In truth, the road surfaces in Southern France are quite good, with only a few juddery pavement surfaces on some of the narrower country roads, so we'll have to reserve judgment on the ride quality and road noise—as well as the effectiveness of the rear twist-beam layout—until we get this car out on either frost-heaved Michigan or New York roads, or out on the coarse surfaces we see on Oregon highways and backroads.
We've long held a belief that the Fiesta's steering is one of the best in this class; now with proper grip and sharper tuning, what we can confirm that from these challenging roads is that this little hatch never feels nervous; it feels lock-step with the road, confident enough on aggressively crowned roads or irregular surfaces, yet it loads and unloads with confidence in tight hairpins and feels like a light, quick-ratio unit ideal for close-quarters city driving as well.
The only disappointment, perhaps is the turning circle. When a navigation detour that took us up a French village alleyway too sharply zig-zagged even for a Fiesta—followed by a dead end with a stern, stoop-sitting black cat meeting our glance—we noticed that we didn't have the standard Fiesta's turning circle (36.7 vs 34.4 feet).
With the Bridgestone summer performance tires, it's also, from what we could tell, surprisingly neutral on smooth-surfaced, tight corners, and its somewhat quicker-ratio steering rack feels sharper and about as communicative as you can expect from today's electric-boost units. The ST is the first Fiesta to get rear disc brakes, and there's a larger master cylinder compared to all the other models in the lineup—which amounts to a firmer pedal feel.
As much as the Fiesta ST manages to feel familiar if you've driven the Focus ST—with some of the same controls, layout, and seemingly endless torque curve—it feels different when you start really digging in.
Recaros make the most of the package
For one, the seating position in the Fiesta ST is quite a bit different. Even though the snug Recaro sport seats you get in the Fiesta ST look much the same as those in the Focus ST (they're not, Ford officials insist), you tend to sit higher over the beltline in the Fiesta, with a better view out, perhaps, and definitely with less of the Focus' confining feeling that the instrument panel is enveloping you.
Considering that I'm 6'-6”—“irrepressibly tall” as I was called the other day—and can't get all that comfortable in the short, flat seats in the base Fiesta (our editorial director Marty Padgett asked me beforehand if I fit in the Fiesta), the Recaros (a $1,995 option) are almost magical. While some might think perches these aggressively bolstered are out of place in such a car (or perhaps too tight around the middle), they're supportive in ways the base seats aren't, and they make all-day trips in the ST suddenly sound desirable.
From our best guess, the Recaros will take away some rear legroom compared to the standard seats, but it's a tradeoff we think will be welcome by most buyers.
You may notice from our pictures that we were driving a two-door Fiesta. No, that doesn't mean that we're getting a two-door Fiesta ST, or a two-door Fiesta of any type for that matter. Although we've noticed subtle (and not-so-subtle) handling differences between two-door and four-door models in the past, Ford officials insisted that the driving characteristics, ride quality, curb weight, and nearly everything that pertains to the experience from the driver's (and passenger's) seat will be very, very close.
An official said that the five-door, U.S.-spec ST will add up about 130 pounds heavier than the two-door we drove—putting total curb weight somewhere around the 2,700-pound mark.
ST is at the leading edge of 2014 Fiesta changes
The Fiesta ST will get the same refreshed styling as is due for the rest of the 2014 Fiesta lineup—including a front end that will not more closely fit in alongside the new Fusion sedan (and Focus). But a black honeycomb-mesh grille and somewhat more aggressive air dam will differentiate the ST from the outside—along with a blacked-out, cross-patterned rear diffuser and twin chromed exhaust tips. And inside, we're bound to get, as we sampled here in the ST, some new trims, along with a new soft-touch upper dash that, together with revised audio systems, are going to be a major upgrade for the entire Fiesta lineup. The alloy pedals and gear-chift knob are going to be an exclusive for the ST, however.