Not everyone needs an ultimately powerful little hot hatch. High insurance premiums and even higher asking prices can often put paid to shopping rocket dreams. Which is why some makers will sell you a supermini with all the look and feel of a real GTi but none of the drawbacks. Here's Ford's solution, the Fiesta ST-Line. Here much improved.
We've had plenty of really great sporting Ford Fiestas. In fact, the Blue Oval brand's hot hatch legacy around this model goes all the way back to the XR2 of 1981, with a history subsequently embellished by the more powerful RS1800 and RS Turbo models that followed it. Best of all was the hot hatch 1.6-litre Fiesta ST launched in 2013. Unfortunately, in current 1.5-litre EcoBoost form, it costs the best part of £23,000. So what if you could have a sporty Fiesta that looks just the same for less than around £21,000? That's the recipe delivered by the Fiesta ST-Line.
Of course, going the ST-Line route isn't going to get you the kind of power you'd enjoy in a fully fledged ST. If that's not an issue, then potentially, there's plenty to like here.
Fiesta ST-Line buyers get a choice of three petrol engines. Ford has been gradually introducing its mild hybrid 48-volt tech into this car but for the time being, you can still have the volume three cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol engine without it, offering 100PS and a 6-speed manual gearbox. The 1.0T EcoBoost powerplant can also be had in mild hybrid mHEV 'EcoBoost Hybrid' form in 125 and 155PS forms, complete with the option of auto transmission and using that 48V electrified technology. With this, the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine is combined with a belt-driven starter/generator and a 48-volt battery pack for extra performance and efficiency. The system also allows for easier stop-start integration, which can shut off the engine when below 15mph.
Variations on the Fiesta theme may come and go but before driving any version of Ford's definitive supermini, there's one thing you almost always know for certain: that it'll be a great steer. Through the bends, the handling certainly should be sharp, thanks to this 'ST-Line' model's 10mm lowered chassis, the well-weighted steering and the short, crisp gearshift feel we've experienced in other Fiestas. The fact that the suspension is a touch softer than that of the full-fat ST may actually even be of benefit on bumpy roads, where this ST-Line variant is unlikely to crash through tarmac scars quite as much. This current generation model is 15% stiffer than its pre-2017 predecessor and both front and rear track measurements are wider. The engineers tell us that the chassis offers 10% more cornering grip than that old generation car, supported by Electronic Torque Vectoring Control, which enhances the driving experience by applying a small amount of braking to inside wheels to assist traction and stability when cornering.
Design and Build
At first glance to the unitiated, this ST-Line Fiesta looks just like the potent top ST model. ST-Line styling specifics include a unique 'ST-Line' upper grille, 'ST-Line' wing badges, a full bodystyling kit, 'Rock Metallic' 17-inch 5x2-spoke alloy wheels and a large body-coloured rear spoiler. Inside, there's sports seats, sports pedals and a flat-bottomed 'ST-Line' steering wheel. As for the changes made to this updated model, well the bonnet's been revised, the nose of the car raised and the brand badge moved into the grille, which is flanked by restyled LED headlamps.
Inside, Ford has added a 12.3-inch configurable digital instrument display screen (only with plusher 'ST-Line Vignale' trim though), which complements the usual 8-inch SYNC 3 centre infotainment screen. It incorporates 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring - and can include a 575-watt B&O stereo and a rear view camera too. Storage for personal belongings is delivered with a 20% larger glovebox and a 1-litre media bin in the centre console.
Rear seat passengers aren't as cramped in the back of a Fiesta as they used to be; changes made in 2020 added 16mm more knee room, supported by slim-back seats that offer decent side-to-side support. This Fiesta's tailgate is wide for easy access to the 311-litre boot. If you're able to flatten the 60:40 split-folding rear backrest, you'll find that the revealed cargo floor ends up with quite a step in it, but the total capacity figure looks reasonable by segment standards - 1,093-litres.
Market and Model
Fiesta ST-Line prices start at just under £21,000 for the 1.0-litre 100PS EcoBoost petrol version, so there's quite a saving over the 1.5-litre full-fat ST hot hatch. Add in the other savings you'll make when it comes to things like running costs and insurance and the ST-Line case starts to add up. Add on just over £1,000 more if you want the pokier 125PS mHEV mild hybrid petrol model, which has an auto gearbox option: it's around £22,500 for the perkier 155PS version of that engine. There's now no diesel option. Whichever variant you choose, you'll need a premium of around £400 to progress from the three-door to the five-door bodystyle.
As for ST-Line equipment, well you'll get a lot more if you choose the pay the extra £1,500 that Ford wants for plusher 'ST-Line Vignale' trim. Even the standard 'ST-Line' spec is quite generous though. It runs to 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, a Quickclear heated windscreen, sports suspension, rear privacy glass and a full body kit. Inside, there's selectable drive modes, cruise control and an 8-inch SYNC 3 infotainment screen with 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto'. 'ST-Line Vignale'-spec adds larger 18-inch wheels, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a rear view camera.
Cost of Ownership
The whole point of choosing an ST-Line Fiesta rather than a sportier ST model is to reduce your costs. Which is broadly what's delivered here. Go for the fastest ST-Line variant, the 1.0-litre EcoBoost 155PS mHEV derivative and the figures are 56.5mpg and 114g/km. The 100 and 125PS EcoBoost versions improve that showing further. It's 53.3mpg and 121g/km for the 100PS variant; and 56.5mpg and 113g/km for the 125PS mHEV model. The 1.5-litre ST hot hatch, for comparison, manages 44.1mpg and 145g/km.
What else? Well we'll tell you about servicing, which on all engines is required every two years or 18,000 miles - whichever comes first. Two pre-paid servicing plans are available; one that costs £340 and covers you for two years and two services; and another that costs £550, is transferrable to future owners and covers three years and three services. That only leaves depreciation. If you're a prospective customer, then you'll be glad to hear that Fiesta residual values are on the up as both new and used markets respond well to the increase in quality of the latest generation car.
Most commentators agree that the Fiesta ST is the hot hatch to have in the junior shopping rocket segment. If you've decided that too, but concluded that the costs involved are just that little bit beyond you, then these ST-Line models offer a very tempting alternative.
Yes, there's less power, but the handling promises to be very nearly as good - and possibly in some circumstances even better - than Ford's established class leader. Go on. You know you want to.