Long-Term Tester Update: The Smoking Tire Fiesta ST Comes To Visit

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

It’s hard to believe it, but I’m over halfway done with my Fiesta ST. It’s been 13 months since little Zippy made My Old Kentucky Home his semi-permanent residence, displacing the Boss ( RIP) in the process. And while my attention has turned somewhat to Zippy’s ultimate replacement, I still smile every time that I press the Start button in the FiST.

My son, whom you may remember for his tearful goodbye to the 302, now hoots and hollers from his booster seat with every press of the accelerator, the yellow beast expunged from his memory. My daughter, ever mindful of the fact that we only get to keep Zippy for another 11 months, has requested that we get another one just like it at the end of the lease.

So imagine their excitement when another Performance Blue Fiesta ST rolled into our driveway over the weekend.

Although several other autowriters have purchased their own FiSTs over the past two years (Zach Bowman comes to mind), perhaps nobody has done more the grow the legend of the Fiesta ST than The Smoking Tire‘s Matt Farah, to the point where Farah has been directly accused by many of receiving some sort of payola from Ford. Let me be clear and to the point on this: no such money ever exchanged hands. The Fiesta ST is just that good. And after several thousand dollars worth of upgrades, including a Cobb Stage 3 kit, Matt ultimately decided to sell his car to some lucky soul to make room for another Ford hot hatch in his garage.

That lucky soul was none other than the infamous Danger Girl, who flew out to Matt’s home in SoCal and drove it all the way back to Ohio, with only one quick stop for winter tires in Colorado. After a quick swap back to summer tires on white Sparco rims, and the installation of a booster seat, Danger Girl and big brother Jack made their way down to the Bluegrass this past weekend — ostensibly to bring the little clone to visit his cousins, but also so our seemingly identical Fiesta STs could make friends.

Seemingly identical on the outside, that is. After 11,000 miles, a few hours of track time, and two sets of brake pads, I know the Fiesta ST inside and out. The interior will never remind anybody of the Bentley Continental GT3R, but Ford had to compromise somewhere to achieve a sticker south of $25,000. Where they didn’t make a single compromise was in the driving experience. There’s not a single car on the market today that can be driven as close to its limit with such relative ease as the FiST. Despite its obvious lack of straight line speed, the Little Ford That Could can put much more expensive cars squarely in its rear view. I’ve personally watched Cayman and M3 drivers scratch their heads in bewilderment as I thanked them for point-bys.

But I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that I’ve often been able to measure straightaways with a sundial. If there’s anything my hatchback has been lacking, it’s been the ability to mash the go pedal and feel the car kick me in the ass a bit. So when Danger Girl gingerly offered me the opportunity to drive her new baby with its significant power, suspension, and braking upgrades, I accepted without a second thought.

One of the greatest things about living in Central Kentucky is the abundance of drivers’ roads at my disposal. In fact, all I need to do to find a road that highlights the weaknesses of any automobile is make a right turn out of my development. Two Mile Road in Clark County is full of elevation changes, tight corners, and point-to-point straights. I have lived there for eight years, and I still don’t have it completely figured out. And there’s always the chance that around a blind corner you’ll find a John Deere tractor moving at a sloth’s pace.

Before I even started my foothills blast, I could feel the difference. Danger Girl’s car has the Recaro seats, which held me snugly in place (I have no idea how Matt and Thaddeus, who are both substantially larger than I am, fit into this car). The whoosh of the turbo was immediately apparent, as was the pitch from the Cobb exhaust.

Ok. Let’s go.

Yes, there was much sturm und drang as I launched out onto the road. The shift points come up much quicker, and the Stage 3 tune allows the turbo to stay in overboost for what seems like eternity. I don’t have Matt’s build sheet memorized, so I can’t be sure of this, but it felt like the sway bar was swapped for a much stiffer one. The friendly body roll felt in my car was non-existent in the tuned FiST as I hustled around the turns, and with much less suspension travel than I’m accustomed.

Finding exactly the right gear isn’t as much of an issue, as there’s just more torque everywhere, but the shifting happens quickly and furiously. The FiST isn’t the easiest car to heel-toe due to the position of the pedals, but I didn’t have to get it exactly right for the power to be there. Matt’s old car jumped out of the turns with minimal coaxing, allowing the excellent stock torque vectoring to work to perfection, pulling the nose of the Fiesta through each backroad exit.

Braking happened instantly and violently in comparison to the stock car, lurching the nose over the front wheels. Danger Girl had a set of Sumitomo summer tires on the car, which didn’t particularly enjoy being asked to brake and turn at the same time; the stock Bridgestones are better, but a set of Direzzas or RE71Rs would be better, still.

All in all, the old Smoking Tire car has enough upgrades to help it keep pace with nearly anything you can imagine on these types of roads. But is it an improvement over the way the FiST rolls off the line in Cuautitlán? In every measurable way, there’s no question the customized car is better. But in many ways, the FiST reminds me of my old RX-8. Every change you make to it seems to take away some of the original magic of the car. It might put up a better time at the track, but it’s like putting a new Shinola alligator band on a TAG Heuer Moncao (which I just did, coincidentally). Everybody knows the TAG bands are garbage, and that the Shinola band is better … but it’s still not a TAG band.

In this case, the sum wasn’t equal to the parts. What Matt and his crew created is something wonderful, but I’m not convinced that it’s a Fiesta ST. I’ll keep mine the way it is.

[Images: © 2016 Bark M./The Truth About Cars]

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • TheEndlessEnigma TheEndlessEnigma on Mar 31, 2016

    I just purchased a 2016 FiST yesterday, Kona Blue with the black rims, low profile tires - only thing not on the car are the Ricaro seats. This car has got to be one of the best bargains available on the market today - the features you get for the price are amazing!

  • Mongoose221 Mongoose221 on Apr 06, 2016

    I owned a Fiesta st for about 15 months. As a daily driver this car was great in the summer. In the cooler months it was awful. I swapped to smaller rims with snow tires. Here in new York, with the awful potholes on the roads, it was just awful in the winter. You bounce around like a freaking pinball inside. ZERO cargo space with rear seatire up also. Traded for a accord sport 6 speed, very glad I did. Almost as quick from a stop, runs on 87 octane, and is much roomier. As a secondary vehicle/toy though the fist would be great.

  • MaintenanceCosts It's not really much of a thought in the buying process. I would think twice about a vehicle assembled in China but other than that I really don't care. Looking at my own history, I've bought six new cars in my lifetime (I don't think choice of used cars says anything at all). I think the most patriotic of them were mostly Japanese brands. (1) Acura, assembled in Japan (2) Honda, assembled in U.S. (3) Pontiac, assembled in Australia (4) Subaru, assembled in U.S. (5) Ford, assembled in U.S. (6) Chevrolet, assembled in Korea
  • ToolGuy News Flash: Canada isn't part of the U.S.
  • Dave M. My Maverick hybrid is my first domestic label ever. It was assembled in Mexico with US components. My Nissan and Subaru were made here, my Toyota, Isuzu and other Nissan had J VINs.
  • ToolGuy "and leaves auto dealers feeling troubled" ...well this is terrible. Won't someone think of the privileged swindlers??
  • ToolGuy "Selling as I got a new car and don't need an extra." ...Well that depends on what new car you chose, doesn't it? 😉
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