The 2014 Ford Fiesta ST is the second member of the automaker's Sport Technologies lineup to make the long slog across the Atlantic ocean from its European stronghold in order to delight subcompact performance car fans in the United States. I recently had the chance to drive a pre-production version of the Ford Fiesta ST on a tight autocross track designed to highlight the capabilities of its nimble platform (based on the updated version of the standard Fiesta). At the end of the day, I came away with mixed impressions of what promises to be the quickest subcompact car in its price range.
Although it has been available overseas for almost nine years, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST is America's first taste of how the Blue Oval tunes its most affordable hatch for performance rather than fuel economy. The centerpiece of this effort can be found under the hood: a 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that develops 197 horsepower and 214 lb-ft of torque. Both of these figure comes into play via an overboost feature that sees the turbo spinning past spec for 20 seconds under full throttle. In regular driving, and post-overboost, the EcoBoost setup is good for 180 horses and 177 lb-ft of twist.
If you think that this sounds like a lot of oomph for a car the size of the Fiesta ST, then you would be right, especially since the low-mass five-door subcompact weighs in at around 2,700 lbs. The upshot is a factory acceleration figure clocked at under seven seconds, with engine output wrangled by the car's standard six-speed manual transmission.
Of course, it takes more than just horsepower to complete a car's driving experience, even at the entry-level, and so the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST has also had a judicious amount of attention paid to its chassis. Riding 15 millimeters closer to the ground than the entry-level Fiesta, the Fiesta ST also benefits from quicker steering due to a modified front knuckle, as well as a stiffer rear roll bar. 17-inch rims and tires offer more grip than one would expect for a car with such a short wheelbase, and the hatchback also benefits from a Torque Vectoring Control system similar to that found on the larger Focus in order to reduce the understeer inherent in its front-wheel drive design.
On paper, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST looks like a lot of fun. At least, that was my impression as I cracked the door to the hatchback's cockpit and got ready for my first run through the course. Right away, however, it became clear that the Fiesta ST was a different proposition than its Focus ST sibling. Launching the car off the line with a modicum of wheel spin had me hurtling down the course's longest straight in short order, but after braking to enter the left-hander that signaled its end I quickly discovered that the vehicle's stability control system - which I thought I had turned off - was still lurking in the background, ready to cut power when accelerating on corner exit.
The subsequent bogging of the car's turbocharged engine in second gear as I tried to pull harder out of the subsequent corner had me testing out the limits of the stability control system on the next lap by rocking the wheel side-to-side while accelerating in a straight line. Indeed, the electronic nannies were triggered as the Fiesta ST began to sway, indicating just how closely the car was being monitored even after holding down the Off button for several seconds and seeing the car's center stack confirm my choice.
With this understanding firmly in hand, I began to drive the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST in a very different way - and immediately began to see much more pleasing results out on the cone course. By consciously staying within the limits of the car's stability control system I was able to shepherd the car from one corner to the next with a minimum of drama, minimizing understeer and maximizing the amount of power that I could coax out of the 1.6-liter engine's turbocharged cylinders. By the end of the day I had come to a sort of understanding with the car that allowed me to start enjoying it for what it was rather than trying to force it to behave like its bigger Focus ST brother.
Not The Visceral Thrill Ride I Expected
And therein lies the rub. As someone who was seriously impressed by the 2013 Ford Focus ST when I first had the chance to drive it a year ago (a feeling that was further enhanced when I was given the opportunity to spend a week with the car earlier this summer), I had high hopes for the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST's fun factor. After all, it only made sense that a lighter hatchback with a willing turbocharged engine would boast even more engaging driving dynamics - right?
I think that if I had the chance to put in more quality time behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta ST, I would warm further to its charms. After all, the car feels quick, sticks to the tarmac like glue, and boasts a great-looking body kit that is both subtle and aggressive at the same time. I was not enamored of the Recaro seats that were installed in the versions of the hatchback that I drove, as I found the headrests to be more intrusive than I would prefer them to be, but there's always the option to order the hatch without them.
Not all cars grab you by the throat at first blush; some of them you need to get to know better over a series of low-pressure encounters, not unlike Internet dating. I'm not sure what the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST's screen name would be - 2FastForYou? 4UnderPressure? - but I think that if we followed up our cone encounter with a short weekend getaway, we could probably end up more than 'just friends.'