Ford Fiesta ST 2014 review: road test
This is a great little hot-hatch at a surprising low price.
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Just such a thing is taking place right now in Australia - from a measly two properly hot hatches 12 months ago, one of them breathtakingly overpriced, we now have five to choose.
From this list of five are two of the most anticipated cars of the decade. The Fiesta ST got rave reviews in Europe before it got similarly effusive reviews here in Australia. The Peugeot 208 GTi was the first sign of a genuinely good hot hatch from the French company in a very long time and was also revelling in positive press.
And so we've put them together, as the best of what you can buy today, to help you choose. And for us to have an enormous amount of fun finding out.
The two cars' sticker prices are separated by $4000. The Fiesta ST is $25,990 before on roads and the Peugeot $29,990. The ST wins hands down on price, but it's not that simple.
Both have 1.6 litre turbocharged engines, six-speed transmissions, alloy wheels, body kit and various bits and pieces around their three-door bodyshells to let you know they're not the standard car. Step inside, however, and you'll see where the money has gone.
The Fiesta's interior could be from anywhere in the range. It still has that ridiculous little screen high up in the dashboard and that button-happy Sony stereo on the central stack.
The materials are fine and the only real concessions to this sporty Fiesta are the superb Recaro seats. The only leather in the cabin can be found on the steering wheel and gear shifter but it's clear that Ford and Rolls Royce don't share the same hide supplier.
The inside of the Peugeot is far more modern. It's quirky, too, with the tiny steering wheel you're supposed to peer over so you can see the instrument panel. There's a big central screen that runs the stereo and sat-nav and is as baffling today as the first time we set eyes on its wacky user interface.
The Peugeot has sport seats, lots of red details and a funky effect on the door trims where the piano black appears to "bleed" red at the top. It's a much nicer interior, quirky or not, and there's leather too.
So it's kind of a dead heat - the driver is well looked after in both cars, but the ambience is quite different. We did muse that nobody is going to choose the Peugeot just because it has sat-nav, however.
The Peugeot and Fiesta are very different designs. In many ways the Fiesta appears a slightly half-hearted attempt to gussy up the basic car which is an already polarising design. The ST looks lower and meaner than the three-door we can't buy in any other spec in Australia.
Inside there's a surprising amount of room for both front and rear passengers, even early teens can fit cheerfully in the back. The 208 is higher-set and gawkier looking from dead ahead. The daytime running lights are distinctive, however and there's a lot of bright chrome around the car to life the basic car's appearance.
Both cars scored a five-star ANCAP rating. Common to both is ABS, electronic brake force distribution and stability and traction control controls. The Ford's six airbag count is bested by the Peugeot's seven, which adds a driver's knee airbag.
The Ford and the Peugeot have a 1.6 litre turbocharged four cylinder. In the case of the Peugeot, the bare figures give it the win - 147kW plays 134kW and 275Nm plays 240Nm.
The Ford, however, has an overboost function. For twenty seconds you'll get a seriously fat 290Nm, which is more than enough time to sling you out of a corner more quickly and carry you to 100km/h over a second faster than the Peugeot.
The Fiesta also has the technology edge when it comes to the front differential. Where the Peugeot makes do with traction control-based trickery, the Fiesta adds a torque vectoring diff. While not a genuine replacement for a proper mechanical limited slip diff, it does a pretty good job of controlling wheelspin without the need for the intervention of the traction control.
Hot hatches are really about one thing - the driving. Looking back on the halcyon days of the nineties, none of the hot hatches that we all go misty-eyed over were particularly good cars in any practical sense.
These two change that notion. Both are completely civilised when you're doing normal day-to-day car things. Yes, there's no automatic option on either (VW and Renault are auto-only), but in all other respects, they're normal.
Both have easy clutches and pleasant gearshifts. The ST's slick gearbox is a revelation while the Peugeot's ride is good by any measure, let alone with the condition, "for a hot hatch."
Find a road with bends, bumps and different surfaces, though, and it all changes. Both of these cars can be flung through corners at improbable speeds with utmost confidence. The Peugeot will ride through the bumps and the shoddy surfaces, but both will grip in the dry up to crazy speeds. The 208 will give in first with gentle, controllable understeer while the Fiesta will dig in and take pretty much anything you can throw at it.
In the wet, the "gap" widens. The Peugeot's steering is more vague and the grip just isn't there, despite them rolling on the same rubber. Where the Peugeot insists you lift off, the Fiesta's tyres will screech, letting you know there's grip and that the contact patch is working well.
But back in the dry, the difference shrinks again. The Ford's gearbox is an utter delight to use, with every shift seemingly guided home by magnets. You can shift much faster in the Fiesta than the 208, which is only useful five percent of the time, but it's for this reason you buy cars like this. The 208, however, has a much better ride, almost luxurious. It's an incredible feat for such a small car.
There's no winner here, at least not in an objective sense. The Peugeot costs more but has more. The Fiesta has a dull interior but is absolutely sparkling on the road. With the two side-by-side, you'll be staring, thinking, pondering for ages.
It's just not simple. If you owned both of them, the one covered in stone chips and worn tyres will most likely be the Fiesta. It's a get-up-at-5am for a drive type car, whereas the Peugeot is a car you'll cheerfully leap into no matter what time or where you're going.
If you need an all-rounder, both will do, but the 208 is better. If you want that sharper driving tool, it's the Fiesta. But whatever metric you choose, one will beat the other, but the next thing you assess, the situation will reverse. And that's brilliant. Because in the end, no matter which of these cars you choose, you're the winner.
Peugeot 208 GTi
Price: from $29,900
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 147W/275Nm
Transmission: 6-speed man; FWD
Thirst: 5.9L/100km, 98RON
Ford Fiesta ST
Price: from $25,990
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo 4-cyl; 134kW/240Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual; FWD
|Ambiente||1.5L, ULP, 5 SP MAN||$6,900 – 11,950||2014 Ford Fiesta 2014 Ambiente Pricing and Specs|
|Sport||1.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN||$8,990 – 14,990||2014 Ford Fiesta 2014 Sport Pricing and Specs|
|ST||1.6L, ULP, 6 SP MAN||$12,999 – 18,999||2014 Ford Fiesta 2014 ST Pricing and Specs|
|Trend||1.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$9,490 – 13,000||2014 Ford Fiesta 2014 Trend Pricing and Specs|