The World Rally Championship has just wrapped up in Australia, but back in October I took a trip up to North Wales for the series’ British leg. You see, there was an obvious link to be made with the latest addition to our fleet: the new Ford Fiesta ST.
The M-Sport rally team has been running Fords in the WRC since 1997, and this year it’s competing with a Fiesta WRC. Of course, the model starring on stages around the globe doesn’t have much in common with our road car, apart from a few visual similarities.
Powering the rally Fiesta is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo engine, for instance, whereas my ST has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder. All the WRC car’s suspension is bespoke, too. But once you get on the road in our Ford, it makes you feel like a rally driver. The engine is nearly as rowdy as the WRC cars’, popping away on the overrun and pushing on with a snarl as you accelerate from low revs.
The steering is quick and gives plenty of feedback from the road, and there’s lots of front-end grip, so you can throw it into corners and enjoy its well-sorted chassis.
But there’s no way I could claim to have an ounce of the skill displayed by the likes of Elfyn Evans in the championship all year round, so I sat down with the British driver to find out what he thought of the latest version of Ford’s popular hot hatch.
“I’ve only had a quick go in one, but I really liked it,” he told me. “I wouldn’t want to drive one too often, though, because I need my licence for my job!”
I disagree with Elfyn here, because for me the Fiesta ST is one of the most well-judged performance cars for use on the road. It has the perfect amount of power and grip to enjoy to the full every day. You can accelerate out of a junction using the engine’s full potential from first to third gear, wherein many hot models you’d be breaking the speed limit halfway through the rev range in second.
Also, the Fiesta ST is adjustable at sensible speeds. It’s even more pronounced in the wet, where a mid-corner lift will tighten your line around a bend. It’s great fun and never feels intimidating.
Elfyn told me there’s really no comparison between driving a rally car and a road car. For a start, bespoke suspension and special tyres mean a rally car is able to take on the gravel tracks of the Welsh rally stages at high speed. There’s loads of travel in the springs and dampers as a result, unlike in the road car. The ride on my ST is good enough for a hot hatch, but over big bumps you can feel it reaching the end of its suspension travel with a thump.
That stiff set-up serves to improve the Fiesta’s body roll – there’s almost none unless you’re cornering very hard – and keeps the tyres pressed on to the road surface, even if you do hit a mid-corner bump. It’s brilliantly judged for the road, but I can’t imagine it working too well on a gravel track like Elfyn’s Fiesta WRC.
While the British driver suffered a few setbacks on his home event and finished 20th overall, his team-mate Sebastien Ogier managed to win in his own Fiesta, ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala’s Toyota Yaris WRC.
It was fitting to see the Fiesta triumph in the British leg of the WRC, because I reckon the ST is similarly well suited to driving on British roads.
After I was finished nosing around M-Sport’s service area, it was time to head home. And the drive from North Wales to London showed what a great high-speed cruiser the Fiesta ST is, because it was relatively refined and utterly uneventful.
The Ford settles down well on the motorway, and thanks to the standard-fit Android Auto functionality, I was able to use Google Maps to avoid a few traffic jams on the drive south to the capital.
Since we’ve had the car back in the office, I haven’t spent much time in it. There’s often a bit of a tussle among members of the team to try out new models on the fleet, and that’s even truer when something as exciting as a Fiesta ST arrives.
But my colleagues tell me they love driving the hot supermini to and from work, because it’s even good fun around town. The engine is punchy from low in the rev range and the gearshift is slick, so there’s even enjoyment to be had from driving in the city; it’s at home pretty much anywhere.
*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.