I was driving up to the All-Ireland last Friday and as I passed a Cork car on the motorway, I thought ‘Ha! In 24 hours we’ll have the beating of ye.’ Then I was struck with a horrible thought. My test car that week was a Ford and Ford being a Cork firm, the car was registered in Cork.
For a good Bannerman like myself it was almost unthinkable to be driving a flame-red Cork registered car at a time like this. I hate those little flags that attach to car windows with a passion but if you offered me one that night I’d have snapped your arm off.
At least by way of compensation, I was driving something rather special. The Fiesta ST is a hot hatch from the old school, with a simple philosophy of a stiff chassis, meaty wheels and a powerful engine driving the front wheels.
As part of the never ending drive for efficiency, downsizing has hit performance cars, too. In the good old days, you’d probably have found a normally aspirated 2.0 litre engine in the nose of the car, but no, it’s a 1.6 litre turbo nowadays and in the Fiesta’s case, the output is a healthy 182 bhp. Some rivals offer more, but performance is excellent, with a quoted 0 – 100 km/h time of 6.9 seconds and a top speed limited to 220 km/h.
In my view, though, a hot hatch is defined by more than outright performance. The way it handles is hugely more important and here the Fiesta really shines.
Although the chassis is considerably stiffer than the standard car and the springs are lowered, the ride quality is still very acceptable. The payback is an enthusiasm for taking corners and a directness to the steering which is an absolute delight.
The ST was built for tackling back roads and it jumps from turn to turn like an enthusiastic puppy. It’s easy to keep the engine on the boil with the light, positive six speed gearbox positively encouraging you to change gear.
At this stage, I’ve driven most rivals in this class and the ST is the class of the field when it comes to handling.
Driven gently, you’d hardly know that the car had such depths. You could sit into it and drive around town and the only clue to the performance would be the deeply-bolstered Recaro bucket seats, which are upholstered in an eye-catching red and black combo. The rest of the interior, apart from the thicker steering wheel could be standard Fiesta and none the worse for that. With its mobile phone inspired facia, it’s a nice, well thought out cockpit.
You never notice much noise from the engine until pressing on and here the car fools you. The noise coming into the cabin is mostly artificial, created by a vent from the induction system. It endows the car with a lot of character, without annoying the neighbours or attracting unwanted attention. This kind of thing is going to become increasingly common, with some electronic systems having the ability to synthesise the noise of a completely different engine to the one under the bonnet.
Equipment levels are good, with most things you’d want, including air conditioning, USB, Sync bluetooth and daytime running lights. I missed cruise control but surprisingly the absence of rear parking sensors didn’t bother me at all, the Fiesta being so easy to park.
As for price, the ST starts from €25,760, a commendably low price especially given the performance on offer.
It’s not a car for everyone, obviously, but if you enjoy driving, you should have a serious look at the ST.