2014 Ford Fiesta ST Road Test

A great car? Depends on who you ask

What It Is
Ford's even smaller sporty turbo compact hatch.
Best Thing
The best manual transmission this side of a Porsche, as engaging to drive as cars come.
Worst Thing
Wickedly tight front seats, cramped interior, brittle—and brutal—ride.
Snap Judgment
A perfect compromise if you're willing to compromise.

I drove about 200 cars last year. I don't say that to brag—at least not too much. I say that because out of all of them, the 2013 Ford Focus ST was my second-favorite car I drove of all of them. The only reason it got the silver medal is because the Jaguar F-Type made a last-minute bid for the podium, and I was out of town when the 2014 Corvette Stingray came to our office. C'est la vie.

Still, that speaks miles for Ford's hard work that, despite what could kindly be described as a "busy" interior and sophomoric styling, the Focus ST captured the cockles of my heart and never relented as I shot up the mountains of Malibu with full turbo boost. When I had heard that the smaller, lighter 2014 Ford Fiesta ST was even better, I knew I had to drive it.

But was it better? Yes and no.

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What We Drove

A veritable bargain on paper, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST comes in at $22,225, including $825 for destination and handling. The 197-horsepower tenacious turbocharged terror that is the Fiesta ST comes paired exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission and a slew of performance upgrades that make it quite the performer.

In the grand scheme of things, it's priced some $2,225 less than the 252-horsepower Focus ST. But once you start piling on the options, the Focus can top 30 grand. A loaded-up Fiesta ST parties at around $26,000. Our generously optioned car rang up at $25,015, or about $200 shy of the larger but similarly powerful and equipped Honda Civic Si.

In government crash testing, the regular Fiesta—the ST model was not tested—earned a four-star overall rating out of five stars. However, its side-impact testing earned it just two stars. The IIHS granted it a 2013 Top Safety Pick rating, but it could not earn the "+" because of a "Marginal" narrow offset crash-test rating. If you're a street racer looking for a little more safety, stepping up to a Focus or Civic might not be a terrible idea.

The Commute

Not to make light of any natural disasters, no matter how small, but as I was driving the Ford Fiesta on a mangled Los Angeles road, we experienced a 5.3-magnitude earthquake. I bring that up because the earthquake was impossible to notice. With perhaps the firmest suspension this side of riding on wood blocks, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST slams into every crevice on the road. You think you're going to hurt the car as it sinks into every ridge and break into the pavement; nope, it's just that the car is designed for cornering with the utmost assurance. Never mind your spine.

Speaking of your spine and the lack of consideration towards it, the optional $1,995 Recaro package features snug seats that are truly not designed for anyone with, you know, hips. They look cool, sure, but your girlfriend will hate them. The only time they pay off is when you're hooning this little runabout around with authority—which it does quite well. Otherwise, it's best to stick with the stock seats that come straight from a normal Fiesta and offer little lateral bolstering to keep you in place while driving aggressively. Couldn't Ford have come up with a little better in-betweener seat package that was tailored for more people?

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The Grocery Run

At the end of the day, the Fiesta ST is still a Fiesta, which is still a good thing and a bad thing. Small and nimble, the Fiesta has always been maneuverable in even the tightest spaces. A city runabout, the Fiesta's tiny dimensions make it easy enough to park. Surprisingly, unlike the lesser-equipped Fiesta Titanium model we had at our office just the week before, the ST hatchback came with the MyFord Touch system with navigation but lacked a backup camera. Not that you'd need it exactly, but the Fiesta does have a relatively small rear window, and everything helps.

On the other hand, the Fiesta has 14.9 cubic feet of capacity behind its rear bench, yielding one of the smaller cargo holds in its class. Mind you, there are no other 200-horsepower hatchbacks in the U.S. unless you count the Nissan Juke. The Juke has 10.5 cubic feet of capacity, but less sporty cars like the Chevrolet Sonic RS offer 19.0 cubic feet. The Nissan Versa Note comes up with a similar 18.8 cubic feet.

While 15 cubic feet isn't insubstantial, the narrow, fairly shallow bay didn't allow us to throw in much more than a laundry basket before all of its space was taken. Even the 12.5 cubic feet in the Honda Civic Si feels more usable due to more floor space.

The Weekend Fun

Aside from the MyFord Touch that we've turned into a punching bag, the technology in the Fiesta isn't too shabby. Touchscreen buttons on the smaller 6.5-inch MyFord Touch screen are simply too small to use comfortably at speed, and Ford's Sync voice recognition still doesn't work as well as what you'd find in your iPhone.

As bang for the buck goes, the Fiesta ST is and likely always will be hard to beat. With steering that's among the most direct out there, coupled with a bolt-action six-speed manual and linear clutch, the Fiesta ST is rife with torque oozing out of its turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder. Remember, this is considered the volume-selling engine of the 3,700-pound Ford Escape. Now imagine that engine with 20 more horsepower and 1,000 fewer pounds to haul.

While we experienced some tug at the wheel known as torque steer, it wasn't much. Power came on strong and didn't seem to want to let up anytime soon. If you can get past how the rock-stiff suspension deals with rutted roads, it proves its worth on back roads and in the canyons, providing an experience as fun as anything two or three times as expensive. It may not be particularly quick by sports car standards, but the Fiesta hustles without having to let go of much speed, thanks in part to its tiny dimensions, torque-vectoring brakes, and lively personality. As front-wheel—or any-wheel-drive cars go for that matter—the Fiesta turns up the fun quotient to a factor that's impossible to ignore.

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If you have a racetrack in your back yard, are a sheik, have a bunch of friends you want to race against, and need vast amounts of cheap speed with a modicum of practicality, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST might just be your car. It's a hell of a performance bargain.

But I find it tough to rationalize outside of its little parameters. If you want a fun, sporty car around $25,000, why wouldn't you first stop at a Scion dealer to check out an FR-S. If you live in a winter state, why not get a bigger, more practical Honda Civic Si? And if you're really not too concerned about spending a little more, a 2015 Subaru WRX, 2014 Mini Cooper S, or even the more powerful Focus ST ought to do the trick with more speed and nicer interiors.

The Ford Fiesta ST has its own little niche. The Nissan Juke Nismo notwithstanding, it has no competition in the U.S. But that might be by design. It's not expensive for what you get, but it's not much cheaper than bigger, less compromised vehicles. The 2014 Ford Fiesta ST is raw and visceral. It produces smiles per hour much faster than miles per hour. It's the epitome of fun.

But if you're living in the real world and want something more comfortable to live with when you're not living with your video game fantasies, there are other, better options out there.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $25,015
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 26 mpg
EPA Highway: 35 mpg
EPA Combined: 29 mpg
Cargo Space: 14.9 cubic feet
Estimated Combined Range: 359.6 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Below Average