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Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press, Published October 04 2013

Fast and frolicsome: 2014 Ford Fiesta ST provides a lot of fun at a relatively low price

With any luck, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST performance subcompact will start a race. Not a street race. That would be wrong, as the Barenaked Ladies might admonish with utmost seriousness. I’m hoping for a race among other automakers to develop their own fast and frolicsome subcompacts.

The Fiesta ST provides a lot of fun at a relatively low price. The appealing package faces very little competition. Surprisingly, no Japanese or Korean automaker sells a hot subcompact in America. The Hyundai Veloster turbo comes closest, but it’s a compact.

To find legitimately sporty subcompacts, look to Europe: the Fiat 500 Abarth and Mini Cooper S. Chevrolet has a toe in the water, but has yet to take the plunge. Its Sonic 5 RS has go-fast looks and good handling, but no more power than its mainstream model.

The Sonic 5 RS, 500 Abarth and Cooper S constitute the Fiesta ST’s entire competitive set.

Fiesta ST prices start at $21,400. It’s only available as a four-door hatchback with a 197-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission.

I tested a nicely equipped Fiesta ST with Recaro seats, navigation, Sony audio, voice recognition, a touch screen and more. It cost $24,190, not including destination charges.

The ST leads the pack in power and price. Its engine outmuscles the competition, and its base price is lower than the Abarth and Mini. Sonic RS prices start $1,215 lower, but the Chevy’s output of 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque make it a marginal competitor.

The Fiesta ST needs premium gasoline to generate its advertised 197 horsepower and 202 pound-feet of torque. Regular gas won’t damage the engine, but does reduce horsepower by 3 percent to 7 percent. That is offset by the fact that the Fiesta achieved its EPA fuel economy rating – 26 mpg in the city, 35 on the highway and 29 combined – with regular gasoline.

The Fiat 500 Abarth and Mini Cooper S are more fuel efficient than the ST: 30 mpg in combined driving: but used premium fuel in the test. That makes them slightly more expensive to fuel, according to EPA projections. The Sonic 5 RS rated 30 mpg in combined driving with regular gas. It should cost slightly less to fuel each year than the Fiesta ST

The Fiesta ST’s engine delivers plenty of power for confident acceleration. Unlike the more powerful Focus ST, it has almost no torque steer. That makes the Fiesta more fun to drive in many circumstances.

Ford electronically augments the engine note. It’s pleasantly noticeable when you’re on the throttle, but fades into the background in easy driving. Road noise is nagging at highway speeds.

The Fiesta ST’s steering is direct and responsive. The suspension kept the car flat and stable in enthusiastic maneuvers.

The hatchback layout provides good passenger and cargo space. The controls combine voice recognition with dials and buttons. A touch screen in the center of the dash is too small to use easily in a moving vehicle.

I don’t care for the manually adjustable Recaro sport seats. They’re part of a $1,995 option package that includes heated seats and side view mirrors. The seats are too confining and don’t offer enough adjustments. My 14-year-old niece Emily, who is the definition of petite and weighs about as much as a wet sparrow, declared the seats perfect, because they fit her like a glove.

Draw your own conclusions, but I’d recommend testing the standard seats.

The race is on. The Ford ST was quick out of the gate, and its performance, fuel economy and value are likely to establish it as a leader among the sporty subcompacts likely to follow it.

2013 Detroit Free Press

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