The Fiesta ST's new engine is a cracker. Any doubts about fewer cylinders are quickly forgotten once you feel how hard Ford's 1.5 unit pulls from low revs and enjoys spinning up to its limiter, all the while accompanied by a muscular, growling soundtrack that is tastefully piped into the interior through the Sound Symposer, with proper pops and cracks from the new sports exhaust. It's certainly the most aggressive three-cylinder motor we've encountered and Ford's standard six-speed manual gearbox has a short, snappy lever and fairly short spaces between the gears.
Backing off and cruising allows the cylinder deactivation to happen but, in truth, it's extremely difficult to tell that is happening at all. Ford doesn't include a light on the dash to indicate any switchover and there's no perceivable change in sound or vibration inside. And, let's be honest, that’s exactly how you'd want it.
Ford has introduced three driving modes to the Fiesta 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. Moving to Track switches off the car's traction control and relaxes its stability control for maximum control and, of course, enjoyment.
You’ll be happy to learn that this hot Fiesta is no less lively through corners when provoked in Sport and Track settings. The way the previous car could progressively pivot to help you position it through corners when backing off the accelerator was one of its great assets, and this new model is no different. The steering remains similar to that of the previous car, meaning it’s not necessarily the most communicative and you can still feel a bit of tugging from side to side if you’re pushing very hard from low revs. But, on the whole, it’s razor-sharp, weighty and precise, making the ST brilliant fun on English B-roads.
Ford's new limited-slip differential is available as part of a Performance Pack on lower trims but standard on the range-topping ST-3 model, working with the car's standard torque vectoring technology.
The diff-equipped car is able to put down its power more readily out of slow corners as it susses out which front wheel is struggling and sends more drive to the one with greater purchase. Without it, the car requires more patience with the accelerator as it scrabbles for traction when pressing on too soon.
The Performance Pack also comprises of two more go-faster additions: a launch control system to torture the clutch and your passengers, plus shift lights to tell you when you’re about to hit the redline. In truth, we could live without both of these systems. They’re fun for five minutes but have little practical use in the real world.
If there was one slight criticism with the previous Fiesta ST, it was the firm ride. Well controlled, yes, but there was pretty tedious vertical movement at speed. The new car has more advanced dampers that are able to stiffen and slacken on their own (there's no switch for the driver) depending on driving conditions. Ford has also patented the Fiesta ST's new rear springs, which are curved in shape to improve stiffness while cornering. It's all clever stuff, but the important thing is that we found ride comfort to have improved to an impressive extent, yet body control through tight bends is as good as ever. Even on UK roads, the car doesn’t suffer from anywhere near as many jolts and crashes through the suspension as the previous model, offering a sophisticated and comfortable ride that is right up there with the best the hot hatch class has to offer.