Being the only track layout in the UK which has remained unmodified since the 40s, Goodwood is a rather fast circuit. The majority of it is flat out, including quite a few of the 'corners', with Woodcote through The Chicane to the pit straight being the only somewhat technical section. It's unsuitable, it would therefore seem, to bring out the best in a three-cylinder hatch like the new Fiesta ST.
Ford isn't stupid though, and it takes just a few laps to realise that the reality is quite the opposite. Through the high speed bends at Madgwick and Fordwater the Fiesta's composure is impressive. Slowing into St Mary's the brakes are confidence inspiringly strong, with a lovely progressive feel to the pedal and lap after lap it keeps on plugging away. Negotiating the far edge of the circuit is such a calm affair that there's even time to take note of just how little wind or road noise enters the cabin.
A cone chicane - later to be demolished when the ST inspired perhaps a little too much confidence in someone - has been placed halfway down the Lavant Straight. It's there to prevent those of us driving the track for the first time from the nasty surprise of arriving at Woodcote too quickly - better cones than tyres, after all - though it also serves to add an extra opportunity to utilise the Fiesta's new optional Quaife differential.
This works in tandem with torque vectoring tech and Ford's own patented 'force-vectoring' springs, claimed as a world first, to ensure that turn in is as sharp and precise as the steering feels. The setup also saves 10kg compared to alternative arrangements, apparently without compromising ride quality or comfort.
The final pieces of the ST's suspension puzzle are the Tenneco twin-tube front and single-tube rear dampers, which self-adjust to deliver frequency-dependent damping for enhanced body control. Away from the track, and on the kind of B-roads where the Fiesta ST ought to thrive, they do an exceptional job of keeping everything composed - even at high speeds and over undulating asphalt.
Composed, yes, but comfortable it isn't, not at speed at least. All of those trick suspension components collude to deliver a pretty firm ride; not necessarily as uncompromising as some of the competition, but not exactly effortless either. That's the fun of the ST though, isn't it? It's a sensible, practical daily driver with 47mpg potential on the one hand, and on the other, a fairly solid footing for your inner hooligan to exploit.
Besides, the skittishness at speed can be reduced if you opt for the smaller 17-inch wheels over the optional 18-inch rims fitted here with both sporting Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. And it is mitigated by the excellent ride quality and general comfort of the thing the rest of the time, which is exemplary for a car of its class. At lower speeds or on less bumpy roads, the issue - if it even is an issue, of course - is less noticeable anyway.
Inside, the driving position is much improved over the previous generation, seeming to be a lot lower in the car without harming visibility. The gearchange is nice and slick with a satisfying, mechanical feel, and the infotainment - especially with the optional eight-inch screen and B&O sound system - is finally up to scratch. With the exceptions of the steering wheel, which feels a little too large, and the drive modes, which seem like an unnecessary complication in an otherwise pleasingly straightforward package, it's no stretch to say that every change has been of the positive variety.
Lastly, then, we come to the engine, which in this case, is a good thing. Trading the 1.6-litre four-cylinder unit for a 1.5-litre three-pot should have made it the headline topic - the fact that it hasn't speaks volumes. The 200hp Ecoboost triple works a treat, delivering excellent acceleration seemingly whenever it's wanted, and shutting down one of its cylinders to improve economy when it isn't. The new exhaust with active valve technology also sounds great, emitting a nice low burble which belies the engine's diminutive size.
It may do everything even better than before, but it's pleasing to report that the new Fiesta ST hasn't lost its energetic charm either. It's more frugal than ever but more powerful too, visually it's more reserved but audibly it's shoutier, and it's still available in a three-door body style, even as many hatches switch to five-door only.
This ST faces more competition than ever with the upstart Yaris GRMN, the refined Swift Sport and the new Polo GTI all now available in the UK. Luckily for Ford though, and a legion of fast Fiesta fans, the new car has upped its game accordingly. As an all round package it's more liveable than the Yaris, better to drive than the Swift and less anodyne than the Polo. A group test beckons, but on this evidence the Fiesta's place at the head of the pack looks secure.
FORD FIESTA ST - SPECIFICATION
Engine: 1,497cc, turbocharged 3-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 214@1,600-4,000rpm
Top speed: 144mph
Weight: 1,262kg (EU, with driver)
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