A trip to Leeds for an annual university reunion has unintentionally become a reoccurring test for all my recent long-termers. In all honesty, it's proved to be rather useful in gauging a car's full breadth of abilities, because brimming a car with four lads, their luggage and some (read: a lot of) beer and commencing a 200-mile sprint up the M1 before darting around the busy city streets can quickly reveal chinks in a car's armour. Or, sometimes, allow it to really shine.
We're never going to try and convince you that a three-door Fiesta ST is the most practical option in the class for such a task, because it's obviously not. If one were to regularly carry four this far, the five-door would no doubt make more sense. But with an identical wheelbase beneath us, once we were all in there was no real disadvantage to having a three-door. Plus, as my passengers confirmed, the ST is a comfortable place to sit, even in the back, its seats supportive and the ride being surprisingly refined at motorway pace.
Inevitably, the ST's zippy turn of speed was somewhat hampered by our Yorkshire-bound load, but let's be honest - nothing this side of a 500hp super-coupe could shrug off that much mass without noticing. Still, you might expect the need to drive it harder to compensate would have significantly increased the engine's demand for petrol, but it didn't, not by a noticeable amount. The Fiesta averaged 53mpg on the 200-mile motorway stretch, leaving the fuel bill at about £22. Take that National Rail.
As we headed into town in the dim light of sunset, our ST-3 looked great in shop window reflections with its bright LED headlights. But the ride did feel a little harsh over the inconsistent tarmac at low speed. No doubt the chassis is suppler than the old ST, particularly at the rear, but a Polo GTI with optional adaptive dampers does a better job in a city environment. Although that's not really surprising, what with the ST having passive dampers and bespoke bushes.
My latest reunion weekend also included a detour onto the Leeds' surrounding country routes, because rural Yorkshire is fantastic. Here, the ST's performance stood strong and, even on the freezing surface near Otley, the little Ford felt like it had reserves of untapped performance despite going as fast as the road (and my passengers) would allow. Unlike the spikier old ST, the new model is, to me, a little more accommodating.
Those of you who read our Christmas twin test where the ST was pitted against the Renault Clio RS 200 Cup would know the new car isn't quite the finest driver's car this segment has seen. But, as the Leeds getaway has reaffirmed, it is arguably the most rounded car in this price bracket. And my belief in this has heightened since the turn of the year because - rejoice, city dwellers - the Waze smartphone sat-nav app now works with the Fiesta's Sync3 infotainment. Anybody who's had their commute slashed by Waze will know this is a very big win.
It's not perfect, but honestly, the longer I live with this car, the fonder I grow of it.
Car: Ford Fiesta ST-3
On fleet since: October 2018
Run by: Sam Sheehan
List price new: £21,494 (As tested: £24,515 comprising £745 for Performance Blue paint, £600 for full LED headlights, £475 for blind spot information system, £850 for ST Performance Pack and for £350 B&O premium audio system).
Last month at a glance: Fiesta proves A1 on the M1 as it ferries friends to Yorkshire