With the current-generation Fiesta on the way out, the ST200 steps in as a scorching last hurrah…
Four years. That’s how long it’s been since we last tested the current-generation Ford Fiesta ST. It’s telling that, in that considerable time, nothing has come close to knocking the plucky little Ford from its lofty perch as CAR‘s favourite light hot hatch. Now, with the seventh-generation Fiesta family firmly on the horizon and a fresh ST flagship powered by a 1,5-litre turbo triple waiting restlessly in the wings, Ford has seen fit to unleash 160 examples of the special edition ST200 on South Africa as something of a swansong.
Available in Europe since early 2016, the ST200 is a little late to our shores, but its arrival is nonetheless a welcome one considering the relative lack of B-segment blasters in our market. Opel no longer offers an OPC-badged Corsa locally, while the underrated Peugeot 208 GTi has also quietly exited the SA stage.
So, what does the ST200 – which is available exclusively in the divisive Storm Grey hue – offer over the already highly rated standard Fiesta ST? Well, perhaps most importantly, part of the R14 000 premium it commands bankrolls an increase in oomph. The standard 134 kW turbocharged 1,6-litre engine – which has long been at a power disadvantage when compared with direct rivals – makes a healthier 147 kW and 290 N.m (the latter up a considerable 50 N.m) in ST200 guise, with an additional 11 kW and 30 N.m on tap for up to 20 seconds thanks to an overboost function. Peak power now arrives a little later, while maximum torque is on offer over a somewhat shorter band.
At our test strip, the effects of this additional muscle were immediately obvious. As was the case with the standard ST, we struggled to match Ford’s claimed 0-100 km/h sprint time of 6,7 seconds, returning a slightly underwhelming best of 7,31 seconds. But this nevertheless represented an improvement of some three-tenths of a second over the standard ST when we tested that model, with in-gear acceleration figures similarly bettered (see how the ST200 fared in our track test here).
The six-speed manual transmission (no dual-clutch frippery here) features just as positive and mechanical a shift action as that of the standard ST, although Ford Performance has gifted it a shorter final-drive ratio, further improving the three-door ST200’s already grin-inducing acceleration (but, interestingly, not at the expense of the claimed 230 km/h top speed).
As with the common-or-garden ST, this special edition makes use of a sound symposer that essentially pipes the free-revving four-cylinder’s intake noise into the cabin, making it sound a little angrier inside than it does out. Already boasting a well-sorted chassis, the front-wheel-drive ST200 furthermore gains upgrades to its suspension setup (and to its steering), including a stiffer rear torsion beam, a chunkier front anti-roll bar and slightly softer damper settings (although these tweaks were quietly rolled out to the base ST a little while back). The result is an ever-so-slight improvement to the still-firm low-speed ride, without detracting from the lively hot hatch’s admirable ability to absorb road imperfections as the speedometer needle swings clockwise.
Of course, it’s still outrageous fun pointing Ford’s hottest Fiesta at a twisty road – even if the driving position is a touch too lofty – with the three-mode traction-control system effectively allowing the driver to determine the limit and the clever torque vectoring control helping to serve up heaps of front-end grip. In short, the fleet-of-foot Fiesta ST200 is an eminently difficult car to fluster, even at speed over bumpy surfaces.
Besides the unique paint scheme, the limited-edition model is identifiable at a glance thanks to its adoption of unique two-tone 17-inch alloys (and red brake callipers), LED taillamps and a smattering of ST200 badging, inside and out. It furthermore gains well-bolstered, figure-hugging (and now heated) partial-leather Recaro front seats, two-tone front seatbelts, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. The facia, however, retains Ford’s somewhat fussy early Sync infotainment system, a long-in-the-tooth, button-heavy arrangement that is simply no match for the modern touchscreens employed by fresher competitors.
The Ford Fiesta ST200 represents something of a dying breed. With three doors, an engaging manual gearbox and undiluted thrills favoured over outright practicality, comfort and everyday civility, it may well be the last true hot hatch (in the original sense of the word, anyway) buzzing about the B-segment.
Boasting an almost old-school, boy-racer appeal, this pocket rocket serves up more entertainment than most performance vehicles triple its price. It may be in the twilight of its existence, but the charming, big-on-value ST200 is as pure a hot hatch as you’ll find today. Ultimately, it’s the class-leading ST we’ve come to know and love, only even better. A fitting farewell if ever we’ve seen one.
*From the August 2017 issue of CAR magazine