The UK has had a long love affair with fast Fords and that looks set to continue with the arrival of the new Ford Fiesta ST - it's so good, we think the Ford Fiesta ST is the very best hot hatch in the business.

Taking the already impressive standard Ford Fiesta as a base, Ford has added sporty styling tweaks inside and out that only enhance the regular Fiesta’s looks, while power comes from a 180bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged engine. Add in stiffer suspension, a sports exhaust and a pair of very supportive Recaro seats, and the Fiesta ST is a thrilling package.

The fact that it undercuts its rivals – the Renaultsport ClioPeugeot 208 GTiMINI Cooper S and Audi S1 by a significant margin – is the icing on the cake. If you want even more power then Ford's accredited tuners, Mountune, offer an upgrade to 217bhp. Nothing else is touched and the Ford warranty even stays intact. It'll cost you just over £600 and in our eyes it's definitely worth doing. 

Our choice: Fiesta ST-2

Styling

The Ford Fiesta ST is a good-looking hot hatch, even without a premium badge. Aggressive bumpers, wider side sills and its own version of the reworked Fiesta’s large trapezoidal grille enhance the already attractive proportions of the three-door Fiesta body.

Sitting 15mm lower on its sports suspension and attractive 17-inch wheels (the dark grey rims of the ST-1 used for our pictures are a £275 upgrade), the ST has a sporty stance on the road, while LED running lights and rear privacy glass are standard. 

Inside, the generous equipment tally from Ford extends to sat-nav, keyless start, heated seats and cruise control. Other highlights include a chunky leather steering wheel and leather-trimmed Recaro sports seats.

But while the ST additions give the likeable and solid Fiesta cabin some extra glitz, and the driving position is perfect, it lacks the upmarket appeal of the MINI and Audi.

Driving

Opt for the Ford and you may miss the style of the MINI or the Audi quattro four-wheel-drive system. However, you won’t feel short-changed by the driving experience - our reigning hot hatch of the year is simply sensational.

The already class-leading Fiesta chassis has been enhanced by faster steering, increased roll stiffness and bespoke damping settings. Unlike its rivals, the ST is refreshingly free of adjustable drive modes – yet from the moment you settle into the driver’s seat, the Ford’s well engineered simplicity means it’s an absolute joy. 

Around town the only real notable difference over the standard Fiesta is the firm ride but in turn that translates into superb body control and handling when you get onto a twister B-road. It's here where the ST really shines, it always feels composed and the steering is beautifully balanced. The gearlever is perfectly placed and the changes are short and sharp. The ST has all of the ingredients that make an outstanding hot hatch.

Even better, the Mountune upgrade worth around £600 ensures that the ST isn’t left behind in the performance stakes. The 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine is pretty punchy in standard guise, but an aluminium airbox with a better filter and an ECU remap boosts power from 180bhp to 212bhp, while torque jumps from 290Nm to 320Nm.

So is the Ford dynamically perfect? Well, there’s just one bugbear: the stiff ride. Rigid at low speed, the suspension is unforgiving and you’ll find yourself bobbing up and down in the seat as the ST reacts and wriggles over bumpy tarmac. It’s not bad enough to upset the car’s cornering composure, it just makes long journeys a bit tiring.

Reliability

The Fiesta ST is part of Ford’s One Ford car philosophy. So while it’s a sporty model, it still uses proven tech from elsewhere in the range.

The 1.6-litre engine is fitted to the Kuga and the rear suspension is borrowed from the B-MAX, while all cars get SYNC voice activation and Ford’s MyKey programmable key system, which allows the car’s owner to programme a key to limit the car’s speed, mute the stereo unless all seatbelts are on, and flash up more conservative warnings for low fuel.

The Fiesta ST shares the regular car's five-star Euro NCAP safety rating and comes with a full complement of safety kit, including seven airbags and electronic stability control.

If the Mountune upgraded Ford Fiesta ST is your thing, but the idea of aftermarket upgrades make you nervous, you needn’t worry, as the power upgrade is covered under the Ford warranty. Thanks to its long-running relationship with Mountune, Ford officially approves the modifications, which is a strong indication that reliability shouldn’t be affected. You can get the upgrades fitted to your ST at one of 150 approved dealers, and in the first five months over 500 owners bought the Mountune pack. 

The standard ST feels solidly built and comes with a safety kit tally that includes three-stage stability control and seven airbags. The only concern is Ford’s 25th place ranking in our Driver Power 2014 survey and the Fiesta’s slightly low reliability ranking.  

Practicality

Although it’s a performance model, underneath the ST is just a three-door Fiesta, which means that it still retains a useful 290-litre boot and rear-seat space isn’t too compromised by the chunky Recaro front seats. Their bulky nature, however, means climbing in and out makes life slightly difficult.

And as with the standard Fiesta, there's plenty of useful storage of odds and ends, including a large glovebox, deep door bins and numerous cupholders. The front seats are set nice and low and are very comfortable, but the firm ride does take the edge off comfort slightly, though. 

With a 290-litre boot, the ST has the biggest luggage space of the three cars in the test, and while the rear seats don’t lie fully flat, when they’re folded you get 974 litres. There’s plenty of storage options around the cabin, too. 

Engine noise is well suppressed at 70mph, too, making it a comfortable car to drive longer distances. However, the addition of a larger engine and six-speed gearbox has increased the Ford's turning circle, so it can be hard work in crowded car parks.

You can add a space saver spare wheel for £100, but this reduces boot capacity with the seats up to 276 litres.

Running Costs

Like any performance car, the harder you drive, the greater your motoring expenses will be. Ford claims 47.9mpg for the Fiesta ST, but this will soon plummet once you hit your favourite back road, or take the car on track.

Ford offers the Fiesta in three different trim levels. The range kicks off with the standard ST (£17,250) with the ST2 (£18,250) adding creature comforts such as air conditioning, part-leather Recaro seats and DAB radio. Ford has recently added a new range-topping ST3 trim to the range due to customer demand, which adds kit such as sat nav, keyless go, cruise control, climate control and auto lights and wipers as standard. It costs a further £1,000 over the ST2 but the Fiesta still remains better value than the Renault Clio RS and Peugeot 208. 

The Fiesta ST is the first Fiesta to feature disc brakes all round, but remember to budget for extra wear on pads, discs and tyres if you plan to do track days – and given how fun the Fiesta is to drive, it’d be a shame not to.

Given its impressive performance potential, the Ford emits just 138g/km of CO2, which makes it a surprisingly cost effective choice for company car users. However, unlike many of its competitors, the Fiesta isn't available with a fixed priced servicing package.

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