Back at the beginning of the 1980s, most of the really great small cars were only found on the continent – including that benchmark of “hot hatches”, the Volkswagen GTI, that was first introduced in Europe in June of 1976.
But all that changed when, in 1983, Volkswagen began building them in, of all places, their factory in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania.
Until that point, the plant located near New Stanton had concentrated on building softer-sprung “Malibu-ized” Volkswagen Rabbits for American consumers that, not surprisingly, would have preferred one that more closely resembled its German counterpart.
I fell in lust with the 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI and bought one in June of that year. It was silver with a blue interior (red was the other choice) and a blast to drive.
And while I’m happy to report that all those good things you’ve heard and read about concerning Ford’s hot little Fiesta ST are true, you may be wondering why I bring up the GTI when I should be discussing the ST. So here goes: this Ford is, in many ways, very much the successor to the original GTI.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST
This isn’t nearly as heretical as it might seem on the surface.
To begin with, both the GTI and ST are hatchbacks that seat 5 and available only with a manual transmission. They are close to the same size, with the ST being larger in all dimensions: 4.8 inches longer (160.1 in.), 3.6 inches wider (67.8 in.), 1.7 inches taller (57.2 in.) with a wheelbase 3.5 inches longer (98.0 in.).
While the curb weight of the GTI was 2,100 pounds compared to the ST’s 2,720, you can chalk up much of the Ford’s increased bulk to additional standard and safety equipment, as well as the necessity to engineer a modern car body to more stringent frontal, side and rollover safety standards.
The comparative prices are also much different. Even corrected for inflation, the base price of the 1984 GTI is just $16,000, compared to that of the ST, which is $21,400. But consider this: the price of that 1983 GTI did not include automatic climate control (or even air conditioning for that matter), automatic headlamps, fog lights, interval wipers, any kind of radio (the ST comes with a Sony premium audio system with HD radio and Bluetooth), rear disc brakes, air bags, aluminum pedals, leather steering wheel and shift knob (the GTI merely had a plastic shift knob that looked like a golf ball), push button start, keyless entry, power locks and windows (driver’s 1-touch up/down), ABS, traction control, stability control, a security system or steering wheel-mounted redundant infotainment controls.
Another important factor to consider is that despite its lower curb weight, the GTI only had 90 horsepower on tap from its 1.8-liter inline-4, giving it a pounds to horsepower ratio of 23.3 to 1. The Fiesta ST, although portlier by 620 pounds, comes equipped with a 1.6-liter all-aluminum, direct injected, turbocharged four generating 197 horsepower that gives it a pounds to horsepower ratio of just 13.8 to 1.
So after all that digging around you can see why I was looking forward to driving the 2014 Fiesta ST. As David E. Davis once noted in Car and Driver magazine regarding the original 1984 GTI, “If this one doesn’t make you want to travel, you must live where all the fun is.”
On the road
And fun it is. We had to wait until November before we could check one out, so the lower temperatures were not particularly kind considering there were summer tires (205/40R17Bridgestone Potenza RE050A) wrapped around its unique alloy wheels. Nonetheless, during the short time we had it we observed that the ST takes the great-handling Ford Fiesta to an entirely new level courtesy of a 15mm lower ride height, ST-specific suspension tuning, a quicker steering ratio as well as electronic Torque Vectoring Control (eTVC) to reduce cornering understeer. It also comes with a 3-mode electronic stability control (off, standard, sport) that allows drivers to adjust the electronic nanny based on road conditions.
And while the engine doesn’t sound quite as sweet as some of the high-revving Hondas we’ve tested, Ford has performed a yeoman’s job in making the most of the sound – even going so far as to feed the sound directly into the cabin via a “sound symposer” for a more visceral driving experience.
The steering is both quick and responsive, while throwing the ST into corners elicits barely discernible body lean and doesn’t upset its demeanor.
The clutch is communicative, the short-throw transmission is a joy to row as you snick through the six forward gears and the 4-wheel disc brakes (the only Fiesta so equipped) provide excellent feedback through the alloy pedal. It’s also plenty fast for most drivers. Car and Driver clocked a naught to sixty dash of 7 seconds flat, fully 3.1 seconds faster than more proletarian models equipped with the 1.6-liter mill and 5-speed manual.
If cruising is your forte, then you’ll still love the Fiesta ST. Highway noise (aside from the under hood heroics when you step into it) is minimal. The suspension is both taught and well-controlled with plenty of compliance and none of the choppiness found in so many self-described “sporty” vehicles this size.
If you adhere to the axiom that it’s a whole lot more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow, then you should know that the Fiesta falls somewhere in-between. It’s not rip your spleen out fast like a Mustang GT, but in most ways it’s a lot more fun to drive because it’s much easier to control as well as avoid those budget-draining points on your driver’s license.
As in other Fiestas, up front there is plenty of leg and head room for just about all drivers. Our tester was equipped with the optional Recaro package that includes heated outside mirrors as well as a pair of the most supportive heated front seats we’ve ever encountered in a subcompact. Incidentally, both were leather trimmed and the driver’s also featured height adjustment, allowing those vertically challenged to compensate for the Fiesta’s somewhat high beltline.
The rest of the interior is equally impressive. Soft-touch surfaces with a quality feel are found throughout the cabin, the leather-wrapped steering wheel has a substantial feel to it and it both tilted and telescoped.
The Sony audio system does away with the nearly two dozen buttons featured in some lesser trim models – a good thing. Ford has also vastly improved and simplified Sync from its original iteration, making sojourns through the menu functions more intuitive and less stressful. The system, though, can still be distracting so it’s best to pull over to execute some of their deeper menu functions. In addition, the slide bars for source and sound can be tricky to manipulate.
Cargo room is a decent 15.4 cubic feet and the rear seat backs have a 60-40 split while a particularly nice touch is the ability to flip the two outboard rear headrests forward to a horizontal position, dramatically improving visibility out the rear window.
The nicely-sized rear doors make ingress and egress easy, although adults sitting in back will find that, typical for this segment, legroom is a little tight at 31.2 inches.
One minor nit that we continue to pick at is the fact that the rear seat cushion doesn’t fold forward. This means that when the seat backs are flipped down the rear cargo area doesn’t feature a flat floor front to back (hey, it’s a hatchback and this would make it more useful).
Being the penultimate trim level our Performance Blue ST came equipped to the small car segment nines. In addition to the aforementioned goodies, our tester also came equipped with a nav system.
Here in the states the hot shoe Fiesta finds itself in a class by itself. If you have the 25 large (or less) and you’re looking for the most entertainment as well as bang for the buck, the Fiesta ST should be on a short list of one.