There’s something about gastric juices that just gets into a car’s bones and lurks there, waiting to sneak up and grab you by the nostrils after a good, long soak in the summer sun. Like the McRib and other lesser demons, it never really goes away .
That’s exactly what runs through my head when both my rear passengers ask me to crack a window. A quick glance at the mirror reveals pale faces and thin lips—telltale precursors to the dreaded Technicolor yawn. The child locks are on, it’s 40 degrees outside, and we’ve been leapfrogging from one mountain apex to the next for the better part of an hour with the A/C set to Misery.
We’re not whipping through hollows in the latest hardware from STI, M, or AMG, either. I’ve been bouncing my passengers off the side glass in the cheapest sports car in America: the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST.
The smiling man at the Ford store will merrily sell you a 2014 Fiesta ST for $21,400, plus associated fees. That buys you a 197-hp Ecoboost 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox, all crammed in the smallest car Ford offers in the US. The whole package weighs in at 2742 lbs. That gives this obnoxiously green hatch the same power-to-weight ratio as a first-generation E30 M3.
A friggin’ M3.
Exterior tweaks like the roof-mounted spoiler, painted rear diffuser, and more aggressive bumper caps manage to narrowly avoid the Fast & Furious pitfall. But even with the 17-inch fat-spoke alloys, it’s hard to take the car seriously when it’s sitting still. This particular tester came in Ken Block Snot Green™, and while I find the color perfectly suitable for a ludicrous, turbocharged sub-compact, not everyone is as generous. I think I heard the term “gross” a few times.
That same hue makes its way indoors via the ambient lighting and contrast stitching on the optional Recaro seats. About the Recaros: you want them. Yes, they’ll set you back nearly one tenth of the cost of the car, but the aggressively bolstered seats keep you and your front passenger planted once the road turns fun. Backseat passengers? They’re left to bounce around with the rest of the groceries.
And oh, will they bounce.
It’s not just that the Fiesta ST is quick—maybe everything feels faster when you’re ripping off shifts in a little green snot bubble—but Ford’s 0-60 mph estimate of 6.9 seconds seems conservative. Between the irate exhaust note and the acceleration, the Fiesta ST makes you want to punch well above your weight.
So don’t be shocked when you’re picking stoplight fights with the Fox body in the lane next to you. As hilarious as that is, the Fiesta ST’s real speed comes from its ability to bend the road to its will. Grip is abundant, and you can come in hot, stab the throttle, and marvel as the hatchback manipulates physics to accommodate your ham-fisted idiocy.
Ford shoved a batty 13.6:1 steering rack between the front wheels. That’s the kind of ratio you’ll find in a built road racer, not a modified sorority-clique hatchback, and a set of tweaked steering knuckles allow for greater camber than the stock bits. Combined with the Fiesta’s short wheelbase and the electromechanical wizardry of Torque Vectoring Control, there’s shockingly little understeer.
No, there isn’t an honest limited-slip in the gearbox, but the traction control system helps steer the car by applying brake force to the inside wheel during serious cornering. It’s an updated version of the eVTC found in the larger Focus ST, and it works like a charm. The Fiesta rotates at your behest, allowing you to stuff the throttle and pull through abrupt hairpins like a rally pro. Just when you think you’ve reached the car’s limits, it surprises you with extra grip and more turn in. Just don’t expect your rear passengers to be excited about it.
Surprisingly, Ford left the Fiesta’s twist-beam rear axle in place, though this isn’t a sore point. In this case, simple is light, and light is good. The rear stays planted even over the tortured asphalt of a mountain washout without any chatter or hop.
Meanwhile, the single-outlet exhaust snarls and pops with every downshift like a little delinquent. The engine wants to pull well past its fuel cut-off, so pay attention to the tach or you’ll find yourself bouncing off the limiter before you know what’s happening. The transmission offers easy shifts that are fairly quick, and while the clutch feel isn’t anything special, it doesn’t get in the way of the party you’re throwing behind the wheel. At its core, the Fiesta is still an economy car built to be easy to drive, and engineers stuffed an incredibly heavy flywheel behind the engine. Revs hang in the stratosphere for days, making for easy matched downshifts.
The biggest surprise here is how well the Fiesta ST works as a whole. You don’t notice the brilliant torque curve or well-sorted suspension. None of it stands out as surprising because the package is so cohesive. There are Nissan GT-R levels of confidence stashed away in this car’s nether regions as a result. And like the mean Datsun, the Fiesta ST not only wants you to be fast, it helps you be that way. Every part of the car feels like it’s working toward that goal.
The difference is that you can explore the full width and breadth of the littlest Ford’s abilities without straying too far beyond the bounds of the law, and that almost makes the tiny hatchback more satisfying to drive than its supercar analog. Due to some glaring injustice, I wasn’t on hand for our Performance Car of the Year evaluation, but the Fiesta ST was. Shockingly, the little car never got left behind, even in a pack filled with hardware like the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingway and the Ferrari F12 berlinetta. At least one editor voted it best overall, despite the heady competition.
Not bad for $22K.