The new Mk8 Fiesta ST is a great hot hatch for the road – this much we know. Reviews have been universally glowing. Any fears that Ford may have dropped the class champion’s baton, so firmly held with the much-loved Mk7 ST, have been dispelled. The latest Fiesta combines all the virtues of the last but adds a much better interior, some extra room and a dollop of greater refinement too. OK, so the cost has crept up – blame that on inflation and a weak pound – but the list price is very negotiable and the monthlies are still affordable. It’s a cracking little thing on the road, but what appealed for Mk7 ST owners was the car’s impressive ability on the track too. So, what’s the Mk8 ST like on a race track?
We thought we’d better find out. So we borrowed a shiny new Mk8 ST from those lovely people at Haynes of Maidstone, and spoke to the nice chaps at Goodwood about putting the car through its paces on the fast, flowing, and technical Goodwood circuit.
The home of the famous Revival event is a fast, beautiful, and daunting place. It’s manicured lawns and immaculate pit buildings envelope a track that requires both learning and respect. But, the ST proves an ideal car to be a student in; the quickness of the steering means there’s minimal input required for the series of right-handers, the gearchange is slick and doesn’t baulk at being stirred, and the zingy three-pot engine – such a notable star on the road – proves to be no less of one in the Duke of Richmond’s tarmac garden. It delights in being revved right-out to the redline, and definitely feels all of its 200bhp here on the open track.
The up-shift lights, part of the performance pack that includes a proper limited-slip diff, prove useful although the mechanically sympathetic part of me means I don’t try the flat-shifting facility. It goes against what you’d ever normally do in a manual car and doesn’t feel like cricket in something that’s on loan. My own car, maybe. But one that’s brand new and has got to back in the morning, maybe not.
And I’m going quite quick enough, thanks. A bit of confidence, and a decent exit out of the final chicane, leave me barrelling towards Madgwick – a corner that dares you to turn in late with the promise of getting a great slingshot towards Fordwater. But don’t leave it too late. This seemingly friendly right-hander ended the career and nearly the life of Stirling Moss. He didn’t have the benefit of the Fiesta’s incredibly sticky Michelin PS tyres, but I have only a tiny fraction of his ability. Note made for the next lap.
The casual right of Fordwater – possibly my favourite part of the lap – is dealt with by a slight lift, a flick to the right and then immediately back on the power. It feels great in any stable car, and the ST is certainly no exception; planted, composed… and quick.
A big stab of the brakes before St Mary’s reveals the standard stoppers to be strong. They stand up well on track – the Fiesta is pretty svelte at just over 1200kg – but if you intend to use it on track regularly, some upgrades wouldn’t go amiss.
The Lavant Straight enables the ST to really stretch its legs and I hurtle towards Woodcote deep into three-figures. Another right-hander that pulls you towards a late apex. There’s little run-off and any misjudgement would be met not only with a difficult phone call and a big bill, but very likely with some bruises and broken bones too. But no such problem with the Fiesta. Again, the sorted chassis and grippy Michelins mean the ST sticks to the blacktop, and I’m safely approaching the chicane. I can really feel mechanical differential doing its thing here. Where the unloaded nearside on this right-left flick would normally scrabble and waste torque, it now helps pull the car straight. It’s pretty subtle in operation too and a long way from the brutal action associated with early fast FWD machines like the Mk1 Focus RS. If you only tick one option box when ordering a new Fiesta ST, make sure it’s this one.
Passing the start/finish line again, I back-off giving both the car and my palms time to cool a touch. This really is a fabulous circuit; steeped in history, beautifully maintained, fast, flowing and very rewarding. The ST is a great car to enjoy it in. As I trundle around, I contemplate if the car feels different to how it behaves on the road, and actually I don’t think it does… which is a great compliment! If anything, the ride – which I find a bit busy on the road – settles perfectly on a smooth surface and the overly-huggy Recaros (I’m very averaged-sized!) which can pinch in everyday driving, grip in all the right places when on track.
I have a 1998 Mondeo ST24 tucked-up in the garage at home, and it’s amazing how far things have changed in twenty years. My old girl cooks-up just 170bhp from 2.5-litre six-cylinder, whereas the little Fiesta manages 30bhp more, from a litre less and half the cylinders! It’s also massively more frugal and doesn’t have emissions similar to a 747! That’s progress for you. But we already know this.
What I’m struck by on the slow run back to the pits, is how universal modern cars have become. Not only does the little Fiesta trump its old cousin royally in terms of performance, efficiency, creature comforts and tech, but it then happily gets down and dirty on the circuit too – something the Mondy would have struggled with even when it was new. So, yes, cars are expensive now, but their spread of talents has never been greater – and this is even more pronounced whilst lapping a race track in car you know will be comfortable and reliable enough to drive you home again later.
If you’ve got, or are getting a new Fiesta ST, run it in nicely and then head to a circuit. Our roads are generally too clogged and badly surfaced to search out the grip limits of cars like the ST responsibly, but on track you can really feel the brilliance of the both the chassis and engine. If you can get here to Goodwood, so much the better. Ford shot their advertising campaign for both the Fiesta and Focus STs here and it’s easy to see why. It’s a proper place and the Fiesta ST is a proper car. Winner.
Haynes of Maidstone