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The Globe and Mail

Preview: Ford's high-end sub-compact is cute but scrappy

2014 Ford Fiesta

Michael Bettencourt/The Globe and Mail

Rating
7.5
Overall Rating
7.5
Overall
Fun and sprightly no doubt, but the extra space, features and oomph of the Focus ST for five grand more will tempt many buyers. You’ll like this car if: you’re a city-dwelling performance enthusiast who likes to look and go fast, and wouldn’t think of driving an automatic.
Looks Rating
8.5
Looks
Like a brightly coloured automotive jellybean that has hit the gym hard, the Fiesta ST is a cute but scrappy little beast.
Interior Rating
8
Interior
Grippy Recaro seats are snug for size 36-plus waists, but great in curves; easy-to-use controls with lots of buttons and non-touch screen.
Ride Rating
7.5
Ride
Civilized for a car focused on performance, but handling is the obvious priority.
Safety Rating
5
Safety
Small plus performance-oriented is not a prescription for safety.
Green Rating
7
Green
So-so mileage for a subcompact, and it requires premium.

It's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.

That's been accepted among car enthusiasts for a long time, and it's especially true for city dwellers, where rampant congestion means that the joy promised by a powerful sports car on sublime open roads can turn into increased frustration as the daily realities set in of a harsh ride, limited interior space and painful fuel bills.

That said, the all-new 2014 Fiesta ST is no slow car, but it is meant to address some of these shortcomings for urbanites.

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It enters the performance car arena sporting a similar formula to its big brother Focus ST – a compact, turbocharged, front-drive five-door that impressed so much that it won the competitive category of Best New Sports Car under $50,000 in the AJAC 2013 Canadian Car of The Year competition, beating out the rear-drive Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ twins and Hyundai Genesis Coupe.

The Fiesta ST uses a smaller 197-hp engine instead of the 2.0-litre, 252-hp four of its more potent sibling, but Ford lists its 0-100 km/h time at 6.9 seconds, which is the same time the Focus ST averaged in AJAC's acceleration tests.

Similar acceleration for a price that starts five grand less than the Focus ST? That alone makes this hot Fiesta five-door a tempting little beast, even if Ford's acceleration numbers turn out to be a tad optimistic, as was Ford's 6.5-second estimation for the Focus ST.

The Fiesta ST will start at $24,999 when it arrives in late summer – versus the Focus ST's $29,999 – and will be one of the few subcompacts on the market to offer increased performance (not just bigger wheels and styling add-ons) combined with five-door practicality. Unlike regular Fiestas, the ST will only come to North America with five doors and a six-speed manual, while Europe receives a three-door hatchback only, the extra rear doors adding 60 kg to the Fiesta ST's base 1,163-kg curb weight.

Some may balk because the Fiesta ST starts at about double what a base Fiesta lists at, but you're receiving a whole different animal from that bargain-basement commuter. Candy-coloured red, orange and blue paint shades provide instant visual punch, as do the aggressive lower body skirts, rear hatch spoiler and relatively massive 205/4017 Y-rated summer tires and unique wheels. Front LED lights provide a touch of high-end class to the aggressively boy-racer appearance, but overall, it's a look that calls out for attention, wanted or otherwise.

It's just as aggressive inside, with the standard Recaro seats gripping one's glutes so unexpectedly tight that all but the thinnest of frames will question whether it's time to step up the cardio. The deep side bolstering didn't seem as restrictive, the partial leather and fabric seats work magically to hold the driver's body in place throughout some effervescently curved mountain roads in and around Saint Paul-de-Vence, a small, charming medieval town on the French Riviera, where the car's tight body proportions were a blessing.

Its smaller dimensions are not only helpful when looking for a parking spot, but also when negotiating the tight confines of a busy city such as Cannes. Small or not, dense urban traffic packs more objects to hit, as a combo of construction, tight roads and active cyclist clubs resulted in one ST's driver's side mirror being sacrificed to the traffic gods in Cannes.

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Inside, the Fiesta ST offers up comfort-enhancing features such as automatic climate control, heated seats, a Sony sound system and the more advanced touch screen MyFord Touch system. Overall quality seemed high for this class, though it was surprising not to find city-friendly features such as the rear parking aids and a version of the dual-clutch automatic transmission on the options list, especially since the regular Fiesta offers both.

The emphasis here is clearly more performance than pampering. What Ford calls a Sound Symposer system funnels engine noise into the cabin, creating a more involving – some would say louder – drive experience that helps give this car its scrappy, ready-to-go feel. The noise isn't intrusive, as cruising along at 120 km/h at a mere 2,800 rpm showed, but it does make conversation tough near its 6,500-rpm redline.

Dynamically, the Fiesta ST feels quick but not overpoweringly so, in that one could prudently rip off a run or two to redline without endangering one's licence or anyone's safety.

An electronic torque vectoring program shifts the power from side to side to help pull the Fiesta ST along its intended path, while the stability control system has a new Track setting that allows wider slip angles before intervening, or it can be defeated entirely, says Ford. It's worth keeping in mind that the power ratings listed by Ford includes an overboost function that pushes out 20 extra ponies for up to 20 seconds at a time. After that, the power trails off, until you lift your foot and push into the boost again for another 20 seconds, for a limitless number of times.

The 2014 Fiesta ST therefore tempts you to drive a brisk car fast, mustering up big fun from a little package.

Tech specs

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2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Type: Subcompact performance hatchback

Base price: $24,999

Engine: 1.6-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 197 hp/214 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.9 city/4.8 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Chevrolet Sonic, Fiat 500 Abarth, Ford Focus ST, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Mazdaspeed3, Mini Cooper S

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