The Fiesta ST's engine is a cracker, and so much more soulful than the Renault Clio RS's or Volkswagen Polo GTI's. It pulls heartily from low revs and enjoys spinning up to its limiter. It's certainly the most aggressive-sounding three-cylinder motor we've encountered, enhanced tastefully by a 'sound symposer' that pipes engine noise through to the interior. The standard six-speed manual gearbox, which has a short, slick, snappy lever and well-chosen gear ratios, helps you get the very best out of it.
Backing off and cruising allows cylinder deactivation to occur (the ST can run on just two cylinders to save fuel), but it's extremely difficult to tell this is happening. There's nothing on the dashboard to indicate any switchover and no perceivable change in sound or smoothness inside. And let's be honest, that’s exactly how it should be.
There are three driving modes on the ST: Normal, Sport and Track. Moving to Sport from Normal makes the accelerator more responsive, adds weight to the steering and makes the exhaust more vocal, while Track switches off the traction control and relaxes the stability control for maximum driver control and, of course, enjoyment.
And this hottest of Fiestas is just as lively through corners as any before it. Just like the previous car, it will pivot progressively around its front wheels if you back off the accelerator mid-bend to help you position it perfectly. The steering isn't the most communicative around and you can feel a bit of tugging from side to side as you power out of corners from low revs, but it proves weighty and precise beyond such limitations. And huge fun on a typical British B-road.
The limited-slip differential (LSD) comes as part of an optional Performance Pack. Working with the Fiesta ST's clever electronics, LSD-equipped cars are able to put down their power more effectively out of slow corners by sending power to whichever front wheel can exert the most purchase. Without it, the car requires more patience with the accelerator as it scrabbles for traction, especially in the wet.
With the Performance Pack, you also get two more go-faster additions: a launch control system to help you make the perfect getaway and shift lights to tell you when you’re about to hit the engine's limiter. In truth, we could live without either system (they’re fun for five minutes but have little real-world advantage), but the LSD alone makes the Performance Pack worth adding.
If you don’t want to get bogged down in configurators and options lists and just want the most capable Fiesta ST, it’s worth going for the Performance Edition. It gets the Performance Pack as standard and thanks to bespoke, adjustable suspension plus lighter alloy wheels, it’s the most composed Fiesta ST in the range. In fact, body control with the new suspension is so good that you might end up entering corners at speeds you’d be too afraid to attempt in rivals.
On the introduction of this latest Fiesta ST, Ford made a big noise that the ride had been softened to make it more comfortable. Much was said about clever, patented designs for the rear suspension that allowed this to happen without spoiling the handling. However, while tolerable for a hot hatch, it’s still very firm. The Performance Edition is actually the comfiest Fiesta ST thanks to the sophistication of its bespoke suspension. For the most comfortable hot hatch for this money, though, try the Polo GTI.