2014 Ford Fiesta ST Review (US-Spec)
For the 2014 model year the Ford Fiesta brings several big improvements to the vehicle technologically, bringing it in line with other Ford vehicles. There is also, for the first time, a version that carries the “Sport Technologies” badge, meaning that it has to be a performer. I recently had the privilege of being able to test the Fiesta ST designed for the US (US-spec) in a variety of conditions, including a closed autocross course without the watchful eye of Ford looking overhead. I can tell you the vehicle is good. For someone looking at a small hatchback due to fuel economy, city size or other reasons, the Fiesta is a great vehicle to look at. If that same person values performance to go along with great fuel economy, I struggle to find another vehicle that will perform as well as the Fiesta ST.
Many of the world’s automotive press have had the opportunity to sample the European version of the Fiesta ST, but very few individuals have had an opportunity to drive one in US-spec. Fewer still have had the opportunity to do it without Ford’s direct supervision.
2014 Fiesta ST Infotainment and Interior Technology
There is a lot of technology in the Fiesta ST, and the 2014 Fiesta receives a major update in the area of cabin technology. Gone is the 4″ information screen with its obnoxious nighttime brightness and annoying clock that is never accurate. It is replaced with a 6″ full-color touch screen. Powering this touch screen is MyFord Touch (MFT). Unlike many MFT-equipped vehicles, the only part of the vehicle using the technology is the center stack. There is no redundant display inside the instrument cluster to provide additional information. The instrument cluster is not useless, however. There is a fully-functioning trip computer, exterior temperature display and a digital water temperature gauge.
MyFord Touch is what it is. I have seen it get progressively better with each passing update, and even though the system is not perfect, it is still a step above many manufacturers in terms of device support or voice control. From the home screen, I wish I could tap anywhere in the square to pull up the associated menu, instead of the little colored strip at the top of the screen. The system does recognize song data over Bluetooth, even if you are playing a song through Spotify. That is definitely nice.
An additional change to the audio system for 2014 is the inclusion of volume control buttons on the steering wheel! I do own a 2011 Fiesta, and find it increasingly annoying having to remove a hand from the steering wheel to change the volume. Luckily for 2014, they have changed that. They have also moved the Voice Command button from the turn-signal stalk to the steering wheel as a button. Hopefully that will reduce its flimsiness and increase the accuracy of pressing. I often have to press the button two or three times before the system will prompt me for a voice command.
The 2014 ST comes equipped with a keyless drive system, which allows the vehicle to be started and opened without removing the driver’s keys from the pocket. Unfortunately, it only works on the front two-doors. There are no buttons on the rear two doors to unlock the system. The vehicle also has optional Recaro seats (which my tester was equipped with) and heated exterior mirrors. They only other big change with the 2014 ST over a previous-year Fiesta is the automatic single-zone climate control. I do like the “set it and forget” convenience of those systems, and the system seemed easy to operate. A good, functioning climate control was great on a day like the test day, where cooling off after a hot lap was very nice.
The Recaro seats are not leather. They are actually quite similar to the versions available in the Focus ST mid-level trim. While I am sure many people would disagree, I do not find the bolstering that uncomfortable and fit perfectly fine (even though I am not a small man). Maybe on a road-trip that would be a concern, but in short stints I do not believe it will be an issue. Besides, most people do not buy small city-type cars to drive across the country, typically.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST On-Road Driving
A vehicle can be epic around a track, but for a daily driver it has to be comfortable on the street. The suspension in the ST does feel a bit stiffer than a stock Fiesta, but that is to be expected. On some roads, the extra support from the suspension may actually make the ride more comfortable. Suspension is something that can be skimped on in “pedestrian” versions of vehicles, but not on performance-oriented ones. The Fiesta ST allows features a tube that connects the engine-bay to the cabin, helping to pump in sweet engine noise.
The engine itself does sound good on throttle, but unlike the Focus ST, is a bit louder during normal driving. In the Focus, the sound tube closes when the driver is not on throttle, hushing the motor. That valve does not exist on the Fiesta ST. That being said, the Fiesta ST does drive pretty quietly for a performance model and would not be bad for the day-to-day driving. Also, the engine should be good for almost 35mpg on the highway. That is assuming the driver stays out of the throttle.
Rear-seat room in the Fiesta has always been a bit cramped, and the larger Recaro seats do not help the matter any. But in a pinch, they would work. The rear bench still sports ridiculously large rear-headrest, blocking a good portion of rearward visibility out the back window. This, combined with the rear 3/4 design does create a blind spot. All Fiestas have a driver and passenger exterior mirror that features a blind-spot mirror. It works as designed, assuming the driver sets the mirrors up properly.
Despite being a vehicle that makes some tradeoffs to be a performance vehicle, the Fiesta ST is a fairly compliant vehicle, and for someone who is shopping in this price could do much worse than buying this car.
2014 Fiesta ST On-Track Driving
The highlight of the drive was being able to take the Fiesta ST around a timed autocross course. According to Bryan Redeker, 1/2 of a Fiesta Movement team, this is the first time a Fiesta ST has been entered into a professional competition. While I am by no means a professional, I was able to wring the vehicle out and provide you with some performance observations.
The vehicle comes equipped with a torque-vectoring front differential. To make an extremely complicated term simple: the car uses the brakes individually on each front wheel to control how much the wheel spins. This allows it to control which wheel has the most power. The microprocessor then is supposed to sort everything out to allow the Fiesta ST to go down the path the driver intended. Under hard driving, the system can be felt working. At no point under hard cornering did a front wheel start spinning freely because it no longer had the weight of the vehicle holding it down. There are other ways to provide this type of control, and those ways do not include actively applying brake pressure. The system works, and probably works better than a mechanical-only solution, but it seems silly to use brakes to control the car. Brakes are for stopping, and on a hot day they have to work extra hard.
I am unsure if the Fiesta ST features a “Sport” mode on its stability control system like the Focus does, but the system can be entered into one of three settings. There is a full-on, everyday driving mode. There is a mode that disables the traction control but leaves the stability control active. Finally, there is a full-off setting. Since the vehicle is not mine, and finding replacement parts on the vehicle would be difficult at this point in time, my first few laps were run in the middle mode.
The stability control does not feel all that intrusive when driving. It does not seem to actively cut power when activated, and does most of its work with braking. This allows the car to keep the boost up under hard driving. If I were to describe the feeling of the stability control intervention, it actually just felt like the car had reached its limits sooner. But despite the stability control working to keep the car on its intended path, it is fairly easy to get the rear-end to break loose when cornering. When it happens, it often happens in the direction that you are trying to go and does not actually feel that startling. It is easily managed and controlled. It is nice to know the Fiesta ST is just as tail-happy as the Focus ST. It really is impressive what they managed to accomplish with a front-wheel drive car.
In the full-off setting, the car becomes an entirely different beast. Aside from my brain, the only other computer that had to think was the torque-vectoring differential. The vehicle feels completely different with the systems disengaged. The car truly comes alive. It is easier to feel what the vehicle is doing, where the weight is, and when the back end is going to step out. It is also noticeably easier to drive faster with the system disengaged. Or do what I did and grab the car and just toss it around! It may make for a slower time, but driving on and beyond the limit in the Fiesta ST is quite the treat.
The 1.6L EcoBoost either makes about a million horsepower, or about fifteen. Nobody really knows for sure. Ford currently rates the Fiesta ST at 197hp and 202lb/ft of torque. As time progresses, the number seems to change. The vehicle does feature an over-boost function that will periodically allow the car to make even more power. With the type of driving I did, it is plenty of power (regardless of what the numbers actually are), but will probably be a bit underrated. Turbocharged motors seem to make more power than advertised.
Where the car fell a bit short is in gearing. If I drove the autocross course constantly shifting from 1st to 2nd gear, the car would very satisfyingly break traction during the gear change. That allowed the engine to rev a bit higher, providing more boost to provide speed. However, shifting does take time. If I left the vehicle in 2nd gear throughout the run, there would not be enough grunt in the low end to pull the car out of the corner the way it would had I made a downshift and then up-shift. I would not necessarily describe it as turbo-lag, since the vehicle was on boost. It just was not enough power. I would be curious to see time differences between constantly making that 1-2-1-2 gear change or just constantly leave it in 2nd. For me, it probably would have been about the same.
The only thing “non-stock” done to the vehicle was to replace the brake fluid with a heavier-duty fluid. I do not want to comment too much on stock braking because of that, but I can safely say the car stopped when I asked it to. Coming from a Fiesta, the brakes are a major improvement.
I wish the Fiesta ST would have shipped to North American with the HID headlights that the Europeans get. Aside from that, the Fiesta ST comes with a good deal of options standard. In fact, everything but the seats and the sunroof are standard. For me the Recaro seats are a must, but I would recommend trying them before purchasing.
I really like hot hatches. The idea of having a car that I can use to go get groceries, get great fuel economy in, haul my stuff in and then go to an autocross is a great concept. Compared to the Focus ST, the Fiesta ST is lighter and more nimble. Ultimately driving on the street, the problems I have with the Fiesta ST on the track will not make that much of a difference. While the Fiesta ST is quicker and better sorted than a Fiat 500 Abarth, the Abarth does sound nicer. Also for those purchasing a hot hatch on a budget, and many people are, winter tires are required if the owner lives in an area that gets snow.
However, for a starting price of $21,400 it is hard to go that fast with that little of money. It also does feel a step up from previous years Fiestas. I had the opportunity to sample briefly a 2014 Titanium edition, and the interior has been classed up there as well. It is nice to see Ford making small cars premium. And with competition from Chevrolet with the Spark, and the Italians with the Fiat 500, they need to. However, nobody in North America sells a hot hatch as good as the Fiesta ST. Yes, it is not perfect, but for those who are even the slightest bit interested in this vehicle (and this segment) they should really just go ahead and order one now.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bryan and Brandon Redeker
NOTE: Vehicle was tested in a controlled environment on a closed course, with either Bryan or Brandon in the vehicle at all times.