The idea of packing a very powerful engine into a very small car—especially a car originally designed with frugality in mind—isn’t by any means a new formula. It’s been done over and over again, over decades, to spice up lineups and add bragging rights. And while some transcendent models like the Volkswagen GTI, Honda Civic Si, and Mazdaspeed3 have rightly earned that halo over the years, we can think of plenty that were duds.
The Ford Focus ST has fast joined the ranks of those halo models—well-conceived in every way, and truly better than the sum of its parts. But now just below (or beside) the Focus ST slots a 2014 Ford Fiesta ST that somehow sets our hot-hatch heartbeat aflutter. Maybe more so than the Focus ST.
That’s right. The Fiesta ST has neither a such a boast-worthy power-to-weight ratio nor quite as many engineering tricks up its sleeve, but it ends up offering more seat-of-the-pants, go-fast thrills—enough to pull people away from the likes of the Fiat 500 Abarth, MINI Cooper S, and Hyundai Veloster Turbo...and possibly even the larger Focus ST.
And here we were in mountainous Southern France—fittingly, tackling some of the same serious driving roads, like part of the Route Napoleon, that we did with the Focus ST nearly a year ago. As with the Focus ST, we were only there to get an advance drive—a taste—of this European-engineered little wonder, which is coming to the U.S. in just a few months.
Ford's smallest car, packed with EcoBoost
First off, back to that familiar idea: The powerful engine is the new EcoBoost 1.6-liter, with turbocharging, direct injection, and variable valve timing—the same one that we’ve enjoyed in the mid-size Ford Fusion, TCC’s 2013 Best Car To Buy) and the Ford Escape.
In the Fiesta ST the engine makes 180 hp (two more than in the Fusion and Escape) and 177 pound-feet. Yet it makes a peak 197 hp (and 214 lb-ft) in 20-second bursts, thanks to a special overboost mode (making peak boost more than 21 psi, versus 20.3 otherwise. Simply back off the accelerator briefly, and you earn another 20 seconds.
The engine grumbles a bit below 1,300 rpm, but then just past 1,600 rpm hits its stride, churning out the torque all the way up to nearly 6,000, when the torque plateau thins out. This is an engine that loves to be revved in the 3,500- to 5,500-rpm range, where you reap the most benefit from the turbos, it seems.
Official acceleration times run 6.9 seconds to 62 mph, and a top speed of 137 mph.
What makes that engine so effective in those larger vehicles is its accessible torque. Yet here it’s in a car that’s about 700 pounds lighter than the Fusion and nearly 1,000 lighter than the Escape. So to help deliver that through the wheels in a controlled fashion—especially out of low-speed corners or on rough surfaces—the Fiesta ST gets an eTVC (torque vectoring) system that helps reduce understeer and hold traction by braking the inside front wheel. Separately, the stability control system has a full-off mode, along with a wheel-slip mode for intervention only during all-out hoonage.
The only piece of Focus ST hardware (or shall we say software) lacking in the Fiesta ST is the larger model's torque-steer compensation (with the stability and torque-vectoring system talking to the steering); as it is, some torque steer is noticeable in this car, but definitely not an issue provided you keep your hands on the wheel while driving with your right foot to the floor.
Flat and composed, yet a little sharper
Suspension-wise, Ford hasn't changed the fundamentals from what's offered in more pedestrian Fiestas. That's alright, as we already thought that the Fiesta is one of the best-handling—or at least best-steering—budget subcompacts on the market. But here, springs are stiffer, dampers are recalibrated, and the car's center of gravity has been lowered by more than a half inch. Add in modified front steering knuckle, a little more negative camber, and a revised rear twist-beam layout—with more roll stiffness—the ST feels far more flat and composed in corners than we'd expect.