Last week, it dawned on me that years of ignorance, prejudice, snobbery, call it what you will, had caused me to miss out on mile after mile of fun.
Fast Fords, you see, have never been my thing. I’ve never owned one, and I’ve even been known to shun the offer of a lift in one, opting instead for a five-mile walk home.
As with so many things in life, the roots of my indifference can be traced to my childhood. Escort RS2000s were as common as muck when I was a kid, and I’ve always thought of myself as cut from uncommon cloth.
Any Ford with an “XR” prefix on its bootlid was the mark of a mouth-breather, and anyone who drove a Capri 2.8i was not to be trusted under any circumstances. All that “blue collar hero” bluster didn’t cut it with me.
I’ll confess to casting covetous glances when a neighbour bought one of the first Sierra RS Cosworths in 1986, but that had nothing to do with its Dagenham DNA and everything to do with the fact it looked a bit like Airwolf.
Well, shame on me. I’ve just been for a trans-Alpine thrash in the new Ford Fiesta ST and, since you can probably already tell what’s coming next, I’ll cut straight to the chase and say it: 2013 isn’t yet three months old, but I think I have already found my favourite car of the year.
Beautifully balanced, tastefully styled, competitively priced and, above all, a hoot to drive at any speed, the ST is the fast Ford I’ve been waiting for – the red-hot hatch with the blue oval that will finally rid me of my blinkered vision.
First, though, let’s define “fast”. A 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine generates just shy of 180bhp, giving the Fiesta a top speed of 137mph where the law allows and a 0-60 time of less than seven seconds. That makes it the quickest production Fiesta ever, but by no means the fastest car in its class. Not by a long shot.
No, where the Fiesta’s true talents lie are in its chassis, fancy traction control set-up and the rasp of its engine. Combined, they encourage anyone with a pulse to press on just that little bit harder in search of smiles.
Based on the underpinnings of the already-nimble Fiesta, the ST sits 15mm lower on stiffer springs. The ride is firm, as you would expect, but not overly so.
In fast, sweeping bends, the ST feels taut, changes in direction aided by a snappier steering rack than standard cars. But it’s in tight corners where the package really comes together, courtesy of something called enhanced torque vectoring control that applies the brakes to any wheel it senses is losing grip.
Bundle the ST into a hairpin, press the throttle as hard as you dare and instead of ploughing into the rock face or over the cliff on the outside of the bend, the Fiesta will tug itself closer to the apex without a hint of squeal or wheelspin, instantly turning everything you thought you knew about physics on its head.
Yes, the Fiesta’s finesse owes more to electronic nannying than driver talent (when I’m at the wheel, at any rate), but so what? It’s subtle enough to leave you feeling like you’re the one who is in control. You can turn it all off at the flick of a switch, but I’m not sure what you’ll prove by doing so.
The final part in the ST jigsaw is the sound it makes. Some of the engine noise is piped from the air intake system via a length of hose (or “Sound Symposer” as Ford calls it) into the cabin. If you think that’s cheating, it’s only because you haven’t tried it yet. And if you’re worried that ST sounds good on the inside but like a bag of spanners on the outside, you’re way off the mark again. It’s almost certainly as loud as a little car can be without falling foul of some law, somewhere.
Choosing your Fiesta ST couldn’t be simpler: £16,995 will buy you an ST with 17-inch alloy wheels, Recaro seats, air-conditioning, digital radio and a Thatcham alarm. Another £1,000 gets you an ST2 with part-leather seats, LED daytime running lights, a slightly posher Sony stereo and a button to switch the engine on and off again. I want to say “bish-bash-bosh” at this point. I’m not sure why.
The Recaros do a great job of keeping driver and front-seat passenger from falling over in the twisties, which is good news in a car bereft of grab handles in the roof. The six-speed manual gearshift is short and sweet. Don’t go looking for paddle shifters, because there aren’t any.
All cars feature a gaping trapezoidal honeycomb mesh grille, rear diffuser, twin exhausts and a subtle spoiler. No Cosworth-style whale tail nonsense here, thank you very much.
Faults? There are a few. Well, two.
The satnav display is a bit Etch-a-Sketch, and I’d have liked the exhaust to pop and bang a bit when I took my foot off the gas. Just because the Fiesta is grown up doesn’t mean I have to be.
Ford expects to make about 10,000 Fiesta STs annually for the European market, around half of which will find their way to the UK. It seems the British love affair with Uncle Henry’s hot hatches is as strong as ever. Stronger, now that I’ve become a believer.