BBC Autos

First drive: 2013 Ford Fiesta ST

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What is it? Though I think we can guess...

It's a hot Fiesta. Well, a warm one, anyway. So you get the new Fiesta face of wide trapezoidal grille with black honeycomb, a bit of body kit, twin pipes and a nice – fairly subtle – spoiler on the rear hatch. Garnish with a set of 17-inch alloys, and you've got a purposeful but not too in-yer-face small fast Ford. Under the bonnet is a 1.6-litre EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder, chucking out 179 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque, and there's an overboost feature in certain situations that allows for 197bhp for short periods. It'll hit 62mph in 6.9 seconds, run to 137mph, has seats by Recaro, a 6-speed manual ‘box, an electronic-type limited-slip diff and weighs in at a very reasonable £16,995 for the basic version.

Ooh, that sounds interesting. Is it pretty hardcore then?

Well, not really, but that's not the point. The Ford ST sub-brand isn't really about ultimate performance, so in the same vein as the Focus ST, the Fiesta is more about being a useable hot hatch than arm-wrenching lap times. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be interested; to spoil the end of this review a little bit, this is one of the best cars Ford has made in ages.

Why's that then?

Although the Fiesta ST hasn't undergone a massive overhaul of the engineering, the Fiesta was such a sweet-handling little car, it hasn't taken much to make the ST genuinely laugh-out-loud fun. So you get a 10mm drop in ride height, some ST-specific suspension settings, re-jigged steering and “enhanced” eTVC (torque vectoring control) anti-slip electronics in the front axle that replicates a little of what a mechanical limited-slip differential might do. But it's no huge engineering revolution. Saying that, it feels so deliciously playful that you can have mighty fun on even the smallest of roads – it's the anti-supercar driver's car.

What you're trying to say is that it's slow-but-sweet, aren't you?

Not even that. It's not slow as such, it just requires that you pay attention when you want to go fast. That turbo engine is torquey enough, but you have to wring the absolute 6500rpm best from it. When you do, you'll be smiling. Not from the engine note –  it's a bit droney, if we're honest – but from the chassis; this thing is superb.

That sounds awfully like roadtester-speak.

More literally then; you can go nuts in the Fiesta ST and it just... clings. Way past the point where other hot hatches have fallen off a metaphorical cliff and are squealing tires, the Fiesta just sticks out its claws and rips around a corner. That eTVC tidies up, but it does so naturally – you never get the feeling this car is being artificially smoothed. And if you switch off all the traction control stuff – which you can, via a Sport mode halfway house –you can even get the back end to swing about a bit when you lift and brake. That is roadtester speak. It's also childish and a bit dangerous to do on a road. We'd never do that on a road. Nobody should. Not even if it makes you laugh.

Crikey, that sounds like fun.

That's exactly it. It's fun. Straight, easy-to-assimilate, not-too-scary fun. You wring every last ounce out of the car, and it just rewards your efforts. Day to day, this is more fun than something seriously fast - and that's no kidding. It might just save your licence, too. You're not going to switch the traction control off are you? We don't advise that.

Anything wrong with it?

As previously mentioned, the engine is efficient and generous enough with the outputs, but sounds a bit uninspiring. The ‘box is accurate, but not rifle-bolt slick, the electrically-assisted steering is nice enough but can feel a bit numb at times and it doesn't look that exciting (that's a subjective opinion, though). The interior is useful and comfortable, but won't have you pointing out endless surprise ‘n delight to your mates. But you're talking about a little car under 17 grand. The competition – although they all have a shade more power –are also £1500-£2k more.

Verdict?

It's ace. Simple as that. And when the inevitable group tests start happening with the Clio RS and 208 GTi, you won't be able to ignore the price...

Specs

Price £16,995; 0-62mph 6.9sec; Top speed 137mph; Economy 48mpg; CO2 emissions 138g/km; Kerbweight 1100kg (est.); Engine 4cyl, 1596cc, turbo, petrol; Power 179bhp at 5700rpm; Torque 199lb ft at 1900-4000rpm; Gearbox 6spd manual