The Ford Fiesta has been Britain’s best-selling car for near-on a decade now. If you’ve ever driven one, you’ll know why: despite being a very small car, it feels expansive, competent and cossetting. The steering is perfect, the chassis feels like that of a sports car costing at least three times the price, and the doors open and shut with a quality clunk.
While the world waits for the new Fiesta ST, the seriously hot version of Ford's top-seller, which we drive next month, there’s this, the ST-Line, which we drove around the sunny lanes of Goodwood recently.
That “line” in the name denotes more than a simple design change. This is a sporty little hatch in its own right, sitting in the shadow of the full-fat ST. Is it a cynical marketing ploy to fool buyers who can’t quite afford the ST proper, or does it have merit?
Our test car was bright red, which is always a good start, with red dashes and splashes inside, including on the seats, flat-bottomed steering wheel, vents and dashboard. ST-line trim gives the car a subtly different grille, 17in alloys, side skirts and a cute rear spoiler. It’s enough of a visual change to differentiate this car from the bog-standard Fiesta.
Customers get a choice of engines in the ST-line: our test car, the 140PS (138bhp) version, sits at the top of the offering, or you can choose 125bhp or 100bhp derivates.
The new Fiesta, launched last summer, is a claimed to be 15 per cent stiffer and 71mm longer than the previous version, which doesn’t sound much but, along with the sharper bodywork creases, makes the car look sleeker and less of a bubble.
Inside, there’s a tablet-style infotainment screen above the centre stack, which is well connected and easy to swipe between menus, even if it doesn’t have the prettiest graphics in town. There’s a lot of standard equipment, but then again this isn’t the cheapest Fiesta around, so it should be generously kitted out. You get puddle lights on the door mirrors, rear privacy glass, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two USB sockets and six speakers. The cupholders are illuminated, and there’s cruise control, hill-start assist and a tyre-pressure monitoring system.
Our test car also came with a rear-view camera for £250 (do you really need it, in a car this small?) and a driver assistance pack which includes pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, distance alert and adaptive cruise control, all for £200, which is a no-brainer.
On the move, this car exceeds expectations of the country’s best-selling model. Where the standard Fiesta is pleasingly competent, the ST-line adds a bit of dynamic spice. It’s genuinely fun, the powertrain is sparky and eager under acceleration, the chassis is tight and drilled under pressure, tucking its tail into corners, and poking its nose out of bends before spurting in a straight line down the road. And the pace and responsiveness allows Ford to demonstrate its own excellent steering, which is utterly precise.
All of which makes you wonder why, then, you’d want the full-fat ST version, which, with more power on tap, will cost you more, in list price, insurance and fuel costs. We’ve yet to drive it, and I’m sure it will be a hoot, but enough of a hoot to justify that extra cash outlay, when the ST-line is this good? We shall have to wait and see.
Ford Fiesta ST-line 1.0T Ecoboost 140PS
TESTED 998cc three-cylinder turbo petrol, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE from £17,595/now
POWER/TORQUE 138bhp@6,000rpm/133lb ft@1,400rpm
TOP SPEED 125mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 9.0sec
FUEL ECONOMY 62.8mpg (EU Combined)
CO2 EMISSIONS 102g/km
VED £145 first year, then £140
VERDICT A grown-up take on a hooligan hot hatchback. The compromise between practical and fun is a pretty perfect one.
TELEGRAPH RATING Five stars out of five