WHEN can you call a Ford a triumph? When it's the new Fiesta ST.
Andy Barratt, chairman and managing director of Ford of Britain, thinks it is.
He said he genuinely thought it was the ‘best car we have ever produced'. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? But, he could be right.
The old Fiesta ST was a brilliant hot hatch with stunning handling and an exceptional 1.6-litre engine. A very hard act to follow.
But, with a series of ‘firsts', Ford has somehow achieved the impossible with the new ST. It manages to be more mature while still inspiring your inner hooligan.
For a start, a limited slip differential is available for the first time on the Fiesta ST, as part of an Â£850 Performance Pack, which also includes launch control. I'd spend Â£600 on the snazzy LED headlamps too.
Another first are driving modes - Normal, Sport and Track - each one ramping up the noise and excitement. It's these that gives the new Fiesta ST the versatility to manage the school run as well as fast laps on the track.
In Normal, the ST is an enjoyable, comfortable and remarkably refined drive. Cruising at motorway speeds it's so quiet you wouldn't believe it's a hot hatch.
Sport mode is for more ‘enthusiastic on road driving'. The steering becomes sharper, torque higher, and there's a noticeably different throttle response. You also get an infectious pop and crackle added to the exhaust note. It's addictive.
Track mode knocks the traction control off and gives much more ‘slip' to the ESP. That's when the fun really starts.
There's no auto, no paddleshifts, just a short and slick six-speed manual. It may be a technological marvel but in some ways this is an ‘old school' hot hatch.
The biggest change is under the bonnet, where Ford has introduced its new three-cylinder 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine.
It boasts 197bhp and a thumping 290Nm of torque but, is the first three-cylinder engine to feature cylinder deactivation technology, which means it can run on just two cylinders to save fuel - up to six per cent say Ford - when it decides it can. The switchover, which happens 20 times faster than the blink of an eye, is unnoticeable.
Despite less cylinders and less ‘cc', the new ST will still sprint from 0-65mph in 6.5 seconds, a smidgeon quicker than its predecessor, and go on to a top speed of 144mph. However, that impressive torque is now available from very low revs, which means the ST can go from 31mph to 62mph in 6.1 seconds - though it feels faster still.
Officially, it returns 47.1mpg but, in the real world, it will be much less. That said, after thrashing it - sorry, driving enthusiastically - around Hampshire and West Sussex for two hours, it was still returning over 33mpg.
Whichever mode you choose, the new Fiesta ST is engaging and fun-to-drive. Even without the limited diff, Ford's patented force vectoring spring deliver sharper turn-in and better rear-end responsiveness.
There's a little bit of torque steer but the turn-in and tuck-in is fabulous - just point the nose where you want it to go and it will go there. Grip is huge, aided by sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.
Available in three-door and five-door body styles, with sporty exterior styling and standard 17-inch or optional 18-inch alloy wheels, the ST comes in three trims.
Priced from £18,995 in ST-1 trim, it features a flat-bottomed steering wheel, figure-hugging Recaro seats and ST sports suspension as standard.
All models are also equipped with electric, heated door mirrors, Ford's SYNC3 DAB radio with 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, cruise control and NCAP Pack, which includes lane keeping alert and speed limiter.
The ST-2 adds climate control, heated Recaro front seats, B&O Play sound system and SYNC3 with a larger eight-inch touchscreen.
ST-3 gains 18-inch alloy wheels and red brake calipers, sat nav, automatic rain-sensing wipers, rear view camera and rear parking sensors - which are handy as the door mirrors seem a little on the small size - and driver assistance features including Traffic Sign Recognition, auto high beam and driver alert.
The ST also benefits from the improvements to the standard Fiesta which means it's comfortable and the dash layout simple and easy. It's fairly spacious though, if you plan on carrying adult passengers on a regular basis, you might want to choose the five-door version.
At 292 litres, the boot is still practical and there's some very competitive finance offers too.
Yes, the set-up is a little softer, but the new Fiesta ST is more rounded, more mature, and a much improved everyday car. And, if you want to be ‘enthusiastic', it's a belter.