Ford Fiesta ST (2018 - 2021) used car review

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

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Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

By Jonathan Crouch

Introduction

Ford aimed for continued leadership of the supermini-shaped hot hatch segment with this car, the third generation Fiesta ST launched in 2018. Of course, for not much more than the affordable prices that will get you one of these, you can buy more power. But after a drive in one of these, you probably won't want to.

Models

3dr Hatch (Petrol 1.5 EcoBoost 200PS)

History

Want to know just how much fun it's possible to have in a ferociously fast small supermini? Then try one of these - the third generation version of Ford's Fiesta ST. Launched in 2018, it was developed like a proper performance car - and it drives like one too.

If any supermini was ever going to be the perfect starting point for a class-leading hot hatch, you'd think it would be Ford's Fiesta. It's been long acknowledged as the driver's choice amongst small runabouts and it has a shopping rocket legacy that goes all the way back to the XR2 of 1981, with a history subsequently embellished by the more powerful RS1800 and RS Turbo variants that followed it. Curiously though, none of these models ever quite hit the spot for serious enthusiasts. Throughout the Eighties, Nineties and Noughties, they tended to prefer French hot hatch rivals, first a series of small Peugeot GTis, then in more recent years, the Renaultsport Clio. Only with the second generation Fiesta ST of 2012, this MK3 car's predecessor, did Ford finally get their attention. And the company aimed to keep it with this third generation model, which claimed to offer the most responsive, rewarding and engaging Fiesta experience yet.

Unlike its rivals, the Blue Oval always had several performance badges up its sleeve when it came to cars of this sort, 'ST' (or 'Sports Technologies') being company-speak for 'quick but not concussive', a performance level that sat just above fast-but-family-friendly 'ST-Line' models but just below track-spec RS derivatives. A badge, in other words, promising mild madras rather than vindaloo - and one applied to the kind of car a red-blooded racer could enjoy but still use every day.

What does that mean here? Well you might have a few misgivings about the fact that this car's 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine has just three cylinders, but it puts out a lusty 200PS and powers this car to 62mph in just 6.5s. In addition, there are drive modes to tune performance for road and track; Launch Control for Grand Prix-style standing starts; and force vectoring and a limited slip differential for tenacious traction through the corners. The MK3 Fiesta ST sold in this form until late 2021, when it was facelifted. It's the 2018-2021-era versions though, that we look at here.

What You Get

It's easy to go overboard and get all 'Max Power' when it comes to a car of this kind, a temptation Ford again carefully resisted here. This isn't the prettiest junior shopping rocket you can buy from its period, but it is playfully purposeful in demeanour, the business end dominated by smart honeycomb-finished upper and lower front grilles. Move to the side and you get a better perspective for the slightly bigger size of the car in MK3 form - and for the way that Ford tried to make the profile more settled and less aggressively wedge-shaped. This was the first Fiesta ST - in fact the first properly sporting Fiesta of any kind - to be available with five doors, though the supposedly slightly sportier three-door version also continued. In short, you won't be embarrassed to park this youthful junior hot hatch up at the office. But would you feel awkward about giving your boss a ride home?

Probably not. The cabin is a huge improvement on what went before. Avoid entry-level 'ST-1' trim and once again, Recaro sports seats make an appearance, but this time Ford remembered to include height adjustment and position them properly low so you feel more part of the driving experience. You need the Recaros because otherwise, you might be left wondering whether the emphasis on styling subtlety might not have been taken a touch too far. Yes, you get a thick, grippy leather-stitched sports steering wheel and a silver finish for the pedals, the gearstick and the handbrake. Plus there are 'Performance'-branded door sill trims, you get carbon fibre-style trim around the dash and most models feature blue-trimmed seat belts. But these trendy touches are easy to miss and otherwise, there's relatively little about this cabin that shouts 'hot hatch'. Otherwise, the main news lies with the centre-dash SYNC 3 infotainment screen, which is 6-inches in size on the base model but which grows to a preferable 8-inch display further up the range and in the process gains navigation and a 10-speaker B&O Play premium audio system.

And rear seat space? Well, the heavily bolstered Recaros do slightly hinder your access into the back but if that's an issue, you'd obviously opt for the alternative five-door body style. Once you're inside, the rear compartment's actually nicer to sit in than the claustrophobically rising beltline of the three-door body shape might lead you to expect. Headroom's manageable even for a six-footer - though his or her legs will be crushed pretty snugly against the seat in front if the folk ahead are of a lankier build.

And the boot. Well we should give you the total cargo capacity figure - 292-litres, which meets the class standard. If you need more room, pushing forward the 60:40-split rear backrest frees up 1,093-litres, which should be sufficient for the needs of most likely buyers.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

We haven't heard of too many problems with this MK3 Fiesta ST. There were reports of possible oil leaks on early cars, but that was quickly fixed. Look out for hesitancy in first and second gear on initial application of throttle, which may be a harbinger of an engine oil leak. We've also heard reports of squeaks and noises from the driver side pillar and the dashboard. A few owners have reported sagging seat material and loose fabric trim. Check that the paint is intact on the whole length of the join between the rear bumper and the rear quarter - there are been a few reports of missing or chipped paint in this area. Also make sure you check the headlights to make sure there is no staining of the inner film. A number of owners seem to think that Ford's paint is very thin and a few issues have been reported with the silver colour. The boot struts are poor and don't open the boot all the way up, so some people have fitted better gas struts.

Check for kerbing damage to the wheels which not only looks awful but could also be a sign that there may be suspension damage or that the steering geometry is out of alignment. If the tyres have been worn out due to the driving style, then it's worth also checking the suspension and steering components for wear. If the car has had its right height lowered, then the tyres would theoretically wear out quicker if the steering alignment isn't correct. This would wear the inside edge of the tyres out, so put the steering on full lock and check for this.

Check that the brakes are all working. Slowly move forward and pull up the handbrake gently to see how far the handbrake lever travels and you should feel the rear of the car dip down. If only one side dips down, then the opposite side brakes could be seized. This would fail an MOT and can be costly in parts. You should also be able to feel any imbalance in the brakes, or 'warping' as it's commonly known. This is a result of heavy or prolonged braking, generating heat, then keeping the footbrake applied while stationary. This is commonly initiated going from motorway speeds, down to a stop. Or by going for a blast around the country lanes. With warping comes over heated brakes, which will feel very un-responsive and could squeal at low speeds when braking. If the handbrake handle is travelling quite high, it could mean the rear pads are getting low, so it's worth checking. But the handbrake lever can be adjusted to lower it down.

If the engine bay has been steam cleaned, ask why. It's not normal practice to do this when selling a car, unless something is trying to be hidden. Check underneath the engine for any drips or leaks. If you are at the private seller's address, ask where they usually park the car and look for signs of leaks on the ground. Check all fluid levels before starting the car and it's best to view the car when the engine is cold. This way you get to hear the engine as it would sound when you start it up every morning. You don't want a noisy engine. If the engine is warm as you arrive to view, it could be hiding a cold start issue or a rattle/noise. Either feel the bonnet for warmth or check the temperature gauge on the instrument cluster.

Check in the engine bay for any signs of crash damage. Check that all the front end pieces are secure and not loose; the grilles, bumper, front panel, headlights etc. Check the retaining screws/bolts for signs of tampering, meaning that they have been removed at some point. Check that the air conditioning works. Check that the seats move, recline, raise and the general condition for wear and tear. Also that the seat belts pull right out and retract by themselves.

Along with checking that everything inside the car works, check the radio and satellite navigation functions. Check the DAB function on the radio, as this has been a problem in the past for not working on some units. Have a look underneath the car all around to make sure nothing is hanging down or any debris is present. Give the exhaust a wobble to make sure it is secure and the mountings are present. If the exhaust has excessive movement, this could indicate the mountings are worn, possibly relating to worn engine mountings or exuberant driving styles meaning everything is moving too much. The same can be said if you wobble the exhaust and you can hear it knocking or banging against the under body of the car. Check for marks where you would put a trolley jack on the under body, then question the seller as to why the car has been in the air, possibly for modification or repair work.

It is also worth getting an HPI report to see if there are records of the vehicle being damaged or written off. For a small fee it is well worth it, as the seller could be hiding something about the car and it's just not worth taking the risk of not checking. If the car has been written off or accident repaired, the front page of the V5-log book will show this at the bottom of the page. This means that the vehicle is recorded as such and will forever be on file for the car. This decreases the value of the car and you are best off going to find a non-damaged car, as there are plenty out there. And overall? Well if there are issues, then weigh up the hassle of rectifying them. If that's prohibitive, walk away. There are plenty of other examples of this model there.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2018 Fiesta ST - Ex Vat) An air filter costs around £10 and an oil filter costs around £7. Front brake pads sit in the £32 bracket for a set; rear brake pad sets start from around £41. Front brake discs can be as affordable as around £64; rear brake discs are from around £56. Wiper blades cost in the £6 to £23 bracket. Try not to damage the rear lamp cluster; a replacement unit costs in the £70 bracket. A pollen filter costs in the £12-£21 bracket.

On the Road

It isn't often with a small hot hatch that the engineers get things absolutely right. Either compromises are made for day-to-day driveability that rob you of that last ultimate enth of response when you're really pushing on. Or you get a race-bred rocket that loves a smooth circuit but's so firm that it simply gets on your nerves in everyday motoring. Let's cut to the conclusion here: with this MK3 ST, the balance between these two extremes is as good as it's probably ever going to be. Right up-front, you might be worried about a down-shift in performance with the switch to three cylinder power for this third generation model. Don't be. The 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine pushes output up to the 200PS level that the previous 1.6-litre four cylinder engine needed an overboost function to reach. Yet it still returns 47.1mpg on the combined cycle and 136g/km of CO2 (both NEDC figures), thanks to a clever cylinder deactivation system, at the time the first ever fitted to a three cylinder unit.

It sounds great too, particularly if you switch into the two dynamic drive modes provided, 'Sport' (which sharpens the acceleration and steering) and 'Track', which delivers an even firmer response at the helm and slackens off the stability control for circuit use. More Grand Prix-style gadgetry features in the optional 'ST Performance Pack' you'll need to search for in a used model. This includes a Quaife limited slip difference for extra cornering bite, plus 'Performance Shift Lights' and a 'Launch Control' set-up. On all MK3 Fiestas STs, frequency-selective race-style dampers and special 'force vectoring' springs allowed the engineers to improve the previous model's unyielding ride quality whilst still keeping the taut cornering feel. Plus there was a wider track, a super-sharply responsive steering rack, a more rigid body, an uprated high performance braking system, eTVC torque vectoring for extra cornering precision and a specially developed set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. The result of all this engineering is a very special package indeed. As you'll realise after the first few seconds of driving it.

Overall

Designed by enthusiasts to be driven by enthusiasts, this fast MK3 Fiesta ST was poised, priced to sell and, with 200PS on tap, plenty quick enough. It was the best car of its kind that Ford had ever brought us. And back in 2018, it retained market segment leadership on merit.

In all honesty, you'd probably have more fun in this little Ford on a public road than you ever could in something pricier and more powerful. Think of it as one-up for the common man, small perhaps in price and performance but big in smiles per mile. Which, at the end of the day, is exactly what a hot hatch should really be all about.

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