A week ago I bought another car. I don’t need another car, I don’t have space for another car, and I don’t have the time to drive/maintain/obsess over another car. For some, this purchase might sound insane. I suspect for many of you, it sounds like the inside of your head.
Despite a lack of any objective need, here it is, a 2018 Ford Fiesta ST in a glistening and more than a bit gaudy pearlescent white. As I reflect back on my purchase, I see (at least) two layers of motivation. The surface layer is the easiest to articulate. I love owning, maintaining and driving cars, and this one is cheap to own, easy to maintain, and an absolute joy drive. Simple, right?
That is until you dig a bit deeper. The subterranean recesses of my brain hold less obvious, and less rational motivations. Like most things in the Spring of 2020, the root can be traced to Coronavirus. It should be said that on a relative scale I have little to complain about. My family is safe and healthy, I have a job, and here in Montana we have some space to move around safely. Yet there have been challenges, too. At this moment, there is complete uncertainty as to what the next six months or more may look like for the world. From trivial to critical, my family has virtually no plans we can rely upon for the foreseeable future. As I look at the blank white of my calendar, I realize that what I was searching for with the Fiesta was some some juice. Some action. Some color (ironic, 'cuz this car's white).
With this purchase I succeeded on both levels. I’ve loved every minute of the research, the hunt, the bargain, the waiting for delivery, and now the driving. It’s not the most financially responsible thing I’ve ever done, but it brought some much needed anticipation to an otherwise uncertain future.
Armchair psychology aside, this thing rips. Auto journalists, especially in Europe, have been raving about the Mk VI Fiesta ST (2014 to 2019 in the USA) for the past 6 years. I admit I was slow on the uptake, but a few months ago there was a decent looking used example for sale in town, and I went to test drive it. I was actually relieved when I was told someone was working out financing and planning to return for it. An impulse buy was averted. I was more relieved when they offered to let me test drive it anyway. The buyer did get his financing, and did come back later that day, but after that 10 minute foray, I’ve been on the hunt since.
Now I’ve got one, and can confidently say it lives up to the hype. It is one of the few modern examples of the old adage that it's more fun to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slow. The Fiesta ST is not statistically fast, but man does it haul ass on back roads. The motor is happy to rev, it sounds lively but not obnoxious, the gear box manages this trick of being capable of one finger shifts, but it still feels deliberate and solid. It is so chuckable you literally laugh while you’re driving. The lynch pin of this car is weight, or lack thereof. Try as engineers might, you just can’t science your way out of being fat. And modern cars are fat. Admittedly there is something awe inspiring about a 5,000 lb. Tesla surging to 60 in like 2 seconds and feeling your jowls touch your ears. But in the end, the experience is antiseptic and a bit empty. It’s like a carnival ride. You’re given an experience, but not of your own making.
The base Ford Fiesta (non-ST) was one of the cheapest, most sparsely optioned, and lightest cars offered for sale in the U.S. from 2014 through 2019. Ford unquestionably slotted the Fiesta car in the "total econo-box" market segment. However, for true driving enthusiasts the last of those attributes, lightness, is a dog whistle, and Ford Performance heard the call. You simply cannot fake lightness when your goal is driving enjoyment, and at 2,600 lbs the Fiesta starts with a leg up on almost every other car on the market. The folks at Ford Performance (formerly SVT) have made some serious performers of late: The Raptor, the Focus ST, and the Focus RS are all brilliant offerings, and the Fiesta ST does not let the side down. But whereas the Raptor and RS wow with big power, big tech, and all the goodies, the Fiesta ST is an exercise in restraint. The ~200 hp turbo is plenty, the six speed is precise but not finicky, and the rear torsion beam looks archaic on paper but drives like a dream on the road. This car would be a total dog in a game of Top Trumps, but it's an Ace on the road, and that's where it really counts.
The Fiesta ST shown here is a 2018 model, with 17,500 miles. It has one rock chip on the hood, and other than that, you would be hard pressed to find anything to differentiate this from a brand new car. Most importantly, it has no modifications. This one came with full maintenance and service records from the prior owner, half it’s bumper to bumper warranty, and more than 40,000 miles of drivetrain coverage. It had an MSRP of about $24,000 when it was sold in January of 2019. The book/retail value at time of writing is probably around $16,500. It’s a heck of a lot of car for the money. And after driving it, I would even say it's a heck of a lot of car at any price... and I'm a sucker for a red badge.
The lightness comes at a cost. Make no mistake, this car feels like an econo-box. The doors sound like they’re made from used tuna cans, the hard black plastics that swath the interior are so shiny you can get a tan under your nose, and even the steering wheel is covered in some sort of hard slippery material more suited to a hospital E.R. than a performance car. There is not a stitch of leather in sight. The good news: sterilization is a cinch. And none of that fluff matters once you spool up the tiny little turbo and start banging off the red line. Actually, you don’t really even want to bang off the redline. Like many turbos it's done pulling before redline, but it’s torquey enough that the short shift doesn’t hurt its motivation. You live in the mid range with this car, rowing the gear box like a paddler in a rapid, trying to stay in highest flow of power. And while that’s probably not a fast way to drive, that’s definitely part of the fun.
With the purchase of a second Ford Performance vehicle, (a Gen II Raptor being the first, read more here), I guess I’m becoming a bit of a fanboy. And I really think they’re doing a lot of things right. Perhaps the most “right” thing they’re doing is making cars that are just plain fun. Several Ford Performance cars, including two Focus based variants, and the Fiesta ST, are derived from cars that were built for the European market. Maybe it’s in my head, but I think they have a European feel to them without being as dour and serious as Zee Germans. What is a "European feel," you ask? As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said of porn in his concurrence in Jacobellis v. Ohio, "I shall not today attempt further to define [it]...But I know it when I see it..."
However you define it, apparently Americans don't like European feel. They like 'utes. Ford has killed off the Focus and the Fiesta base cars (and all cars except the Mustang) in the US, and thus their performance variants won’t be sold new here either. Whatever your motivations for a new car, that this is the last of a breed is all the more reason to scoop up an unmolested low miles example of a Fiesta ST (or Focus ST, for that matter).