The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.2

The Ford Fiesta ST is a truly fabulous hot hatch, not just by the standards of similarly priced rivals from Renault and Peugeot, but also by the standards of much more expensive machinery. The performance and handling ability make it a sensationally engaging car to drive, while the comfortable ride and generous creature comforts make it easy to live with day to day. Don’t buy your next hot hatch without trying this car first.

Reasons to buy

  • Simply sensational to drive
  • Affordable compared with rivals
  • Comfortable enough to be your only car

How good does it look? 4/5

The basic Ford Fiesta is already a pretty handsome car, so with the ST, all the designers really had to do was beef things up and make it look a bit racier. We’d say they’ve nailed it. Just how racy your ST looks will depend on which version you choose, though. The entry-level ST-1 has 17-inch alloys and LED rear lights, while the ST-2 adds rear privacy glass and the ST-3 gets red brake housings.

What's the interior like? 4/5

Racy sports seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a liberal smattering of badges mark the ST out from the rest of the range, but aside from that, the cabin is typical Fiesta. The dashboard is simple and uncluttered and the touch-screen system works reasonably well, with decent graphics and fairly quick responses.

The driving position is just one of the car’s biggest highlights. With a wide range of steering wheel and seating adjustments, and pedals that are neatly aligned, everyone from gangly 17-year-olds to tiny 85-year-olds will have no trouble adopting the perfect driving position. The one word of caution is that the seat adjusters are jammed low down between the seats and the doors, making it particularly tricky to reach the rotary controller and adjust your seatback angle. The materials used in the cabin don’t quite give you that warm, fuzzy feeling because they’re not all that tactile, especially when compared with those in the Fiesta’s poshest rivals. They are, however, solid and smart.

How practical is it? 3/5

Again, there’s very little here to differentiate the ST from other Fiestas. And the Fiesta is very much par for the course in this respect. Although the glovebox is ok and there’s a useful cubby ahead of the gearstick to help keep your wallet and phone from flying around, the Fiesta is not overly blessed with storage. For instance, the door pockets are too slim to take a one-litre bottle of water and the central under-armrest bin is very dinky.

Rear seat space is identical no matter whether you go for the three-door or the five-door, but obviously, getting into the back of the car is a lot easier the more doors you have. The space itself is pretty average when compared with rivals; headroom is fine, but legroom is a little on the tight side, especially if your passengers are tall.

Similarly, although the Fiesta’s boot is deep and more than capable of coping with the weekly supermarket shop, it's rather narrow, which means you’ll have to fold down one of the rear seat backs if you want to take a baby buggy with you.

What's it like to drive? 5/5

The previous ST’s one slight weak spot was a ride that was a wee bit too punishing, but the latest car is a good bit comfier. It’s still firm enough to let you know you’re in a hot hatch, but there’s enough compliance that you won’t be wincing whenever you roll over potholes and sunken drain covers. Despite the extra suppleness, though, the body control is still very tight, and that contributes to handling that’s nothing short of sensational.

The steering is quick, nicely weighted and absolutely bristling with feel, and not only does that mean you’re always kept on top of the action, it also gives you the confidence to push the car in corners. When you do, you’re rewarded with excellent balance and strong grip, and that grip gets even stronger if you specify the optional Performance Pack that includes a limited slip differential. Yes, it’s effective at making the car a wee bit pointier, but if you don’t fancy spending the extra money, the car is still plenty pointy enough without it. All these factors combine to give the ST a level of poise and agility that belies both its size and its pricetag. This car will entertain you more than lots of much more expensive and exotic machinery. Yes, it really is that good.

How powerful is it? 5/5

The ST is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol that develops 200 horsepower. That’s a significant step up on the previous ST, but still behind rivals like the Renaultsport Clio for raw power. You’ll feel anything but short-changed, though. The engine punches hard from anywhere on the rev range, and when you rev it long and hard (which it thrives on, by the way), it’s capable of properly scintillating speed. What’s more, the throttle response is super-sharp, the manual gearshift is as sweet and they come, and the engine makes a great noise thanks to some clever sound-enhancing tech that includes – among other things – a flap in the exhaust. All that helps make the ST even more engaging to drive, and drive hard.

How much will it cost me? 4/5

The latest ST costs a fair bit more than the car it replaces, but importantly, prices are still considerably lower than those of its main rivals from Renault and Peugeot. The ST is always likely to be a desirable used buy, too, so resale values should also remain fairly decent compared with the competition. The good news for efficiency figures is that the ST has a clever engine that can shut down one of its three cylinders when it’s not working very hard, and this conserves fuel and cuts CO2 emissions. The bad news is that the figures themselves still don’t appear to be any great shakes when compared with those of rivals, but at least they’re competitive. Bills for insurance and maintenance should also be lower than on many other cars this fast.

How reliable is it? 4/5

If you're worried the Fiesta might be unreliable because it's a cheap little car, don't be. We certainly haven’t heard any horror stories from Fiesta buyers concerning common faults, and the previous car has always performed well in customer satisfaction surveys and reliability studies. For example, Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index places the Fiesta near the top of the scale for dependability, with Ford also performing very well as a brand overall. That sort of performance should provide buyers with plenty of confidence.

How safe is it? 4/5

There’s a whole raft of safety kit available for the latest model, but even in the high-end ST, much of it costs extra. Active City Stop, which helps drivers avoid low-speed collisions with other cars and pedestrians, is only standard on the range-topping ST-3, while it’s optional on the ST-2 and not available at all on the ST-1. That said, all versions do come with lane-keeping assist and a speed limiter. And, what’s more, all versions of the Fiesta have achieved the maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests.

How much equipment do I get? 4/5

The ST has its own three-tier trim structure that’s independent of the rest of the Fiesta range. The ST-1 has manual air-con, cruise control, keyless start, automatic lights, a super-handy heated windscreen and a touch-screen infotainment system with DAB radio and Apple Carplay/Android Auto. ST-2 adds climate control air-con, and an upgraded stereo with more speakers and a bigger touch-screen, while ST-3 adds automatic wipers, heated leather seats sat-nav, a rear-view camera and reversing sensors.

Why buy? 5/5

Because, pound-for-pound, it’s one of the best hot hatches money can buy. Price-wise, it’s no longer the bargain it once was, but it’s still impressively affordable, especially when you factor in the level of engineering excellence you’re getting for your money.