In April of 2018 Ford announced they would stop selling all passenger cars to the U.S. with the exception of the Mustang, thus signing the death certificate of some of the greatest and most affordable performance cars available. Ford said this move was due to the the waning popularity of the sedan and hatchback, as American consumers flock to SUVs in droves. Those who do want a passenger car typically prefer the Japanese models offered by Honda and Toyota. Ford is losing money on nearly every car they made. So the move made sense, even if it hurt a little. While we’ll certainly miss the powerful Focus ST and the absolutely bonkers Focus RS, we’re particularly sad about the loss of the cheapest model: the Fiesta ST.
Why was the Fiesta ST such a good little car?
The ST debuted stateside for the 2014 model year as a performance variant of the Fiesta subcompact hatchback, itself a relative newcomer to the U.S. The Fiesta was already a dynamically sound car, with great steering feel and excellent manners in the corners. To create the Fiesta ST, Ford engineers increased the power quite a bit over the base model by swapping in the 1.6-liter Ecoboost, a small turbocharged 4-cylinder that put out 197 hp and 177 lb.-ft. of torque. They also gave it torque vectoring control, optional Recaro seats that hold the driver in place under heavy cornering, some aerodynamic tweaks and visual upgrades. Best of all, the Fiesta ST was only offered with an enthusiast-friendly 6-speed manual transmission instead of the troublesome automatic that likely helped kill the car.
On paper, this doesn’t sound like much, especially since it only gives the Fiesta the ability to hit 60 mph in about 7 seconds (a time on par with the average sedan these days). However, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. With a curb weight of only 2,720 lbs., the Fiesta feels a lot faster than it actually is. The torque from the turbo gives it a boost of power that allows it to feel mighty between 10-45 mph, the range most of us spend our time driving in.
That actually speaks to the joy of the Fiesta ST. It was designed for maximum driving fun within the boundaries of everyday driving. The full capabilities of most performance cars far exceed what’s legally possible on public roads, and likely exceed the capabilities of the driver when taken to the race track. On public roads these cars feel impatient, like a caged lion that dreams of what it would do if it could escape its captors, but has ultimately resigned itself to a life in captivity.
On the other hand, the Fiesta ST was designed be fun at legal speeds on public roads at the hands of anyone who knows how to work a clutch. The Fiesta’s diminutive weight and quick steering allows it to be endlessly tossable, making back roads and deserted parking lots a delight. It’s a great car for anyone who want to keep their driver’s license intact.
These qualities also make the Fiesta accessible to anyone. While rear-wheel drive is lauded as the performance ideal, a front-wheel drive car like the Fiesta ST is predictable and tame. When you overcook a corner in a rear-wheel drive car, the back can get squirrelly under heavy braking, and if a panicked driver adds any steering input it can encourage the rear to swing around, a phenomenon known as oversteer. Front-wheel drive cars like the Fiesta, on the other hand, will experience understeer, where the car turns slightly, but the inertia of the car continues to push forward, breaking traction with the front wheels. The latter scenario is much more predictable and easier to recover from, increasing the margin of error and allowing the driver to learn how to corner quickly and safely.
Best of all, the Fiesta ST is well priced. Starting MSRP is listed at $21,340, but due to the prevalence of manufacturer rebates and dealer specials, it isn’t difficult at all to find one new for less than $20,000, with some dealers offering them as low as $16,000. For that kind of money, it’s very hard to beat. Looking past all of the technicalities and numbers, this little car is full of character and heart. It wants to be driven fast and hard, and it will reward you for doing so. It’s almost certain to put a smile on your face every time you encounter a series of tight corners, making it well worth the money.
As a postscript, we can also take solace in the fact that while the Fiesta ST is dead in the U.S., it lives on in Europe. A new model debuted for the 2019 model year with an even smaller 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder that manages to add an extra 12 lb.-ft. of torque over the previous 4-cylinder. It’ll also get selectable drive modes for different driving conditions, launch control, and some driver assistance features. Unfortunately, no plans exist to bring it back so we’ll have to learn to pine from afar.