Performance motoring was once the preserve of the elite, the well off, the eccentric. Well-heeled toffs zipping about in roadsters, and flash Harrys revving the engines of their Ford Capris. That is, of course, until the arrival of the hot hatch in the 1970s democratised performance in the UK.
Every decade since has had its own hot hatch icon, the Mk1 Golf GTi of the 70s gave way to the 205 GTi in the 1980s. The Ford Escort Cosworth of the 1990s was overtaken by the Honda Civic Type R and the Renault Clio RS - your list may be slightly different to mine, but those are the cars that first come to mind when I think of attainable four-wheeled fun and performance in my lifetime.
I’d add one more to the list that I’d argue embodies hot hatch motoring in the last decade: The Ford Fiesta ST. This century, buyers looking for on-road thrills have been spoiled for choice. Ford’s fast supermini may not be the quickest or most hardcore of the bunch but nothing else blends performance with affordability, fun and everyday useability quite like it.
With the Fiesta ST already well on its way to becoming a 21st century hot hatch icon, Ford has released the Edition model with a sprinkling of upgrades that make it even better.
Ford Fiesta ST Edition – what’s new?
The ST Edition is based on the high-spec Fiesta ST-3 trim level which already adds some key performance upgrades on the lower specification ST-2 model in the form of the launch control, performance shift indicators and Quaife Limited Slip Differential included with the Performance Pack.
Cosmetic changes like the unique Azura Blue paintwork, high-gloss black 18-inch alloy wheels and black detailed spoiler, wing mirrors and roof, mark Edition models out from the pack. The key performance upgrade is the adjustable coilover suspension that lowers the ride height by 15mm at the front and 10mm to the rear and can be tailored to fit the performance needs of the driver. Those new wheels are lightweight units that shave 2kg from each wheel compared with the rims fitted to the standard ST-3.
Ford Fiesta ST Edition performance and handling
The result of these changes is even sharper handling, even more control and an even more supple feeling ride compared with the standard ST - and that’s without me being adventurous enough to delve into the customisation settings beyond the standard setup. Unless you’re inclined to stiffen things up, the default settings on the suspension make for a slightly softer ride compared with the standard Fiesta ST, more forgiving over rough road surfaces and less twitchy as a result.
It’s all gain and no pain, as far as the upgrades are concerned. It may feel softer, but the trick suspension does nothing to dull the Fiesta’s hallmark agility and with 197bhp and a 0-62 time of 6.5 seconds the Fiesta is quick enough to feel aggressive and powerful but not so overpowered that the engine feels too much for the chassis.
There are faster cars for the money, but the appeal of this Fiesta is that it feels like a car that you can take to its limit - regardless of whether you are brave and stupid enough to do so on the road. The appeal of the hot hatch is the idea that this is a normal car transformed into something special, that’s giving you everything it’s got - and the Fiesta ST epitomises that.
The problem is the price. At £28,770 on the road, those Edition extras come at a cost. That extra wedge pushes the Fiesta ST Edition within a whisker of the £29k Toyota GR Yaris, the high-tech four-wheel drive rally car for the road and current media darling. It also means the Fiesta is competing on price with hot hatches from the class above, like the £29k Ford Focus ST and the £30k Honda Civic Type R - cars with more power, more space and plenty of hot hatchback appeal in their own right.
All of those competitors for your attention are pretty special - but I have a hunch more people will look back and remember the Fiesta ST fondly in 20 years time. Is the Edition model worth the extra £2,500 on top of the ST-3? No, not unless you’re the sort of driver who will really delve into those customisation settings on the suspension or really, really very taken with the custom blue paint job.
Ford Fiesta ST Edition
Price: £28,770; Engine: 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 197bhp; Torque: 214lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Top speed: 144mph; 0-62mph: 6.5 seconds; Economy: 40.4mpg; CO2 emissions: 158 g/km