Just 600 examples of the Fiesta ST Performance Edition are being produced for the UK market, a reflection of our continued affection for hot hatches which are both small and brilliant. It's no ordinary top-of-the-range trim level, but rather a 200hp, coilover, adjustable damper and lightweight wheel-equipped terrier. And it's orange. Each will be finished in identical and generously equipped three-door specification, with chassis alterations accompanied by standard-fit Performance Pack bits (normally a £925 tick box). That includes the Quaife limited-slip diff and launch control, while other usually selectable items like LED headlamps and the B&O stereo are also thrown in. Pricing reflects the upgrades; this is a Fiesta that will cost about £26,000 - or £3,750 more than an ST-3.
If that figure makes you wince, the Performance Edition is clearly not for you. The regular car is so brilliant - as we know from our drive in a non-Performance Pack car - that most buyers after a bit of fun would be happy in a lower-spec ST. But there's clearly an appetite for going the distance; two thirds of British buyers go for the top ST-3 model. Little wonder its maker has felt confident enough to launch a track-honed version that costs almost exactly as much as a Hyundai i30 N.
Admirably, the Fiesta takes the nerdy stuff to the next level. Aside from lowering the car by 15mm at the front and 10mm at the rear, the coilover suspension - comprised of stainless-steel damper housing and powder-coated springs - allows for 12 bump and 16 rebound settings. Rest assured this is a bonafide track day enthusiast pleaser; its case proven by those lovely 10-spoke, 18-inch alloys, which are of the flow-formed kind and collectively lower unsprung mass by 7kg. They remain wrapped in sticky Michelin Super Sport rubber.
The Performance Edition is inevitably firmer than standard using the settings chosen for it by Ford UK. However, while it'll find cracks and ridges that the standard car would keep from its occupants, there's a keen sense of rubberised cushioning at the extremities of each strut movement - as there often is with upgraded dampers. There's room for improvement with the bump and rebound, but that's exactly the sort of in-built adjustability you're paying for. Suffice it to say, on a sodden test route in Warwickshire, the ride is far from uncomfortable.
The conditions make it impossible to note any improvement on initial turn-in, although during the second phase of cornering, once the front end has begun to sweep in towards an apex, the additional support provided by those coilovers is readily apparent. You get the sense that firmer springs, better resolved damping and that slight forward rake to the body combine to enhance the ST's natural agility, so much so that it's easy to load up the fronts and set the car into a mini slide almost instantly. With a closed throttle the car happily rotates into a neutral stance, requiring little or no steering lock; with a held brake, you'll be correcting the slip angle. Familiar traits to the ST, sure - but the Performance Edition heightens the Fiesta's body control while simultaneously reducing the amount of input required to keep everything in check.
The result is more than a little addictive. We already know how effective the ST's brake-assisted Quaife LSD is and it really shines in the new setting, allowing you to chase the throttle even when the conditions are far from optimal. The torque on offer from the three-cylinder motor and oily function of the six-speed manual means driving smoothly along a route is supremely satisfying, helped no end by the little exhaust pops which follow you everywhere.
Complaints? Stiffer ride aside, there aren't really any. Ok, so it's still not as serious as previous generations of the Renault Sport Clio. The Fiesta's electric steering offers too little feel and the chassis, even with the enhancements, can't quite reach the track car-mimicry of the erstwhile 200 Cup. But as a car with a nicely finished cabin and wholly retained usability, it closes a big gap to that champ of champs. The ST is never going to be as broadly talented as something like the i30 N, but as a hot hatch for 5am Sunday drives or regular track days, it positions itself as 2019's standout option. If your name's on the orange-coloured wait list, consider us green with envy.
SPECIFICATION - FORD FIESTA ST PERFORMANCE EDITION
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: 1,255kg (EU, with driver)
Price: £26,00 (est)