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Car Report

Test Drive: 2014 Ford Fiesta ST

 

Ford's got a new little pony in its stable, and the old mares sitting in there had better look out.

The Fiesta ST hot hatchback is like a Mustang for millennials, aimed at entry-level car enthusiasts with the promise of economy, style and cheap speed.

The entire Fiesta lineup was refreshed for 2014 with good effect. The adoption of the new Ford family grille giving it a more upscale look than the mail slot it replaces could muster, while refinement enhancements further entrench its position at the top of the subcompact charts in the quietest cabin category.

Available in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback versions, the standard $14,795 Fiesta still gets by with the 120 hp four-cylinder that’s powered it to strong sales since the model returned to the United States in 2010. It’s a fine motor, particularly if fuel economy is your game as it can deliver as much as 41 mpg highway with an automatic transmission, but the 38 mpg five-speed manual makes it a little more fun to drive.

The six-speed stick in the Fiesta ST, on the other hand, makes it a LOT more fun to drive. That’s because it comes with a 197 hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, basically a souped-up version of the one found in the much larger Ford Escape crossover and Fusion sedan. Fuel economy remains impressive at 26 mpg city/35 highway, and to drive the performance point home an automatic transmission isn’t even on the options list.

Along with the horses, the FieSTa (as I shall refer to it) has 202 lb-ft of torque, making it much more potent overall than its closest competitors, the MINI Cooper S and Fiat 500 Abarth. Both of those are three-doors, as is the European version European FieSTa. Here it only comes with five, but Ford’s global performance chief engineer Kerry Baldori swears on his virtual slide rule that it’s otherwise identical and didn’t get watered down during its trip across the pond.

This means that along with the power the FieSTa gets quicker steering, a lower, stiffer suspension and paper-thin tires on 17-inch wheels. There’s also a neatly executed body kit and a host of high-tech handling wizardry under its short snout that includes computer-controlled torque vectoring and a three-stage stability control system with standard, sport and get-out-of-the-way-I’m-a-pro full-off settings.

Base price is $22,195, but it comes pretty much loaded save for a $795 navigation feature that you can live without and a $1,995 set of deeply-bolstered Recaro buckets with superhero suit-style upholstery that you absolutely should not live without if you plan on hitting the track or an autocross now and then. This is assuming you’re a size 44 jacket or smaller, as they are a trim fit.

Either way, you should choose your seats wisely, because you will be getting pressed into them often. Ford says the FieSTa can hit 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, but it feels much faster than that. There’s no lag from the turbo, just immediate, grin-inducing acceleration anytime you need or want it. Even when it’s already at 60 mph, stabbing the throttle is a head-tossing experience.

Do it in the middle of an off-ramp and you can feel the torque-vectoring serving up power between the front wheels, essentially eliminating understeer and keeping you from plowing into the guard rail regardless of how hard your foot is pressed to the floor. Lift it, and the FieSTa will wag its tail and tuck its nose in like an obedient truffle hound. Few cars, let alone front-wheel-drive ones, are on as tight of a leash as this one. And to think it has a solid rear axle, just like a Mustang. Twist-beam in this case.

The variable electric-assist steering is communicative and weighs up nicely at speed, while the six-speed is a slick, short-throw box that never misses a gear and is coupled to a light clutch. Neither is a chore to work, whether you’re on a mountain road, dodging cones in a parking lot or stuck in traffic.

In any situation, the FieSTa is engaging and entertaining little treat that always feels like it’s up to something. A Mustang Shelby GT500 is an unparalleled thrill ride 5 percent of the time that you’re behind the wheel, but is so overpowered that it naps through day to day tasks. A resonator tube pumping engine sounds directly into the FieSTa’s passenger compartment helps, especially since the turbo-tamed exhaust is so quiet that it might as well not be there. If you’re looking for stealth performance, this is it; as long as you don’t go for the Green Envy or Molten Orange paint colors. They are as loud as the car is not.

The only real disappointment I have with the FieSTa is that it comes with a full-size spare. No, that’s not usually something to whine about, but they raised the floor a lot in order to clear it and took away several precious inches of vertical space in the process. I once packed a Fiesta with enough luggage for a week-long vacation for my family of four. Not gonna happen in this without leaving the removable panel on the garage floor.

That’s a shame, because I’d gladly go on that trip in the FieSTa and drive it every day. It is simply one of the most enjoyable real-world cars I’ve ever experienced. Granted, it’s only relatively affordable, but it’s two grand less than the Mini and better than it and the Fiat 500 Abarth in every way . Except perhaps for one.

As fantastic as the FieSTa is, it’s still just a Fiesta and comes with little or no cache. None, in fact. You won’t hear Madonna singing about it, Britney won’t be caught exhibiting poor parenting skills in one, and I seriously doubt it will ever morph into Catrinel Menghia.

Then again, all but one of those may be a good thing.

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2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Base Price: $22,195

Type: 5-door, 5-passenger hatchback

Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder

Power: 197 hp, 202 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

MPG: 26 city/35 hwy