Touring historic Virginia in the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST


By Jim Meachen

(January 4, 2014) U.S. Route 15 is one of the country's great north-south roads — labeled the highway of history — that stretches from southern New York to South Carolina crossing through historic sections of Pennsylvania and Virginia.

One 180-mile stretch connects nine presidential homes, 13 national parks and numerous battlefields from the Revolutionary and Civil wars. We took the mostly two-lane highway through portions of North Carolina up to Orange, Va., where we established a three-day home base for visits to the homes of James Madison (Montpelier), Thomas Jefferson (Monticello), and James Monroe (Ash Lawn-Highland), as well as several other historic sites.

Visiting some of Virginia's most treasured landmarks was just one highlight of our autumn trip. Another was the more than 800 miles we spent in the delightful little 2014 Ford Fiesta ST hatchback, known a couple of decades back as a pocket rocket.

Even though the years have slipped away on us, we discovered that we haven't lost our passion for getting behind the wheel of a little hatchback infused with a feisty four-cylinder engine. The Fiesta ST is a cozy little ride with a suspension tuned for tossing through the curves of back-road America, a car we found to our delight a blast to drive.

Every time we cranked up the little turbocharged engine, grabbed the fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and heard the delightful engine note (thanks in part to Ford's "sound symposer" that amplifies the engine sound into the cabin), we couldn't help but think, "life is good." That we had interesting places to visit each day and autumn mountain vistas with colorful foliage to drive through made the trip even more spectacular.

Although the 1.6-liter 197-horsepower EcoBoost engine mated to an easy-to-shift six-speed manual transmission doesn't make the Fiesta a rocketship among small cars, it provides enough forward momentum — together with the little car's incredible handling — to turn every winding road into a potential race track.

By the numbers, the Fiesta ST can complete a 0-to-60 run in the mid-to-upper reaches of 6 seconds with only the slightest hint of torque steer, and finish off a quarter mile in 15 seconds in the 93-to-94 mph range. But straight ahead off-the-line performance isn't just what the Fiesta is all about. It's the way it handles, the engine's strong mid-range dynamics pulling enthusiastically from about 2,500 rpm all the way to the 6,500 rpm redline. This performance comes with surprisingly good fuel economy measured at 26 mpg city, 35 highway and 29 combined. And Ford says burning regular gas is acceptable.

Our Fiesta ST was equipped with Recaro sport seats (a $1,995 option), raising our apprehensive level about spending 800 miles in a chair that offers deep thigh bolsters designed to eliminate sliding during hard cornering. But despite our wide body, our fears were never realized. The seats proved surprisingly comfortable.

Standard safety on the ST is considerable and includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, traction and stability control, hill launch assist, an integrated blind-spot mirror, side-curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag.

Most of the amenities drivers seek these days are standard equipment on the ST including keyless ignition and entry, automatic climate control, the MyFordTouch interface, a nice-sounding audio system with Sony speakers and satellite and HD radio, aluminum-trimmed pedals, and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel. Also standard are 17-inch wheels with summer performance tires.

The U.S. version of the ST comes in only four-door hatchback format, but we find that layout more practical than such rivals as the Mini Cooper S and Fiat 500 Abarth that provide only two doors.

Ford has refreshened the entire Fiesta lineup for 2014 that includes an exterior face-lift with all models now wearing the Aston Martin-derived Ford front. A revised interior includes upgraded materials and a new list of optional features that until recently have been relegated to bigger and more expensive cars including MyFordTouch, navigation, heated seats, leather upholstery, power moonroof, and a rearview camera.

While the ST is the new Fiesta gold standard, the S, SE and Titanium trims promise their own fun and excitement in addition to excellent fuel mileage measured at 29 mpg city, 39 highway with the new six-speed automated manual transmission and 27/38 with the five-speed manual.

Although the Fiesta ST was a perfect companion for two people — loaded up with luggage, a cooler and assorted souvenirs with the rear seats folded — space continues to be one of the small car's shortcomings.

The Fiesta's cargo capacity, for instance, trails chief competitors Honda Fit (57 cubic feet), Nissan Versa (58 cubic feet) and Scion xD (36 cubic feet). And what is lost in load capacity is not made up in passenger space. Rear seating accommodations are tight at best. Adult passengers will have to enter into serious negotiations with front-seaters to gain any sort comfort.

But Ford has noted these shortcoming and sought to make things more acceptable in several ways. For instance, the second-row seatbacks in the earlier Fiesta five-door model would not recline taking a toll on long-distance comfort. The Ford folks were quick to point out that the seatbacks in the 2014 Fiesta do, indeed, recline.

The ST starts at a very affordable $22,195 (including destination charge) considering the little cars considerable fun factor. Our test vehicle with the Recaro seat package and navigation listed for $24,985. Remember when considering the Fiesta ST, it comes only with a six-speed manual transmission.