Which is why Ford's free-form introduction to the Fiesta ST200 was such a refreshing change. I'm flown into Nice, given a map and a packed lunch and then chucked the keys to the uber ST with no more detailed instructions than a polite request that I get to the hotel near Castellane in time for dinner. There the chief project engineer, Matthius Tonn, will be on hand to answer any questions I might have, leaving me with four hours to kill in a part of the world packed with great driving roads.
On paper, it's hard not to be underwhelmed by the ST200. Or, more precisely, by what it offers over the standard ST in return for a chunky £3,000 supplement over an ST-3. There's more power - 218hp and 236lb ft on a 15-second overboost - but the only other significant mechanical change is the arrival of a lower final drive ratio to close up the gearing. Beyond that buyers will be paying for the black alloys, Storm Grey paintwork (which isn't offered on any other Fiesta variant, and which puts me instantly in mind of rattle-can primer) plus a couple of ST200 badges. There are red brake calipers as well, although the hardware is the same.
Yet it turns out there's (slightly) more to it than that. The ST200 sits on revised suspension, with a new set-up that was specifically designed for it including a 30 per cent stiffer rear torsion beam, slightly softer springs and dampers and fractionally tweaked power steering. But it turns out that, due to production limitations at the Cologne plant that builds European STs, the tweaked settings have also been fitted to the standard ST for the last few months as an undisclosed free upgrade.
We'll leave the cost-benefit analysis until later. First comes the more important decision of deciding which route to take. I opt for a bit of a zig-zag that's aimed at joining up my favourite bits of the Alpes-Maritimes: Col de Vence, cut across to the Route Napoleon and then a long loop through the mountains. It would be rude to return the ST with too much of a tank of fuel still left in it, after all.
First impressions are of driving a Mountune-equipped Fiesta ST. Ford admits that the power upgrade is, in effect, a factory version of the power-boosting Mountune kit - the clue is in the identical power and torque figures. It feels punchier than the standard ST, especially in its bristling mid-range, but it's still not an engine that relishes spending time at the top of the rev counter. The gearchange is as brilliant as ever - Ford manages to give a cooking hatchback a better shift action than many sports cars - but the engine's fat flywheel means it works best with a fractional pause between downshifts. The lower gearing is the discernible change, although a short run on the Autoroute leaving the airport confirms that 75mph translates to 3,000rpm in sixth, so it's hardly packing a set of sprint ratios.
The Col de Vence, although spectacular, is too busy to really stretch the Fiesta's legs - it seems like every middle-aged cyclist in the south of France has chosen to don lycra and ride slowly up the gradient on one of the hottest days of the year; it's tiring just watching them. But even at modest speed the ST200 feels more pliant than I remember from previous STs, with some rougher stretches of road giving a chance for the new springs and dampers to prove how well they ride out bumps. It's not long before I'm seeing the signs warning of Chaussee Deformee as a chance to be impressed by the Fiesta's body control rather than a reason to slow down.
At the top of the Col the cyclists seem to disappear, and past Coursegoules the Fiesta and I seem to have the world - and the superb D2 - pretty much to ourselves. The boosty enthusiasm of the power delivery and the ST200's rorty exhaust note make it feel properly quick, so it's quite a nice surprise to glance at the speedo and find a number that isn't as naughty as I was expecting. The ST is one of the increasingly rare cars that still feels quick at normal-ish speeds.
Tighter corners give the Fiesta the chance to show off its terrier-like handling balance. It seems keener to turn with the stiffened rear axle, and it still enjoys wagging its tail on an eased throttle, certainly with the stability control either switched off or in its more permissive sport mode. But hairpins also reveal the fundamental limitation of having an open differential and all that turbocharged torque: get too keen and it's painting 1s rather than 11s. Possibly a missed opportunity there, given the differece a diff makes to the Quaife-equipped (and pre-Mountuned) Fiesta M-Sport Edition you could have for similar money.
With a couple of hours in hand I decide to take a diversion onto some narrower mountain roads, heading first to Mons on the D563 and then - to give myself the excuse for some loud public swearing - Tourrettes. [He's here all night ladies and gentlemen... - Ed.]
The ST200 feels immediately at home, its compact dimensions making it easy to carry speed on the narrower roads and the shorter gearing meaning I'm making regular use of fourth on the sort of roads where the standard car would likely not get out of third. It feels like a junior rally car, especially when I turn north onto the D25 from Bargemon to La Bastide, a spectacular and near-empty road that could be a private special stage as it travels through some vast military ranges. Progress is fast enough to have the Fiesta's brakes suffering, with the rubbery sensation of early-onset fade coming through the pedal towards the end. It's been a while since I came close to running out of brakes on the road.
Dinner gives a chance to catch up with Tonn. He's the man who created the standard Fiesta ST, as well as a line of hot Fords going back to the Mk2 Focus ST, and although he's moved into a bigger development role within Ford of Europe, he came back to do the ST200 as the equivalent of a Hollywood bank robber drawn by the prospect of a final big score.
He's happy to explain the logic behind the limited changes, admitting that the power upgrade is pretty much the Mountune kit "when we started in January we went to Mountune and one of the first things I established is that the IP rights of the increased power were with us."
I also get the sense he feels frustrated that what was meant to be the ST200's bespoke chassis set-up has to be fitted to all versions of the ST. Did they consider making bigger changes, like fitting a limited-slip differential or bigger brakes? "We did, but we didn't want to make it unaffordable. ST is all about road performance, it's not track focused."
Chatting over dinner it's clear that Ford still remembers some of its loss-making performance derivatives keenly. Tonn cites the Ford Racing Puma as a classic example of how costs can run out of control. "Bespoke body, expensive differential, unique brakes - and then outside of Britain, nobody bought it..." He also points out that the ST200 has a different appeal in those European markets where the Mountune kit isn't offered as a Ford-approved option.
The ST200 is a great car because the standard ST is. But aside from the lowered gearing, the '200' bits don't really add much beyond whatever satisfaction owners will take from knowing they own a special edition, and having a car in a colour that nobody else can buy. You can get practically the same car at a sizeable saving by buying a standard ST and a Mountune kit. But as more than 2,000 people across Europe have already put their name down for one - and the end of Fiesta production next year will effectively limit sales to around 3,000 - it's clear that plenty do see the appeal.
FORD FIESTA ST200
Engine: 1,596cc, inline-4
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 218@6,000rpm (on overboost)
Torque (lb ft): 236@3,000rpm (on overboost)
Top speed: 143mph