Ford Fiesta ST — A driver's car

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Whether you’re driving U.S. Route 15, one of the country's great north-south roads that stretches from southern New York to South Carolina or crossing through the Santa Monica mountains to the spectacular Pacific Coast Highway, the ride becomes more enthusiastic when you’re are behind the wheel of vehicle of special performance.

The highlight of recent test drives, aside from crisscrossing the Shenandoah Valley or the coastal plains of California, was our 1,200 miles in the delightful little 2014 Ford Fiesta ST hatchback was special.

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 and autumn mountain vistas to drive through made the days 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 sm
all cars, it provided 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.

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 refreshed 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 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 s
pace continues to be one of the small car's shortcomings. The Fiesta's cargo capacity for instance trails its chief competitors. 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 those in the front to gain any sort comfort.

But Ford has noted these shortcomings 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. Ford was 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 ($1,995) and navigation listed for $24,985. Remember when considering the Fiesta ST, it comes only with a six-speed manual transmission.

Even though the years of driving a pocket rocket 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 mountains and curves of back-road America, a car we found to our delight a blast to drive.

Base price: $22,195; as driven, $24,985
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 197 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 214 foot-pounds @ 2,500 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 98 inches
Length: 160.1 inches
Curb weight: 2,720 pounds
Turning circle: 35.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 10.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 26 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12.4 gallons
EPA rating: 35 highway, 26 city
0-60: 6.8 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Fiat 500 Abarth, Mini Cooper S, Volkswagen GTI

The Good
• Outstanding driving dynamics
• Fun-to-drive quotient off the charts
• Considerable bang for the buck
• Regular gas is acceptable

The Bad
• No automatic transmission

The Ugly
• Limited cargo and passenger space

*Top photo by Jim Meachen