Thursday, 25 April 2013 9:45 AM
The Ford Fiesta ST has just gone on sale – with 1,000 orders already placed – and the Ford Focus ST has been in dealers for a good few months now and is the best-selling hot hatch in Europe.
Both cars are EcoBoost turbocharged; 1.6-litre and 180bhp for the Fiesta; 2-litre and 247bhp for the Focus, and now, probably like no other STs before them, these sharpened hatches (and a sexy estate for the Focus too) were developed with track use firmly front of mind. Back lane blasting and everyday commuting are also key points, but with track days on the up, ST drivers are more likely than ever to take to the apex in anger.
And here we are in Wales, near Cardiff, at the not-so-famous but soon to be loved, Llandow circuit. It’s small, very easy to learn, has some nadgery chicanes and corner complexes, and two straights of enough length to get these STs into fourth gear, sniffing around 100mph. Ford chose this tucked away, unassuming little track to showcase their Fiesta and Focus ST models, and I can tell you right now that these are a couple of quick cars that anyone can go fast in.
Electronics are the key
Not more than a few years ago the phrase ‘stability control’ would have car journalists sneering in contempt. Over zealous, power sapping systems with about as much gentle touch as Tyson, that cut the bhp to the powered wheels the moment there was a bit of wheelspin. But these latest ST cars have come a long way from a computed safety point of view, and we can all have some track hooning excitement in an on-the-edge-feeling-car, but without fear of changing the shape of the surrounding scenery.
Some of today’s hot hatches use a mechanical limited slip differential to best apply the power to the tarmac through the driven front wheels, but these Fords use pure computing power and the brakes to automatically keep things in trim. The advantages of this are price, weight and an ability to tune the system until the very last moment before the car goes on sale. Both the Fiesta ST and Focus ST are keenly priced in their segment and both cars have left most hot drivers happy, with everyday usability and safety electronics that offer enough measured leeway for drifting corner fun. You can turn these systems entirely off in both cars if Hamilton is your last name, of course.
Like the electronics are the key to safe-fast-fun, the turbos pushing these EcoBoost motors forward are the key to their accessible performance. No need to scream them like a naturally aspirated engine that has all its power at the top of the rev range, with a slick 6-speed gearbox on both these cars and turbo assisted torque from low down in the revs, there’s grunt almost everywhere on the tacho. Get a gear wrong and the torque will pull you through; no need to hunt the ratios like a mechanical maniac. Turbos easily win the power-with-economy argument over naturally aspirated motors too.
Ford Fiesta ST
With all of these fast-and-easy ST underpinnings happily there to help us enjoy them on both models, which ST car did I prefer? Well, at a push and if the cost of the cars wasn’t a factor – from £16,995 for the Fiesta ST and from £21,995 for the Focus ST – I’d go for the Focus.
The new Ford Fiesta ST gets its wriggle on through the Llandow track’s twists and turns
The Fiesta ST is a great-looking, feisty hot hatch that will easily out sell its peers in the class, and I’d be very happy with one all day long. The suspension is firm, but never crashy, and the front end turn in is the usual Fiesta joy of quick precision, while that EcoBoost engine – with up to 200bhp available for around 20 seconds of full throttle overboost – is a torquey little peach. Fiesta ST is fast, flat and nimble through the bends and on a small track like Llandow it makes perfect sense. And, even though it’s quick – 62mph in 6.9 seconds and 137mph – it never feels threatening. Driving both of the STs on this track, back to back, I’d take the Focus keys home with me…
Ford Focus ST
Sure, the Focus gets the extra grunt over the Fiesta – although that extra grunt means in some situations that the Fiesta’s front end is that touch more composed, as it doesn’t have to deal with so much horsepower through its steering front wheels – but on the Llandow straights the Focus and its 247bhp really gets a haul on, where the Fiesta can’t quite match that pace. If you’re at full tilt in fourth gear in a Focus ST, you really will be motoring.
The Ford Focus ST is very happy to attack the track all day
Extra go-go then, well that’s kind of obvious for the more expensive of the two ST models, but I also felt that the Focus just has a touch more controlled lunacy than the Fiesta. Through fast corners, the Focus ST would let me get a lovely little bit of a drift going, with all four wheels dancing around a central pivot point in the chassis. This combination of outright pace and flying cornering ability just got me racing-driver-buzzing, basically. I’m not the hottest driver in the world, but I have done a good few laps in my time, and as soon as I got in the Focus I went from 0mph to max-track-attack in no time.
Both cars were grin-fests around this Llandow circuit and while I’d thoroughly recommend you test drive both of the ST models if you want to add some ‘hot’ to your summers to come, I’d also suggest that you get to Llandow, or a track like it, to give these fast Fords something of what the clearly corner-obsessed Ford engineers designed them to do.
By Daniel Anslow