improvement.
After our bargain breakfast, we head up the mountain to the entrance of OK-1. It’s a great slice of pavement without the hype of the Tail of the Dragon. Our early arrival and wet weather ensures it will be free of the open pipe biker crowd and we won’t be dodging the knee draggers either. In fact, we get the entire 60 miles to ourselves. We don’t encounter another vehicle in our direction until just outside of Mena Arkansas.
As it turns out, BMW likes to push on the rough wet pavement. Given the damp and sometimes rainy conditions, we both left the stability control on. While not as smooth as the Ford, the BMW also has effective intervention. On paper, the BMW might be the faster selection of the duo, but the ST is at home here. It attacks the mountain range and opens a huge gap without trying. We weren’t racing, but it was a spirited drive and the Fiesta is the right tool for the job. The X1 is no slacker and can reel in the ST on the open sections, but when it’s tight, the Fiesta is gone.
When we get to the Arkansas side, we encounter a lot of fog which slows our progress. But it’s still a lovely drive. As we get into Mena we are both at just over a ¼ tank. The pumps tell the tale; 10.4 gallons top off the ST’s tank, 11.09 for the BMW. The ST’s 1.6 liter is a miser, even when pushed, vs the BMW’s 2.0 powerplant.
We head back up the road. As it turns out the rear wheel drive X1 is more comfortable leading than following. I was always worried that the Ford was going to be able to correct a mistake and the BMW would slip up behind it. This was surprising, because the Fiesta is more high strung. I kept expecting the rear to step out, but the X1 would push first, then the stability control would intervene.
Having already been exposed to the road, we quicken our pace just slightly on the return. The storm that was dogging us inbound is breaking up in the hills and several times we find ourselves above the heavy dark clouds, and then descending through them.
We return to flatter surface roads and weave our way westerly back to Oklahoma City. The majority of the roads are two lanes and with the weather cleared, Sunday afternoon traffic is starting to build. In both cars, passing on the open dotted lines is effortless. You can downshift the manual ST to the redline or the auto stick in the X1 if more drama is needed, but in almost every case, just a little more throttle and a dose of turbo make the pass safely and quickly.
In Seminole we stop at another OK standard; Braum’s for a malt shake and final overview. Over the course of the trip we have covered 418 miles. The Fiesta yielded 25.4 mpg and the X1 24.7. The X1 could have done better if I had left the transmission in standard drive for the highway portions.
So back to the original question; what does the BMW deliver for the extra money? By the numbers it gives you some things; an extra year on the bumper to bumper warranty, 4 for the BMW vs 3 for the Ford. Drivetrain is identical at 60,000 miles. BMW Maintenance included for 5 years. There is extra cargo room and a few inches for your head and shoulders. It can run with the hot hatch ST all day but never get away from it. Aside from two extra heat settings on the seats and leather, everything BMW offers is available on the Ford for less. What does $13,000 get you? Honestly, not much. The Fiesta ST is a great car, and despite being the X1 being my wife’s car, I’m calling the Ford the clear winner.
The same problem with the expensive supercar vs the performance sedan is magnified as the numbers get smaller. The “little” things cost a lot more. For the money, the Fiesta is a bargain, even if you aren’t a sports car person. The drivability, options and value of the Fiesta make the justification of the X1s price difficult and I can’t see the decision getting easier with an option more targeted to the hot hatch crowd, like the Mazdaspeed 3 or Mini Cooper.
But as I headed home, I was happier to have the more larger, if less supportive seats, automatic transmission and relaxed composure of the X1. After all, it was another 50 miles, it was still cold, still wet and I wanted to be comfortable.
Neither Ford or BMW provided demo vehicles or gas. These are both privately purchased cars. Thanks to Chris for giving up his Sunday and letting me use his car.
W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, a Philosophy degree and a gift for making Derek wonder if English is actually his first language.
School teacher, amateur racer, occasional story teller.
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