Four pm on a sunny Friday in the heart of Vancouver: chaos and madness, tarmac heat and clogged arterials. I'm in a bright red pinball that looks like a scanning electron microscope photograph of some kinda’ pest – a red bedbug with go-faster racing stripes. My trunk's awash with umpteen litres of beer, all securely strapped down, bootlegger style.
Welcome to the most fun you can have with your pants on. And it turns out to be a subcompact economy car.
The mission? Escape. Backyard slouching and a tall glass of craft-brewed parenting fluid beckons. Starter button, one tap on the ESC button for sport mode, grab first, dump-clutch stomp-throttle back-lane exit-strategy zipper-merge thank-you-wave watch-the-flow-and-watch-us-go.
Traffic sucks, but this car rules: welcome to the most fun you can have with your pants on. And it turns out to be a subcompact economy car.
There is no good reason Ford should even be building this car, not when they have the Focus ST to compete with the four-doored GTI and (sort of) the WRX. At the bottom of all reviews on this site, there's a section for competitors, one which I stared at blankly for several minutes before just bunging a few oddballs in. The ST doesn't really have any competitors on this side of the pond – we get no Polo GTI, no hot little French subcompacts, no Nismo-ized Micra.
I'm not sure why they build it, but I am so glad they do because there is absolutely no other vehicle I'd rather be in for getting the hell out of the city to the cool green oasis of home. Think about it: would you want to pilot a Ford GT through this treacly mess of Corollas and crossovers? That thing's built for murdering the Mulsanne straight. Ditto the Mustang: great in the empty canyons, skittish and too-large in a crowded paddock. Focus ST? That's a little better, but imagine a car even more focused than the Focus, a super-concentrated energy gel packet with wheels that is the perfect blend of low-end turbo gumption, frenetic handling, and slot-into-any-gap compactness. Name it after a Mexican party, apply hood stripes, done.
The Fiesta is not, admittedly, the best looking car on the market. Some angles work, some make it look like a toddler's Air Jordan, some give the bystander the impression of an enraged aphid. I'd be inclined to buy the blue version to hide some of the gawping grille, but it drives so well it could be Care Bear pink with daisy decals and still be lovable.
Inside, it's a Fiesta into which someone has bolted a pair of the butt-pinchin'-est seats to ever come out of Italy. Oh wait, Recaro's a German company – so why do these things grab for the glutes like they should be embroidered with “Berlusconi?” Maybe I need to drink a few fewer beers and run a few more miles.
The rest is acceptable for the subcompact class, with a few nice touches here and there. The navigation and infotainment screen is extremely small, but functional. Voice commands work quite well, at least for flipping between traffic-info AM and upbeat FM rock.
Space in a car this little is relatively well managed, with a forward-facing child seat leaving just enough room for a near-three-year-old to swing her legs. The trunk is very compact at 285 L, although there's quite a lot of room in the area where the spare tire (and you get one) is kept. Ford has two clever little nubs on each side of the trunk at parcel-shelf level to hold the sub-floor up if you lift it, so you can make use of this extra space on the regular. Strollers for young kids are umbrella-style-only. I bought a new Weber Q grille and managed to squeeze it in. As a second car for a small family, it's certainly workable.
It's also the kind of car you want to make work. Power comes from a turbo'd 1.6L four making 197 hp at 6,000 rpm and 202 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. You've got 90 percent of that torque coming on at just 1,600 rpm, and it'll overboost to 214 lb-ft by 3,500 rpm, giving the ST a freindly, flexible, scooty powertrain. A VW GTI is a far more sensible size, but the Fiesta ST is just so much more fun you find yourself ready to compromise.
A friend once described the comparison between the cars as if the VeeDub had been slow-roasted to perfection, yet all the pan-drippings of joy escaped. These drippings were then poured into the Fiesta's tiny form. Thus, the ST: a driver-focused gravy boat par excellence.
To test this theory, I decided to hit up five of Vancouver's newest and/or best breweries in a cross-town bootlegger's dash at the theoretically worst time to travel in the city. Any vehicle of sporting intent can be fun when the mountain road is clear and winding, but it takes a special sort of machine to put a grin on your face with gridlock menacing.
Our first section involves getting on the Upper Levels Highway, and joining a relatively quick-moving flow of traffic. Density levels are high, but it's still a bit early for rush hour. My co-pilot, having skipped her nap, is soon asleep.
For a short-wheelbase car with big wheels and a stiff suspension, the ST is quite comfortable. Slot the manual-only transmission in sixth, let the 1.6L turbo's torque pull you up the hills, and just putter along happily. Really, it's the seats here that could be a problem for a commuter, but noise and jounce aren't turnoffs. It's far quieter and more tractable at speed than, for instance, a Scion FR-S.
The off-ramp beckons, and I tiptoe the little ST into it so's not to wake the kid. While there's a sort of darty instability to the car, a refreshing fizz like it's an excited puppy, it's still possible to be smooth. Our first stop is Powell Street Brewing, where we fill a growler with their award-winning Old Jalopy pale ale.
There are something like a dozen new micro and nano breweries popping up in the Vancouver area this coming year, a burgeoning phenomenon back East as well, and down into the US. Here's how it works: you take your own glass jug to the brewery (usual sizes are 1L or 2L), and they'll fill it for you for just over ten bucks, straight from the source. This used to be done with lidded pails, and the name “growler” comes from the noise that the escaping CO2 would make as it burbled past the lid.
The ST is a growler of a different sort, some from its own escaping carbon dioxide, some from the on-board sound “symposer” (mechanical, not through the stereo), and some from the delighted chuckling of the driver. I'll say it again: this thing is fun, just a lovable little scamp that hits the mark between genuinely quick and not-that-illegal to run to redline.
Bombing around Vancouver in a car with stripes, red paint, and Ontario plates is an unholy Trinity for people not letting you merge. Deploy The Wave – you know the one: sorry, I merged late! *wave* Sorry, I zipped past you there! *wave* Sorry, I ran over your grandmother! *two waves*
We hit five breweries in total, stopping off at Bridge Brewing on the North Shore just as traffic goes absolutely ape. Later that weekend, there'll be a barbeque, kids running around the backyard screaming their heads off, parents happy to sit back and let the tykes blow off some steam.
I'm completely smitten with this thing. I know at least one person at every major enthusiast magazine who bought one personally. If it was just a teensy bit bigger, I'd buy one myself to replace the WRX – it's raw fun when it needs to be, livable when you tone it down a bit. I'd even go so far as to say that, as a parent, the Fiesta ST is more fun than the ND Miata because it provides an experience you can share with your kids when they're still too young for front-seat airbags.
Official fuel ratings are 6.8 L/100 km highway and 8.9 L/100 km in the city. I hit over 9 through the week, due to a leaden right foot.
In a sea of grey traffic, this car's an oxygen-charged corpuscle on a mission to energize your heart. It might even be the best new performance car for sale this side of a Corvette. Raise a glass to the Blue Oval on this one – it's a home run.
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km roadside assistance
|Model Tested||2015 Ford Fiesta ST|
|Price as Tested||$28,409|
$1795 (racing stripes - $495; navigation - $800; 17" painted alloys - $500