The Ford Fiesta XR2 was the car for city slickers in the 1980s. Bought on a ruinously expensive HP deal, preferably in red, they were bona fide everyday supercars, and almost as standout as the brutalist 80s Lamborghinis they aspired to be (and their drivers aspired to own).
We’re a bit more sophisticated these days. Red braces are out, understatement is in. “People prefer less make-up these days,” says Ford designer Jens Sieber (our fashion department disagrees, but that’s an argument for another day). This brings us to the new Fiesta ST, the XR2 of 2018, which in supercar terms is a Porsche rather than a Lamborghini.
The outgoing Fiesta ST was a bit of a sensation. Ford’s job with this one was to keep the riotousness but improve the horrible infotainment system, crashy ride and seating position, which was more MPV than sportscar. Oh, and clean up the exhaust so even Sadiq Khan would drive one.
A new 1.5-litre turbo engine does the green bit. It produces 200hp and has three cylinders, so is effectively ‘half a 911’. Cleverly, it turns off a cylinder during gentle running, saving fuel and cutting emissions. Result? A car that does 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, and 47.9mpg, albeit not at the same time.
I honestly had a sleepless night before driving it. The old ST is a modern-day legend, a car I’ve used pseudo-maths to try and rationalise buying it more than once. Would Ford ruin it with the new one? I should have known better. This is Ford, after all, the people’s Porsche.
It doesn’t scream performance like the old XR2, but it looks purposeful. Big wheels perfectly fill the arches, the spoiler count is just so, and there’s an ST badge in the grille right where BMW places its ‘M’. Inside, the Recaro seats are to die for, and you can position them nice and low, at long last.
A crisp touchscreen infotainment system has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and is positioned high atop a classy-looking dash. Steering wheel and gearshift feel perfect. So, press the starter button, and what’s this? The ‘half a 911’ engine actually sounds like one, thanks to a rorty, throbby exhaust (and a bit of electronic enhancement). Even in town, it has charisma.
You had to rev the old ST to unleash all its power. This one isn’t just quicker, it’s faster in everyday driving, because it has more mid-range oomph. It’s lag-free and responsive, and packed with character. 911 drivers will genuinely recognise the howl at high revs.
For the first time, you can option a Fiesta ST with a limited-slip differential, as part of an £850 Performance Pack. This is a must-have: the differential sends the engine’s drive through the front wheels far more efficiently. Traction control barely kicks in out of tight corners and the front end is much more positive.
With patented rear suspension springs and the stiffest back end of any Ford car in the world, it handles exceptionally well. It’s a total blast, even more incisive than the old car, like a supercar in a supermini bodyshell. It really is that good.
And, back in town, it handles the everyday stuff better than the old one as well. The ride is transformed. Passengers will no longer refuse to travel in it because it’s so uncomfortable. This is the sort of wizardry Porsche is famous for, only in the form of a £19,000 Ford.
While you may dream of that 911, here’s one you can have right now.