Laugh, as you may, and sneer a bit. Go ahead. Yes, a turbocharged Ford Fiesta — the smallest of the company’s offerings in the U.S. market — might not seem like the ultimate fanboy rally machine from hell. And with a bare-bones sticker price of $21,400 — the kind of cash you’ll pony up for the aftermarket exhaust and suspension mods to a high-end European racer — it all seems quite dismissible.
But ease yourself into the real Recaro seats (admittedly, a $1,995 package, but certainly worth it), rev up the overboosted 1.6-liter turbo and you’ll very quickly see why this car forms the platform for the race machine at Internet video driving king Ken Block’s own performance school. Yes, his got about a half-million in tweaks and has 560 horsepower, but the Fiesta ST, with 195 HP, is a successful enterprise in budget-friendly brutality.
And you’re going to be more than happy that the ST has only 195 HP, because that’s more than enough to propel this 2,700-pound screamer into the stratosphere. The car’s aggressively rigid setup — fully stiffened from the nonperformance model — plus a quick and easy six-speed manual, and amped-up brakes with red calipers, all come together in one ridiculously fun-to-drive and absolutely affordable automobile.
It’s all delightfully easy to use, as well. You’ll get a big chunk of the ST’s torque at just 1,700 RPM, so you don’t have to rev and chuff like a dragon, like one of those dorks in their STIs. The full burst — 202 foot-pounds — comes on at 3,500 RPM; I consequently found myself keeping the car in a lower gear and holding revs at about that point as I then engaged in despicable acts of side-road tomfoolery.
Fiesta ST and its 17-inch high-performance summer tires (and the associated blocky, smoked-metal wheels shaped like Saxon-era battle axes) will indeed hold a corner with way, way more panache than you’d expect.
Steering feel is direct but not overly heavy, and thanks to the electronic torque vectoring — which electronically brakes in corners to smooth out the car’s curving — you don’t have to be an Internet racing video star to drive like you might be one, soon. There’s also a three-mode electronic stability control system; I kept it in the standard setting and that was good enough for me.
It’s your call on going for the molten orange metallic paint job my test car was outfitted with — essentially a cry for help to the local law authorities. Even in a less eye-melting color, Fiesta ST is a pretty striking micro-sized ride.
A collaborative project among its European racing operations (where “hot hatch” really means something to the car-buying population) and Ford’s SVT performance division, the Fiesta ST has also got some pretty cool design modifications to sex it up.
An all-black mesh grille, aggressive front fascia and rear under-bumper air splitters, an ultra-gigantic rear deck lid spoiler and a double set of chromed exhaust tips contribute some nice looks. For folks who appreciate that kind of thing.
Inside, it’s mostly the same, highly angular deal as the standard Fiesta, though the ST does come with a smaller-screened version of the MyFordTouch/Sync navigation and radio — great to use when not in motion, hard to poke accurately while sliding sideways at 80 mph — plus some unusual European-styled AC controls and door locks hidden up near the audio controls.
As ridiculous as they might seem, the Recaros are a great idea — holding you and a front passenger more safely in place as you do what the ST was made to do. Oversized A-pillars with tiny porthole windows did, unfortunately, obscure my view a bit in the head-pointed-45-degrees-in-a-corner driving I did; maybe they’ll work for you.
Yes, a $21,000 race car does not have the hard-core resilience of a much more expensive race car — the cooling fan was in overdrive most of the time while I was pushing the car, and more than a few squeaks appeared after my most aggressive outings — but … did I mention that it was a $21,000 race car? Happy motoring.