When you think of performance vehicles from Ford, visions of Shelby GT350s or GT40s instantly pop into the brain. What doesn’t usually jump right to the forefront of your head when discussing performance is the Ford Fiesta. “Fiesta” is Spanish for “party,” not “performance.” However, the Ford Fiesta ST, referred to by fanboys as “The FiST” is a whole different kind of party. With a turbocharged, intercooled engine mounted to a six-speed manual with a locking limited slip differential, all in a tiny car with a stiff suspension, tight steering, and upgraded brakes – well, that is the kind of party that gets my attention.
The Base Vehicle
The Ford Fiesta ST has had its day in the sun with rally driver and YouTube sensation Ken Block doing absolutely amazing things in his heavily modified Fiesta rally car (always faithfully rocking the ST logo on the rear bumper). But, we all know that the Fiesta Ken Block gets to play with is quite different from the Fiesta any of us can pick up at an American dealership. That doesn’t mean that the version you can buy here in America isn’t a good car. The Fiesta ST, or FiST, is a legitimate “hot hatch” – a model of car that has awesome versatility, performance, and fun for a very reasonable price. Hot hatches are cool — they are small cars that can store lots of stuff, get pretty good gas mileage, and have killer performance for the money. Based on that formula, the FiST is an unquestionable success.
The key to a good car is the balance of price, usefulness, reliability, and drivability. The key to a good project car is aftermarket support, style, performance, and solid power-to-weight ratio. The Ford Fiesta ST tips the scales at 2,742 pounds and is rated at 197 horsepower. Sure, this isn’t Porsche 911 GT3 territory when it comes to horsepower to weight, but remember you can buy NINE Ford Fiesta STs for the price of a GT3. And you can’t shove a refrigerator into the back of a 911 and move into the college dorms. The Fiesta can do that. As far as aftermarket support, plenty of companies have catalogues full of bolt-on goodies for the Fiesta ST, like adjustable struts from Koni.
The goal for FordNXT’s newest project car is to go through the process of choosing, buying, and modifying a street car for SCCA’s H-Street autocross class. With that criteria in mind, choosing the Ford Fiesta ST was a no-brainer. The car has won two years in a row at the SCCA Solo National Championships. Instead of reinventing the wheel, just join the team of people who have already proven that the car is a great handling, quick little beast, that can zip around the cones.
Since Philip Mitchell is the current reigning champion, we will spend some time this year picking his brain about what he did to his FiST to make it a winner. The rules for SCCA’s H-Street class will limit some of the modifications we can make to the project Fiesta, but there are still plenty of things to tinker with inside those class rules. We will be able to upgrade the tires, wheels, shocks, brake pads, air filter, spark plugs, exhaust, sway bars, alignment, and fluids. As we explore our different options, we will test the parts and see if we were able to improve the car (or make it worse than Ford designed it originally).
The Game Plan
One of the things we can’t do much within the SCCA H-Street rule book is modify the 1.6-liter engine. The good news is that the engine is already pretty solid with the intercooler/turbocharger combo putting down over 200 pounds of torque in a very small car. The engine and transmission are right over the drive wheels (the FiST is a FWD format) which allows the power to transfer to the tires effectively. However, the power of the engine will go beyond the adhesion of the tires and the car chirps Second gear quite nicely.
The first thing you learn about the FiST when you drive it is that it has power. Torque steer is a legitimate and real thing. Between the turbo and the limited slip differential, the car starts moving around and you need to hold on to the wheel to tell the Fiesta where you want it to go. This isn’t a problem — it is actually fun, because it means the car wants to go fast. The car’s center of gravity is probably higher than I would prefer, and as you make hard slalom moves you feel the top of the car waddle a bit. We may be able to work on this with better aftermarket shocks. Getting on the freeway, the turbo sound is awesome and the car finds power in any of the six gears it is in.
The FiST has found the perfect balance of being a car that doesn’t hammer your monthly payments (or insurance quote) and still provides a fun driving experience while being versatile. With the rear seats folded down, the rear hatch is quite large and great for moving and trucking things around town. The little car is easy to park and with its red brake calipers and tasteful ST badging, the car actually turns more heads than you would think. I’ve owned Bullitt Mustangs and Corvette Z06s and more people come up to me in parking lots and randomly ask questions about the FiST than they ever did my other cars. “Does that thing have a turbo?” “Yes, yes it does have a turbo.”
Our Fiesta ST
We did our homework before purchasing our Fiesta ST. Because we are going to autocross the car, we wanted to get the lightest version of the Fiesta possible. There were a few options that looked enticing, especially the Recaro seats (which many Fiesta ST owners swear by). However, the Recaro seat option came with heated rearview mirrors, making the car heavier than the non-Recaro optioned cars. We eventually found a car that had zero options, other than a $375 painted wheel upgrade. We didn’t care about the wheels because we knew we will be swapping out the wheels later for something lighter for racing (improving unsprung weight, rotational mass, and thus braking and accelerating efficiency). Not only is a no-option Fiesta lighter, but it is less expensive too. After some haggling, we scored ours for $19,000. That is dirt cheap for the performance! Also with the purchase of the car, we get a free day at Ford’s Octane Academy at Utah Motorsports Campus (which we will cover later in a future “The Way of the FiST” installment).
I’ve had the car for a month now and have been taking it on multiple road trips to break in the engine (and because I needed to get places). The interior is comfortable and the Ford SYNC is easy to use and keeps me from texting and driving (thus saving my life). The backup camera is the best I have seen on the market. The fuel mileage has been as advertised and has kept me out of the gas stations (which is a nice reprieve after being a Mustang owner).
Welcome to “The Way of the FiST” where we will spend the next year tuning up our little hot hatch from Ford, covering the build of the Fiesta ST, and trying to win some trophies in SCCA’s H-Street class.