Small is back. It may be the fun-stifling cost of fuel. It may be an internet-stimulated increase in global awareness. It may be Ken Block. But Americans suddenly seem very interested in the small, fast car again. We, as a nation, had until recently forgotten the term hot hatch, a compact car, with a door at the back, that’s usually a faster version of the mainstream commuter model.
Perhaps it started with the new Mini. Was the Fiat 500 the pebble that triggered the rockslide? One might even look to the Chevy Sonic. But Ford has finally deigned to humor us, and we’re getting the Fiesta ST.
If you haven’t seen one on the road yet, you might recognize the new Ford Fiesta as the tiny rally machine hooned by the likes of Ken Von Block and Tanner Foust in the Global Rallycross Championship. The new ST, which will go on sale next year, isn’t that. You can’t really get one of those.
But the Fiesta ST looks impressive in itself, as it ought to be as the second vehicle in Ford’s new ST performance marque, standing in the rather ponderous shadow of its big brother, the 252 hp Focus ST.
Before we get into any of the specifics, know that Ford is very serious about cultivating a hot hatch culture in the US. They drew a line on the pavement and are only offering the Fiesta ST with a 6-speed manual. Like a Noble supercar. You can’t get it with an automatic. No paddle shifters. If you only have one hand, you’d better look into prosthetics. Enthusiasts will love this, and everyone else will complain.
They’re also serious about the power. These days, to say a car has 200 hp is nothing special. The Toyota Camry’s V6 makes 268, and it’s the most boring car in the history of all creation. But within the hot hatch segment, the Fiesta ST’s 197 hp figure is massive, even overkill. The Fiat 500 Abarth, the fast version, only produces 160 hp, and it gets to 60 in 6.7 seconds. The Mini Cooper S only has 181. And the poor little Chevy Sonic RS putters across the line with 138 hp.
So 197 is nothing to chuckle at, especially accompanied by 214 lb ft of torque. Estimates pull it to 60 in 5.9 seconds, not bad for a 1.6 liter 4 cyl, turbocharged as it is. Of course, the problem with all that torque is torque steer, the bane of every hot hatcher across 3 continents. The Fiesta is, of course (unlike the awesome rally variants) front-wheel-drive, which means that when you accelerate through a corner at speed, the car accelerates in a straight line.
But Ford has rolled up the cuffs and taken in the waist of the Focus ST’s Torque Vectoring Control system so it will fit on its little brother. As much as we purists hate to admit it, this is one computerized nanny that actually works. It negotiates brake pressure for each caliper separately, and if you’re taking a corner too fast, will slow the inside wheels to prevent you from careening into the bushes gravel. It’s an idea borrowed from a banned F1 technology, and reports indicate success.
That’s not all the data that will be sluicing through the car’s computers. The Fiesta ST will have three stability control settings: Standard, Sport, or (ex-Golf R fans, take a drink of water) Off. The steering has been honed and the suspension upgraded.
If we can find a gripe with the Fiesta ST, it’s that we won’t get a 3-door option. Yes, the Mini and Fiat people can laugh at your “family car.” Then you can smoke them off the line. Still, a brotastic longdoor version would have been sublime.
The coolest thing about the Fiesta ST (other than the fact that you can call it the “FieSTa” in the forums), is that it’s original. You don’t get the impression that Ford was scrambling to come up with something to throw into this reemerging market. They didn’t just add power and call it a day. The Fiesta ST has an identity of its own, and unless Mini, Fiat, and VW do something quick, that identity might include “King of the Hatches.”
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.