When it comes to new, entry-level performance cars, few automakers serve up as much bang for the buck as Ford. Don't believe us? Look at the rear wheel-drive market and in particular the recent intros of the overblown Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ twins; while it's true that the platform handles like the dickens and comes in pretty cheap in terms of MSRP, the one complaint resounding throughout the enthusiast universe is: 'Where's the power?'
The 'power' is in the Mustang, yo. For some $2,000 less than an FR-S, you can get Ford's base model rear-drive pony car with its 300-horsepower V6. That's 100 more than the FR-S/BRZ. For $2K less.
People who don't like the math will say the Mustang is ugly, too common and doesn't handle as well as what we're comparing it to, which is fair. It's also fair to say you can sort out the Ford's handling for much, much less than you can build power in the Scion/Subaru.
Ford again maximizes value with its FWD hot hatch performance variants, the Focus ST and Fiesta ST, the latter which we learned about and drove last week for half a day along the Southern California coast. An apples-to-apples comparison purely along power and price lines pegs the 2014 Fiesta ST as more potent than B segment peers the Fiat 500 Abarth and Mini Cooper S, and on par with the likes of compacts Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Honda Civic Si and VW GTI.
However, where the new Fiesta ST really stands out is in price. The hot rod subcompact is less expensive than virtually every car you can logically compare it to.
Fiesta ST is rated at 197 horsepower and 214 lb.-ft. of torque at the crank, making the power with a turbo, direct-injected, all-aluminum 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder EcoBoost mill. The model only comes in a six-speed manual transmission, and the power figures are made on 93 octane fuel (which is not widely available in Cali), but according to Ford reps you can even run 87 (of course with the correspondent penalty in power production).
Suspension wise, Fiesta ST boasts MacPherson struts in front and a twist beam with coil springs in back, and the five-door hatchback has a full disc brake setup, 10.9-inch vented rotors up front and 9.96-inch solid rotors in back. The car also rocks a host of electronic nannies (ABS, AdvanceTrac Electronic Stability Control, et al) and comes on 17-inch alloy wheels with summer performance tires. She weighs in at a somewhat svelte 2,720 pounds.
After the Fiesta ST indoctrination, Ford set us loose in Santa Monica, Calif., plotting a course along the coast, then up through the Santa Monica Mountains via the famous Mulholland Highway, and ending finally at Leo Carrillo State Beach near Malibu before turning us around. The roads were a mix of highway driving as well as twisty, mountain throughways - the perfect environments to let loose our Green Envy Metallic ST (other journos were in Race Red and Performance Blue versions).
About that exterior styling - since Fiesta is one of them there fancy 'global platforms,' it's pretty much the same Ford subcompact you can buy anywhere on the planet, which by default makes it cool. In a vague, general sense the design of the car is sharper and more dynamic than some conservative-looking econo-boxes of past generations. But while it's more our style to showoff to a greater degree Fiesta ST's performance features (for example, slyly revealing the FMIC in the front grill or something along those lines), we get the inherent sleeper-ness OEM designers were aiming for by limiting exterior embellishment to elements like the rear roof spoiler aero.
Inside, seating and controls felt good and were positioned properly, like the beefy leather-wrapped steering wheel and solid aluminum sports pedals. The ST-only optional Recaro front seats, which initially felt too bolstered, became less so after just minutes in the car. In fact, we ultimately were thankful for the body support because once you get on the go pedal it's hard to take your foot off (So damn fun! Milk was a bad choice!) and without the bolstering we could see how we'd end up flopping around behind the wheel.
Fiesta ST wasn't breaking any benchmarks but still supremely toss-able, goading us to push-push-push. It's a car that rewards spirited driving with an array sensory feedback: the whine of the turbo, the release of the blow-off valve, the confidence transmitted up through the steering wheel and pedals, and finally the familiar gentle but gradually increasing pull of gravity as we really began pounding on the hatch through switchbacks and other corners. If it wasn't for the cops policing the roads we were traversing so heavily, and the precipitous drop along some stretches, we probably would've beat the car to within an inch of its life. It wanted it.
As it was, the little Ford brawler was not perfect. We found one handling issue that gave us pause, if only momentarily, namely that the Fiesta ST becomes nervously light on suspension rebound; but even then it only happened as we were going in a straight line, and then only at speeds above 70mph. As we thought about it more, it occurred to us maybe with a lower center of gravity - like one achieved through installing an aftermarket suspension - the issue probably goes away, but then that's just speculation.
Ford engineering and response to consumer demand have come a long way since the global car market crashed and burned in 2008. Now more than any other time in its recent history it seems the Blue Oval arguably has a ton of fine driver's cars in the fleet, and nearly all of them deliver legitimate bang for the buck. Fiesta ST must be counted among them, a little car with an equally little price tag that returns huge dividends on fun.