The finest small sports hatch – but not the best value
I love the Ford Fiesta ST. Among small, affordable hot hatches it is in a league of its own. At least to me. I love its size, its look, its indefatigably cheery outlook and giant-killing ways on the open road. On roads tight enough for power alone not to be a determining factor, you’d need a hell of a weapon to drive away from this little hatch. And it has long been my experience that it is not possible to be unhappy and driving one of these fast at the same time.
So this new, more powerful, shorter-geared Fiesta ST200 with revised suspension should be better still, right? That’s actually quite a difficult question to answer.
The difficulty is that while this new ST200 has 197bhp, so does the standard Fiesta ST. Because it can only provide it for limited periods on overboost, however, Ford has to declare its power at 178bhp. Ah yes, says Ford, but the ST200 can overboost too, all the way up to 215bhp (which the standard ST certainly cannot do). Ah yes, says I, but you can go to Mountune and buy a Ford-approved chip for £599 that will give your standard ST 215bhp not just on overboost, but all the time. But the ST200 costs, wait for it, £5000 more than the standard ST. Indeed it costs just five quid less than a standard Focus ST, a car not only an entire class size up, but with all of 247bhp under its bonnet.
The ST200 also comes with stiffer front and rear springs and more relaxed damping, but now so does the standard ST. Yes the ST200 does have a shorter final drive but otherwise the major changes to justify the additional expense are cosmetic: seats, grey paint, wheels, interior details and a stack of standard equipment you’d have to pay for as options on a standard Fiesta.
It exists to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Fiesta and my instincts want to write it off as a smoke-and-mirrors job, a way of charging a lot more for providing very little extra. Except I can’t. I can’t write off any car that’s so much fun to drive. It’s hilarious, a hoot, a giggle on a decent road, more so than the similarly priced but purpose-built sportster that is the Fiat 124 Spider (reviewed elsewhere on these pages).
The chassis can take the extra power with ease and the new suspension seems to have succeeded in its quest to calm somewhat the ride quality without in any way easing its appetite for an apex. I’ve driven rear-drive 1960s racing cars that are less keen to be steered on the throttle than this.
All I would observe is that exactly the same can now be said for any Fiesta ST. Just because it’s more expensive, has a new badge, Recaro seats and cool paint, don’t go thinking that the ST200 is going to be any more fun to drive. It’s not. Underneath it all and short gears aside, in mechanical terms it’s basically the same car as a base Fiesta ST with a Mountune chip. Which is the one I’d have because to me, value for money has always been a key component of all fast Fords – not just this one.
And it is the chipped Fiesta that, right now, is not just the finest small hot hatch on sale but also offers the best value.
Engine 1.6 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power [email protected]
Torque 214lb [email protected] rpm
Transmission six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power to Weight 169bhp per tonne
Top speed 143mph