Slow car fast. It's a mantra of the car enthusiast that we hear constantly. What's more fun than being on the limit and not actually breaking any laws? But what's the best: The fastest or pretty much the slowest Ford Fiesta?
(Full Disclosure: Ford loaned us both a Fiesta 1.0 and a Fiesta ST for two entire weeks to check out both ends of the spectrum. That was downright sporting of them, wasn't it?)
The idea behind "slow car fast" is that on the highways and byways, today's modern sports cars are just too fast to be fun. Driving them slowly is boring, but driving them near the limit means you're going about a million miles per hour. If something goes wrong, you're at risk for some very serious injury. There's also the factor of inviting a ton of tickets.
But driving a slow car "fast" doesn't require that you actually go fast. It's the idea that even at legal speeds, you're having a hoot. Going 60 in a McLaren 650S around some corners feels like nothing. Going 60 around certain corners in a Ford Fiesta 1.0 feels like you're Alain Prost on the edge of control. You might not set fast time of the day from Chili's to the post office, but you'll have more fun getting there.
The Ford Fiesta offers slow fun in really slow (1.0) and actually pretty quick but not necessarily very fast (ST) forms. The 1.0 isn't at all designed to be fast or fun on a back road, the ST's sole purpose is to be oodles of fun on any road that has a curve in it.
The two Fiestas share a familial resemblance and have a number of ergonomic similarities, but that's about it. Nearly every other component that is involved in constructing the Fiesta 1.0 SFE and the Fiesta ST is different.
Both engines are turbocharged and both displace less than two liters. The 1.0 has a, you guessed it, one-liter turbocharged inline three with 123 horsepower and 148 pound feet of torque. The ST has a 1.6-liter turbo four with 197 horsepower and 214 pound feet of torque.
Those are very different engines with a very different character.
In the 1.0, the sound is Tom Waits levels of raspy and rough and it gives the engine a distinct feeling. It feels like a race car. Like half a boxer six. Or half a straight six. I guess that's more accurate, since it is a straight three. It doesn't have a lot of power, but it's got spunk. In order to even move at a decent, respectable highway speed, you need to wring out the 1.0 in every single gear and shift the semi vague gearbox as if your life depends on it. This is slow-car-fast at its slowest.
In terms of gas mileage, the 1.0 dominates, as you'd expect. On the highway, it got about 40 MPG. Overall, the ST got around 12 MPG (This is a slight exaggeration. It was less than 20, but maybe not 12. Sorry if you didn't pick up on it. - TO). Granted, if you don't rev the nuts off of it around town, as the ST begs you to do, you'll get better mileage. But not that much better. Even at highway speeds it isn't close to being as miserly as the buzzy little 1.0.
The engine department is a win for the 1.0. No, it's not as fast as the ST, but the sound and feel is distinctly motorsports derived. And it might be one of the only cars today that you can drive on the edge in every single gear and yet you'll never break any sort of laws. And pretending your a race car driver on the road is very satisfying. Especially when you aren't going so fast you'll kill someone.
Getting out of the 1.0 and into the ST is akin to getting off a corgi and into a cheetah. Everything about the ST is sharper and harder. The turbo engine doesn't sound like a little race car, but it has so much torque and power that it more than makes up for it. The gear shift is a super sweet short throw, a little snick snick into each gear. There's no way you're missing a gear unless your hands are made of ham.
The ST is leagues faster than the 1.0, but that's not where it really shines. Where it really wins is the handling department. The ST has a trick suspension setup and what feels like a super quick steering rack. People saying that the ST 'oversteers' don't really know what oversteer is, but under heavy loads it will lift that inside rear wheel. This is a front-drive handling puppy unlike any other. It decimates the Fiat 500 Abarth, a car that I'd buy before almost anything else.
That doesn't mean that the 1.0 is terrible, but it doesn't have the same sharpness of the ST. It's softer, it wallows more, it rolls, the steering is lighter, but it isn't terrible. You can't expect to be in an autocross ready machine like the ST, this is an economy car. A fun economy car, but an economy car nonetheless.
Yes, you can fling the 1.0 into certain corners and it will come out the other side just fine, but it can be mildly terrifying. The ST is lively at all speeds, but also doesn't feel like it's going to keel over if the wind hits it the wrong way.
In terms of looks, the ST easily wins. The 1.0 has to have steelies with wheel covers, and the interior just feels cheap. The ST has body hugging Recaros, great 17-inch wheels, and a sweet little body kit.
For me, the ST is a no brainer, it's the car that I'd buy and a car that I really want. I'd also buy a Fiesta ST over a Focus ST. It's so good it makes the Focus seem pointless. The Fiesta ST is rare, it's a class defining car. Like the Mazda Miata, this is a car that is a zen experience. It isn't the fastest or loudest in its class, but it has some sort of "it" factor that transcends explanation and begs experience. Just everything about the ST adds up to be greater than the sum of its parts.
It's a brilliant, brilliant car.
But there is still a Fiesta I'd love to try that isn't the ST. And that's the Fiesta 1.0 Zetec S, a car we don't get in the USA. It's basically an ST with the 1.0 powertrain. I'd kill to have a car that handles like the ST but also needs to be flogged constantly in order to get up to a respectable speed. Imagine handling fun at 30 MPH that means no tickets and big smiles?
Kind of like a modern VW Beetle, you aren't moving unless you're going flat out. That's the way the Fiesta should be.
Photo Credits: ST - Nick Stango, 1.0 - Raphael Orlove