Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but I’m old enough to remember the Ford Fiesta XR2 – and with some fondness.  I spent most of my late teenage years tearing around the countryside in one and, as I recall, no small amount of time in the back seat, if you catch my drift.

By today’s standards, its spec would be judged almost laughable.  It made do with ‘just’ 96bhp, needed almost nine seconds to hit 60mph, and could be nicked with half a tennis ball.  But, my God, was it chuckable.  And it was filled with a cheeky sense of fun that made you feel you hadn’t so much bought a car as found a new best mate.

Wind it up down a country lane, and its light weight and go-kart handling meant there was little reason to slow down for corners.  Quite a few did slow down, though – usually against trees, or at the bottom of a ditch – but I managed to keep mine the right way up and pointing generally in the right direction.

Unfortunately for mine, a Volvo tried mating with it in Billingshurst high street, and my best mate was dragged away on the back of a flat-bed taxi, leaving behind a few shards of shattered plastic and a puddle of essential fluids.

It was with an admittedly rose-tinted set of 20 year-old memories, then, that I climbed into the new Fiesta ST.  What hope did Ford have of capturing some of that old magic?

On the face of it, the ST is easily dismissed as a nose job, some fancy seats, and a socking great engine, but if we’re being dismissive, that’s all the XR2 ever was, yet somehow that was enough to transcend the limitations of its humble beginnings to become something altogether more alive.  There was something extra in the details that meant its equation added up to more than its component parts.

And so it is with the ST.

The Aston-a-like grille is gone, replaced by gaping honeycomb construction and an off-centre ST badge, while at the rear there’s a large tailgate spoiler and a pair of exhausts poking cheekily through a subtle rear diffuser.

Inside things are equally subtle, with not much more than a chunky pair of Recaro seats, alloy pedals, and an ST-badged steering wheel to differentiate it.

Under the bonnet, there’s a 1.6-litre EcoBoost turbocharged petrol engine with 182PS and 240Nm of torque.  That makes this the fastest Fiesta Ford have ever produced, and the ST can sprint to 62mph in 6.9 seconds and keep going until the speedo reads 137mph.

Rather than simply fill the engine bay with horsepowers and hope for the best, Ford engineers have spent considerable time tuning and optimising nearly every aspect of the drivetrain.

The steering has received a revised gearing ratio to sharpen its response, and its inputs are transferred through a shorter set of steering arms and re-engineered knuckles to create a more direct relationship between helm and wheels.

The suspension has been lowered by 15mm, the rear twist-beam set-up has been stiffened, and the spring and damper rates have been carefully tuned.

The brakes have been beefed up, too, with a larger master cylinder and the addition of rear discs for the first time on a Fiesta.

To help keep the front wheels in check, Ford have implemented an electronic torque vectoring system (eTVC) that applies the brakes to an inside wheel to help reduce understeer, coupled with an Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system that features three modes: full intervention, limited intervention to allow a degree of slip, and fully deactivated.

Knowing these enhancements would instil the Fiesta with a character that invited, shall we say, enthusiastic use, Ford subjected the ST to an additional round of testing, with 7,500km of track testing and 5,000km of high-speed and ‘torture’ testing.

And the result?

With a mere handful of revs on the dial, there’s a steady stream of torque that doesn’t seem to diminish until the needle is almost stroking the red line.  This is an engine that punches harder than its modest 1.6-litre capacity would suggest.  It sounds good, too, with a ‘sound symposer’ that channels some of the induction roar into the cabin.

The throttle response has a delightful urgency to it once on the move, yet is still easy to modulate when pulling away from a standstill.  There’s also a healthy degree of throttle adjustability – pile into a corner without a throttle input and the ST will erect a safety net of mild understeer.  Add some throttle and the eTVC will come into play, the understeer will be dialled out and your line will tighten.  The degree to which this happens is entirely up to you, and your right foot.

Grip is tenacious, and when the limit does arrive, it lets go progressively and with plenty of warning.

Body movements are well controlled, with no surprise rolling or pitching, and the ST’s 17-inch alloy wheels are kept well pressed into the tarmac.  Even mid-corner ridges fail to upset the Fiesta’s composure.

It’s firm, of course, but somehow there’s an unspoken justification for it.  There are no crashy aftershocks, for instance, and while pot-holes are definitely felt, they don’t create a ripple that spreads through the interior fittings as you might expect.

Overall, it’s focused, and purposeful.

That’s a theme that’s evident in the interior, too.  There’s no sport button, for instance, and that’s because Ford’s engineers set the car up correctly to start with.  After thousands of miles of testing, honing the ST’s components until they all worked in harmony, the idea of adding a button that pushed one set of parameters outside the envelope would be folly.

The bolsters of those big Recaro seats hold you firmly in place, the pedals are well placed, and the gearshift has a good weight and a rapid action to it.

It remains a practical beast, too.  The rear seats fold to offer up to 960 litres of boot space, fuel economy is officially pegged at 47.9mpg on the combined cycle, and CO2 emissions of 138 g/km place it in VED Band E (£125 pa).

With competitors such as the Peugeot 208 GTi and Renault Clio RS 200 priced at close to £20,000, the Fiesta ST is also something of a bargain, starting as it does at £16,995.

For that you’ll get 17-inch alloy wheels, DAB digital radio with Ford Sync, Quickclear heated windscreen, and Ford’s MyKey system that allows you to impose a speed and volume limiter if you’re silly enough to lend your ST to someone.

For an extra £1,000, the ST-2 adds rear privacy glass, heated Recaro front seats, projector-style headlights and a starter button.  A further Style Pack offers grey-finished 5-spoke alloy wheels, red brake calipers, and illuminated scuff plates.

The Fiesta XR2 launched in 1984 with a £5,731 sticker price.  In today’s money, that’s around £16,000.  In addition to inheriting the XR2’s price, Ford have managed to imbue the new ST with much of the original car’s cheeky sense of fun.

The new Ford Fiesta ST, then.  Not so much a car.  More a new best mate.

Entry-level Price £16,995 Price as tested £17,995
Engine 4-cylinder petrol, 1596cc Transmission Six-speed manual
Power 182ps @ 5,700rpm Torque 240Nm @ 1,600rpm
0-62mph 6.9 secs Top speed 137 mph
Economy 47.9 mpg CO2 138 g/km
Dimensions 3975 x 1978 x 1456 (LWH) Kerb Weight 1163 kg

Alex Kefford


Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.