Ford Fiesta ST
by Craig Cheetham
Talk about 'hot' off the press! In a world exclusive, Auto Express is the first magazine ever to get up close and personal with Ford's scorching new Fiesta ST - the long-awaited sporting flagship of the blue oval's supermini range.
The newcomer doesn't arrive until January, and no other UK publication will get its hands on the car until next week, but we were granted exclusive early access to this pre-production model.
It is the machine which Ford hopes will reinvigorate its reputation as a maker of premium hot hatches - but will the ST have enough punch to relive the glory of the legendary XR2? It certainly looks special. Finished in a choice of exclusive colours, including pearlescent red and Focus RS Blue, the hot Fiesta is bound to stand out among racy three-door rivals such as the Mitsubishi Colt CZT and Citroen C2 VTS.
Our car's 17-inch alloys will be an option on production models, with similarly designed 16-inchers fitted as standard kit. But in either case the rims give a purposeful look, filling the arches thanks to the ST's lowered suspension.
Other distinctive touches include a mesh radiator grille and a 'cheese-grater'-effect panel in the front bumper, flanked by twin foglamps. A roof spoiler, low-slung bumper and smart chrome twin exhausts complete the rear. The whole effect combines well to give the Fiesta a lean, muscular appearance on the road. Inside, the ST delivers a quality feel while maintaining a sporty aura. The black half-leather seats have red or blue checked inserts depending on body colour. Meanwhile, an exclusive ST logo is stitched into the trim, and also appears on the steering wheel.
Further unique touches include extra brightwork on the dial surrounds, handbrake and gearlever, plus ST-branded door kickplates. From behind the wheel, the view over the bonnet is the same as in a standard Fiesta - with one notable exception. The stripes, which run from the car's nose to its tail, give a genuinely special feel, evoking the imagery of the Ford GT supercar. The stripes will be an option when the model goes on sale, so drivers won't be forced into having them.
But even minus stripes, the ST will still be sporty. The chassis has been engineered to deliver superb grip, while Ford promises it's worked hard to ensure the well weighted steering has excellent responsiveness. We'll report on its success when we test the car next week.
The Fiesta ST, then, is a welcome addition to the hot hatch party, and promises to deliver a driving experience which is on a par with class leaders. We can't wait to put it head-to-head with its main competitors to find out.
There hasn't been a 'proper' hot Fiesta since the XR2i disappeared in 1993 - but the ST looks set to redress the balance. With fantastic styling, good performance figures and the promise of class-leading handling, it seems set to be a hit. But does it match up to the XR2's legacy?
At a Glance
* Fiesta 1.6 Zetec S is also due in January, boasting ST styling
* New close-ratio five-speed box