Hot hatches are a dying breed. Because even when automakers set out to make one, they lack the stripped-down simplicity of the classics like the Mark II Volkswagen GTI, but manage minivan-like dimensions. The current (and outgoing) GTI packed a few too many Whoppers, while the Ford Focus ST carries a price tag that creeps into RWD coupe territory. I wanted a lighter, cheaper and less powerful car to toss around. Fortunately Ford delivered just that with the Fiesta ST—and it’s a blast.
While not as aggressively tuned as the Focus ST, it’s more enjoyable on the street. Softer, more compliant, and with a gentle push in turns compared to its larger sibling, the Fiesta won’t tripod around the bends with the inside wheel lifting—but it’s a car you can go all out with peace of mind. Yes, the 197 ponies is less than the Focus ST, but because of its lower output you don’t get the annoying tug of torque steer when powering out of the corner. The turbo 1.6-liter Ecoboost motor loves to be revved to the limit, and without discernible lag at lower rpms. Plus, the lighter weight and smaller cockpit gives the sense of speed, even if you’re scooting around at a law-abiding 60 mph.
The Fiesta doesn’t just shine when at full tilt, either. The short-shifting, slick six-speed grabs gears confidently, yet is still docile enough for the morning commute. Bumps and road imperfections don’t upset the solid chassis, and the damping strikes a pleasant balance between sporty and forgiving.
Because this ST is based on a B-segment car, it’s refreshingly simple—my only tech qualm is your having to hold down the traction button to completely shut it off, which seems overkill for a forgiving ride. On the flip side, it keeps the EVTC torque vectoring system on, simulating a limited-slip differential.
The simplicity filters down to the sheet metal, with the ST resisting boy-racer frills and instead incorporating subtle aero touches. The main gripe is with the optional Recaros—unless you have the feathery frame of a horse jockey, the tight side bolsters feel like you’re enclosed in a casket.
But being able to opt out of them highlights one of the strengths of the Fiesta ST—pricing and packaging. Starting at $21,400, it’s cheaper than both the Civic Si ($22,515) and Volkswagen GTI ($24,200). Since the creature comforts that add weight and cost—such as a moonroof—are optional, you’re not forced to get a fully loaded version for the performance, which is a refreshing change from other automakers.
That, coupled with the spunky performance, makes Ford’s capable five-door worthy of the hot hatch moniker.