Performance cars can be graceful, elegant. Composed. They can go about their business with the sort of practiced confidence that says, “I’m better than you plebeians, but I don’t need to show off.” It’s a subtle aura.
The 2014 Ford Fiesta ST is not subtle.
It’s for the kind of person who arrives at parties ten minutes before anyone’s started drinking, blasting “Turn Down For What.”
But is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. Rule number one for Hot Hatch Club membership (aside from the obvious stipulation of being a hatchback): be outlandish.
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That’s not enough, though - if it was, then the screwball Mitsubishi Mirage would be in the club too. So, rule number two: be fast. And the 2014 Fiesta ST has power to the nines.
Ford claims the ST’s 1.6L turbocharged four cylinder makes 197 horsepower and 214lbs. of torque, but plenty of dyno tests have shown that the car is actually putting those numbers to the ground - stock. That means the engine’s actually making somewhere in the neighborhood of 230 horsepower and 250lbs. of torque. Couple that with the Fiesta’s light 2700lbs. curb weight, and you’ve got a little car that goes like hell.
Okay, don’t shoot me - I don’t actually like how the Fiesta looks. I think that abridged catfish grill looks like the scrunched up face of someone who’s just smelled rotten eggs. But the car evoked a reaction - and that’s a good thing. Hot hatches need to be a bit ridiculous to stand on their own. The Fiesta ST is kind of obnoxious, especially draped in the Molten Lava Orange paint. But if you want to make a statement (one that says, “Look at me!”) in a hot hatch, then this is the car for you.
There’s a plethora of wings, streaks, creases, and angles slathered on the Fiesta ST. Compared to the regular Fiesta, it’s like seeing a scrawny guy a year after he started hitting the gym - you’re not so much impressed by the size as you are by the sharp conditioning.
A side note: while there’s nothing wrong with five door hatches, I really wish Ford would sell the Fiesta ST as a three door in America. We proved that configuration sold in the Focus ZX3 SVT, so here’s hoping Ford will give us a three door Fiesta eventually because let’s be honest - is a car as small as the Fiesta really a family car in America anyway?
Inside the Fiesta ST, it’s mature and elegant. Like Helen Mirren draped in a flowing black dress, sashaying on the red carpet at the Oscars.
Wait, who am I kidding? The seats are orange. And they have gigantic “ST” patches on the headrests.
Nothing about the interior is elegant - it’s a hilarious place to be. The seats we got were Recaros, and I’m happy to report they’re every bit as supportive as you hope they are. Going sideways around a corner? These seats just yawn and lock you in place. They’re deeply bolstered on the sides and back, yet they somehow don’t wear on your back on longer journeys - we spent nearly twelve hours in the car on a filming day, and both my spine and butt were non-achey. And nobody likes an achey butt.
They’re the seats you want. Pay the extra money for them.
But they’re not without faults. Because they’re so deeply bolstered, you don’t so much sit on them as you sit in them. Getting in and out was a bit of a hassle on a daily basis, but that’s always the tradeoff with seats like these.
And don’t expect them to fit you perfectly from the start - unless you’re tall and slender. They’re snug on larger folks (for the record, I’m 6’1, 210 lbs., 34 waistline) but they’ll break in if you keep at it.
Let’s talk about the other materials and panels, though. The things you actually look at all the time - the dash, steering wheel, center console - are all quality pieces. But the door cards flex incredibly easy when you poke them, reminding you that this is a performance car based off a platform that has a base model price of $14,000..
I have beef with SYNC, Ford’s in-dash infotainment system, so let’s cook it.
Admittedly, it’s come a long way since its debut in 2007 and the Bluetooth phone connection works perfectly fine. But the maps and music are both slow, as is the physical interface itself. In a world with super fast user interfaces like iOS and Android, waiting ten seconds for a song to play is intolerable.
The navigation app is similarly annoying. Whether I used the voice commands or actually punched in addresses myself, it took almost two minutes to get the system to bring up the destination and begin navigation. Considering how quick smartphones and even portable GPS units are, this is just frustrating and ruins a nice-looking navigation app. Nevermind that it couldn’t find the Manhattan Bridge when I was leaving DUMBO.
Sony does the sound system in the ST. It’s a 100 watt system and lacks a subwoofer, so don’t expect to drop the bass too hard - it just doesn’t have the power to move that much air. Bass-heavy songs don’t sound terrible, but the performance is admirable for such a low-powered unit. Mids and trebles are better. If you’re not a huge audiophile, this system will do just fine. Ford does offer an upgraded system, if you're interested.
Since I’m on the subject of sound, let me take a moment to address the “sound symposer” system in the Fiesta ST. If you’re unfamiliar, what the system does on a basic level is funnel the engine intake sound into the cabin.
I don’t think it was working in my test car. Maybe I turned it off somehow? I never once noticed it - which may be a good thing, since I was worried about it ruining the driving experience. So don’t be turned away by the claims of “artificial intake sound.”
Ten years ago, the last Focus SVT (the Fiesta ST’s spiritual predecessor) rolled off the assembly line with 170 horsepower and 145lbs. torque from a 2.0L engine. If you were careful, you’d eke out 30MPG on the highway. The Fiesta ST has a turbocharged 1.6L that makes nearly 40 more horsepower (197) and nearly 80 more torques (214).
That’s on paper, anyway. In practice, the Fiesta ST puts those numbers to the ground. Meaning? Accounting for a standard 15% drivetrain loss, the Fiesta ST is actually making closer to 230 horsepower and 250lbs. torque. From a 1.6L - an engine block that’s smaller than a half-gallon of milk. And it’ll still do 36MPG.
The Fiesta ST is only offered with a six speed manual (three pedals is the only correct option for hot hatches, by the way), and man, is it a good one. Ford’s somehow made a shifter that’s light enough to be poked in and out of gear with two fingers, but accurate enough that you’d have to be a complete clot to miss a gear.
The shifter sits high, and while many will inevitably complain that it “feels like a truck,” I found the Fiesta ST’s shifter was at the perfect rally/street height, offering long-ish throws that make it super comfortable as a daily driver, while keeping well-defined gates for the times you feel like a lunatic.
The gear ratios are really well-sorted, allowing you to have enough power down low to putt around town at slow speeds without bogging down like turbo cars of yesteryear. You could drive through a town without ever pushing the turbo to spool up, if you wanted.
But for spirited driving? It’s a weird experience if you’re not used to 4 cylinder engines with big turbos. The Fiesta ST’s turbo peaks at 21PSI of boost - that’s big for a 1.6L engine. So that produces turbo lag if you’re in the wrong gear. Even if you’re in the right one, you’ll never mistake this for a natural aspirated car - the power is not linear throughout the rev range.
When you put your foot down at lower RPMs, you get a small judder and a burble as the turbo begins to spool, and a second or two later you just...take off, flying until the 6400RPM fuel cutoff. It’s a great feeling, though it’ll never really scare you. There’s a lot of power here, but it’s completely appropriate. Do what you want with aftermarket parts, but I think Ford got the tuning pretty perfect.
I never really got used to the clutch, though. There’s about an inch and a half of travel at the top of the pedal that doesn’t really do anything, so you keep pressing, and then WHOOP - the clutch gives you everything at once: “Here. Take it. I didn’t want to be in gear anyway.”
The pedal itself is incredibly light; even after a few hours in Manhattan traffic, my left leg felt as good as it did when I climbed in.
Another strange note: it felt like Ford used the gas and brake pedals straight out of the automatic Fiesta. The brake is set at such an offset angle that you can never really heel-toe - placing your right foot on both the brake and gas during a downshift, so you can match engine speed under braking - without stomping down like Ndamukong Suh. Believe me, I tried to do it gracefully - but even with my large feet (size 15), it just wasn’t happening.
The power is good. The handling is very good.
Lots of “safety” stuff is mandatory on cars these days, like stability and traction control, but they prevent you from really enjoying a car like this. Yet, the government says you have to have them.
The solution? A little button that lets you turn it all off. Thankfully, Ford got that memo. So when you switch the traction and stability control off - they’re off.
Not "reduced." Off. That’s how it should be.
With those electronic nannies silenced, the ST is ready and willing to break the doldrums of your daily commute. The Bridgestone Potenzas Ford fits will grip hard and bite consistently if you want a good lap time, but if you poke it a bit harder, it loves to break the rear loose like a shopping cart on supermarket linoleum tiles.
The steering - let’s get this out of the way - electric steering is not as good as hydraulic steering. But it’s just the way things are these days. That said, the system in the ST the best I’ve used this side of the Mercedes Benz CLA 45 AMG. It’s especially pleasing during the twisty stuff - you don’t get the same visceral feel as a good hydraulic system, but this is hard to fault. Sure, it’s a little overboosted in parking lots for my taste, but that’s offset by how well-weighted it is during 99% of driving.
This chassis really is a double-edged sword; it’s tough enough to hold twice the amount of power regular Fiestas get, and it’s ever-willing to play ball if you decide to be a hooligan. But you never really relax in a Fiesta ST.
Maybe it’s exacerbated by those summer tires, but the ST is stiffer than expected. Sure, a hot hatch is supposed to be on the harsh side, but the ST was bouncing around New York City streets like dips and cracks in the road were mini trampolines. No complaints on a good road like the Garden State Parkway or Bear Mountain, but driving in a place like New York induces a lot of clenching, hoping that every loud knock at 20MPH didn’t just bend a wheel.
The Fiesta ST starts just under $21,000 - at that price, I highly doubt there’s anything nearly as fun to drive, yet easy to live with. If you can make do without any options, then you should absolutely pull the trigger on that one.
But ours - equipped with the Recaro package (seats, heated mirrors, etc.) and the $600 Molten Lava Orange paint - was closer to $24,000. That’s still great value for money, and though there are a few other hot hatches near that price point (including Ford’s own Focus ST), none of them are quite so bold.