Ford Fiesta ST200
List price £22,745
Target Price £19,568
Engine and suspension tweaks promise to make our favourite hot hatch even more fun.
Mini Cooper S Chilli Media XL
List price £22,780
Target Price £21,511
It’s a similar price to the ST200, so will the premium feel of the Mini prove too tempting?
The hot hatchback is arguably the perfect choice for a petrolhead’s single-car garage. With the combination of an affordable price, a practical interior and giggle-inducing handling, they work well in a huge variety of situations.
We’d argue that the Ford Fiesta ST is the best of the breed. After all, it’s our reigning hot hatch of the year. What’s more, Ford has been busy trying to make the mighty ST even better by giving it more power, tweaked suspension and distinctive styling touches to create this new range-topping version, the ST200.
The only issue appears to be the near-£23,000 list price. For the added cost of a takeaway meal, you could have a Mini Cooper S with a comparable amount of equipment. It’s similarly quick and feels much more sophisticated inside. Can the new ST200 justify its high price, or will the Mini’s premium charm win out?
What are they like to drive?
The hot hatch is no stranger to a traffic light grand prix and here the on-paper figures suggest the Fiesta should trump the Mini. Despite our best efforts, though, the 0-60mph results we recorded swung in the Mini’s favour by nearly half a second. Even more surprisingly, the ST200 proved slightly slower than the regular Fiesta ST we’ve tested on previous occasions, despite the warm and dry conditions during this test.
However, the ST200 was quicker than the Mini when accelerating from low revs in any gear apart from sixth, mainly because of its shorter gearing. In fact, the Mini’s lanky gearing means that sometimes you have to change down into a surprisingly low gear to stir up enough pace for a snappy overtaking manoeuvre.
Speed isn’t everything, of course. The Fiesta’s engine sounds racier and loves being revved to its redline, whereas the Mini’s motor doesn’t really encourage you to thrash it, despite a few pops and crackles from the exhaust when you select Sport mode (done by sliding a switch next to the gearlever). Talking of gearlevers, the Fiesta strikes another blow with a wonderfully precise, short-throw gearshift action, whereas the Mini’s gearbox always feels slightly notchy and rubbery by comparison.
For us, though, it’s how a hot hatch copes with a twisty ribbon of road that matters most, and in this respect the Fiesta is head, shoulders and a fair bit of torso above the Mini. Although the Mini shows initial promise, with quick steering and an eagerness to turn in to corners at moderate speeds, it’s progressively less fun the faster you go.
Pushed to its limits, the Mini leans over far more than the Fiesta and is far more reluctant to respond when you ask for a sudden change of tack. Push too hard in a corner and the Mini’s front wheels will run wide of your chosen line in a safe but unexciting manner, whereas the Fiesta is more neutral and precise when you approach its grip limits and far more playful as a result. It’s huge amounts of fun without ever being intimidating.
'Pushed to its limits, the Mini leans over far more than the Fiesta'
Driven more sedately, the Mini is marginally more comfortable in an urban environment, although our test car was equipped with optional (£375) adaptive dampers. At speed, both cars jostle you about on all but the smoothest of roads, but the Mini is just less wearing.
However, the Mini’s tyres kick up more road roar, so it’s fractionally noisier cruising at 70mph, even though the Fiesta’s engine never completely shuts up.
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