IAIN ROBERTSON 

Ford created a stick with which to beat itself around the corporate head and shoulders, states Iain Robertson, although there is no denying the popularity of the ST variants, at least in the UK new car scene, although hefty pricing will hurt it.

We all love a little bit of sport. Whether kicking around a ball, flashing a bat, or just being ‘outdoorsy’, the precept of sportiness has appeal across a wide range of people and pursuits. In fact, people are central to a sporting ethos. As such, sport can be immensely sociable, encouraging people into sporting arenas, or environments, that enable varying levels of fitness to be attained.

Car companies recognised the value of a sporting ethos virtually from the outset of motorised transport. Although it would later be justified as an essential element of vehicle development, motorcar manufacturers tackled the challenge of competitiveness by racing against each other and motor-sport was born. While involvement in such activities can be regarded as exorbitantly expensive these days, a factor that led to the development of sponsorship, both as a means to commercial responsibility, as well as paying for publicising the products, without a sporting aspect, notably as an element of mainstream production, a brand might be regarded as ‘boring’…and no major player wants that soubriquet to be attached to it.

Ford Motor Company has developed a much-appreciated profile over the years with, initially, its ‘GT’ variants, by which the Grand Touring aspects may have been ever so slightly corrupted. However, they were soon resolved by divergence of both RS (Rallye Sport) and ST (Sports Technologies) labels; the former being a halo attached to some seriously upgraded models, while the latter would become an enhanced remit carrying a more affordable price tag but less extreme engineering.

ST has become a vital source of additional profitability for the company and, despite the ‘everyman’ appeal of the base product, the enhanced version does result in sky-rocketing sales that match the performance expectations. Consider the ST as a convenient half-way house to the ultimate RS sporting goal and your judgement will not be far off what Ford wants to present and it is only marginally costlier to live with than the stock item.

However, look carefully at the latest Fiesta ST, as it is abundantly clear that Ford is terrified of missing the boat. The new Suzuki Swift Sport is a direct rival, with a marginally smaller engine but also significant weight savings over the Ford. Renault’s non-RenaultSport version of the Clio remains the choice of some enthusiasts. However, the latest i20N version of Hyundai’s market equivalent model is a road-burner par-excellence. This is a very competitive market segment.

Potential Fiesta buyers linger on the side-lines, following the introduction of the run-of-the-mill models and, since the new Fiesta was launched in 2017, as a fitting, roomier and more grown-up version of its predecessor, many of them have been holding their breath, knowing that Ford, even in ‘difficult’ times, would serve an ace to the market. It has. It’s good. It’s right. It will grab the Fordphiles by the scruffs of their necks and deliver to their often ill-judged demands.

While 300bhp has become the target of the mid-size sporting hatchback, the Fiesta-class needs to boast of around 200bhp, which the new Fiesta ST delivers in spades. Intriguingly, it attains its pocket-rocket potency from a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, now with cylinder deactivation for added fuel efficiency. However, Ford is nothing if not smart and it understands that part of its sporting presence is also wrapped-up in delivering a voice to its new car. With clever engineering that allows sonic control within the cabin, a throaty, off-beat engine thrum accompanies on and off-throttle movements, without upsetting the neighbours.

However, with driver focus central to the new Fiesta ST, it will come as no surprise to learn that its suspension system has been rejigged ingeniously, to ensure that the enthusiast will not feel short-changed. Ford has incorporated chassis vectoring into the new car, without incurring the costs of complex electrickery, resorting to a mechanical means of gifting the ST a more sporting ride and handling envelope that does not detract from its well-established dynamic balance. By using cold-formed, non-linear, non-interchangeable, directionally-wound coil springs, Ford is able to introduce a version of torque vectoring that does not engage the car’s brakes. The result is a sharper turn-in, better directional changes, reduced weight but no compromises on ride comfort, or refinement levels. For the first time in the Fiesta, an optional Quaife differential can also be employed to tame the less desirable elements of front-wheel-drive, which makes the handling and grip levels even more engaging, less understeery and even more predictable.

Ford is also using the introduction of the Fiesta ST to highlight its all-new driving mode selector. With three electronic programs available – Normal, Sport and Track – a single pushbutton allows an enthusiastic driver to vary the mood from sportily comfortable, to track-day edginess. The latter setting, apart from focussing on engine, steering and stability controls, also introduces the optional Launch Control, complete with in-dash graphical accompaniment, which will be lots of fun, should you indulge in circuit-based hobbies. The bottom-line aim of flattering the novice, while rewarding the time-served enthusiast has always been Ford’s intention. Unfortunately, these chassis-altering programs, while working efficaciously on smooth Teutonic tarmac, will introduce new and jarring levels of puddle-jumping on the UK’s sorely underfunded, over-rutted and potholed roads. Not even the ‘Normal’ setting will be able to disguise the harshness and, be aware that the new vectoring coil springs are also costlier to replace, when they break.

As a further aid to exploiting the potential of the new ST, Ford has redeveloped its most sporting Recaro-based front seats to provide a range of adjustment that allows even more drivers of different statures to fit comfortably but also to be held in place more securely, when dipping into the car’s broad range of dynamic qualities. The Fiesta’s interior was revised thoroughly last year and the new ST adopts both the more colourful and convenience aspects to very good effect.

Naturally, performance is the most desirable feature of the new car and it despatches the 0-60mph benchmark sprint in a cool 6.2s, before clocking a maximum speed of 144mph. It uses its 197bhp stated power output to exceptional effect but, with access to 213lbs ft of torque from a very usable 1,600 to 4,000rpm, it is clear that revving the engine will be unnecessary to maintain surprisingly high-speed cross-country progress. A lazier approach will prove to be almost as efficient as a more engaged one that will take advantage of a lowly CO2 rating of 114g/km and up to 55mpg.

The enhanced connectivity that is included in all Fiesta models is carried into the new ST, although music fans will enjoy the upmarket B&O stereo head unit and speakers. Of course, Ford’s SYNC3 system also enables easy mobile-phone Bluetoothing and music sharing, along with subtle voice control for added safety on-the-move. A comprehensive suite of driver aids (lane discipline, distance cruise and so on) is also incorporated.

Conclusion:   With a choice of three trim levels (ST-1, ST-2 and ST-3) and a decent array of accessories available from the outset, including alloy wheel options, plus a choice of three, or five-door body-styles, Ford is providing a well-honed raft of personalisation potential for its charming and sporting newcomer. I can foresee it commanding a healthy percentage of total Fiesta sales, especially in the UK, although this is a busy market segment and the choice from rivals is excellent.

 

 

 

 

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).