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This hot hatch offers sizzling driving performance that puts its rivals in the shade.
SYNC 3, sports seats, leather
steering wheel, 6.5in touchscreen.
ST-1, ST-2, ST-3
When it comes to hot hatchbacks, the Ford badge needs little introduction. From the heyday of the XR models through RSs and STs, the blue oval is synonymous with providing performance and driver involvement - and enjoyment - at a relatively accessible price.
From that view, this latest Ford Fiesta ST is no different. All the usual hot Ford accoutrements are present and correct - the body kit, the lowered suspension, the ST badging, the very pretty lattice-style alloy wheels - but Ford has also introduced some rather non-sporty technology.
Three cylinders the magic number?
Yes, there's a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 197hp but, in news that will have hot hatch fans choking on their go-faster stripes, it's a three-cylinder engine that also features cylinder-deactivation technology. That means that, at times, your hot hatch could be running on just two cylinders alone.
Not that the ST is exactly short on performance. With a 0-62mph time of just 6.5 seconds and a 144mph top speed, it's certainly not lacking in that department, but that tech helps to return a combined average fuel economy of 47.1mpg and 136g/km CO2 emissions with a BIK rating of 28%. That puts it on a par with VW's Polo GTI, although the German does boast the added choice of a DSG twin-clutch automatic gearbox, rather just the six-speed manual in this Fiesta.
As always with hot hatches, though, on-paper statistics are one thing, but the real-world driving experience is what really counts. And it's here that the Fiesta really proves its worth.
The first positive comes just climbing into the driver's seat. The sporty Recaro seats are certainly on the cosier side of figure-hugging but remain (just about) comfortable. Crucially though, for the first time, they boast height and tilt adjustment, meaning that it's easy to find a good driving position - oddly, not something that's always been the case with hot Fords.
On the move, the rapid steering takes some getting used to, but the gear change is slick and the brakes are very powerful, building your confidence with every turn. The ST just gets better the harder you drive it. The firm ride that feels a little fidgety at lower speeds means there's little body roll through corners, while it darts into bends with an eagerness unlike many other rivals.
That's before you've got to the engine, which sounds nothing short of superb. As the exhaust pops and crackles on the over-run when you lift off the throttle pedal, there's no doubt that Ford has once again produced a serious driving machine.
Much of the reason for that praise can be aimed towards the optional Performance Pack, costing £850 on the ST-2 and ST-3, which includes a limited slip differential, launch control and gearchange lights on the dashboard.
Other manufacturers offer similar under-bonnet trickery with noticeable benefits and it's little different here. Working on the standard slow-in, fast-out theory of cornering, this Fiesta seems to pick up the physics rule book and lob it out the window. Instead, what you have is the ability to throw the ST into a corner with virtual abandon and then get back onto the throttle pedal perhaps half a second earlier than you would have thought normally possible.
Instead of pushing you wide, as you might imagine, that differential tightens your cornering line and just slingshots you out of the bend at an even faster rate that's almost incomprehensible to your senses. A supermini, even a hot hatch version like this one, simply shouldn't be able to handle this well.
If there's one weak point to the Fiesta ST's overall package however, it's with the interior. Based largely on the standard Ford supermini, aside from a thick-rimmed steering wheel and those Recaro seats, there's not much changed here. In some ways, that's no bad thing, but in others, such as parts of the dashboard lower down, some of the plastics and materials could be improved. The latch for the transmission tunnel cubby between the two front seats for example, has a hole that looks like someone has casually cut it out with a junior hacksaw. Those spending more than £20,000 on this car will, and should, expect better.
Overall though, this latest Fiesta ST is really all about the driving experience - and on that front, it certainly scores full marks.