As the odometer on my 2014 Fiesta ST recently ticked over 36,000 miles, it seems fitting to take some time and reflect on the last few years of ownership.
While I can't say the last ~32,000 miles of ownership have been perfect, I can say that I'm grateful for every single one of them. The ST has its quirks, some of which are my own fault (more on that later). Overall though, it has given me a greater appreciation for the joy of driving, introduced me to some awesome people, and helped me through some tough times.
But before I get all sentimental, I want to rewind a bit.
Used Car Shopping
It was the summer of 2014, and after 6 years of ownership, my 2000 Mercury Cougar was beginning to show its age.
Having consumed several alternators (thanks to a not-so-well documented electrical system fault) I had cause for being anxious about its reliability. Being a new college grad faced with a ~100 mile daily commute to work, some unpreventable rust in the Cougar's fenders, and the fact that I was finally making a full-time income, it seemed like the right time to upgrade.
Initially, I had my sights set on a Subaru WRX. I have always adored the WRX, but a new one was out of my price range and a few weeks of scouring the classifieds had me less than optimistic. If you've ever shopped for a used Subaru, you'll understand how nearly impossible it can be to find one thats clean, unmodified, low-mileage, and priced below $20k.
I was beginning to lose hope, so I broadened my search a bit. Almost immediately, a listing for a nearly-new Tuxedo Black 2014 Ford Fiesta ST popped up. While it was no WRX, it certainly ticked all the right boxes:
- 14 years newer than my Cougar
After some research on the ST, reading all the rave reviews praising its driving dynamics and peppy personality, I decided it would be worth checking out. I was able to have the car transferred to a local dealership and, before I knew it, I had the keys in-hand and was slipping my way into the deeeeeep, bucketed Recaro drivers seat for a test drive.
My first impressions were...impressed! It was a very nice interior. Leather everywhere, sporty red gauges, touchscreen, etc. It was all a bit overwhelming and I hadn't even left the parking lot yet! The first few minutes of the drive were uneventful as I got a feel for the car. The clutch was light and springy, and the shifter extremely notchy. The entire driving experience felt so much more refined and capable than my old, worn out Cougar. (Insert middle-aged woman joke here)
It being a new car, I was pretty conservative with the throttle for the first few miles. As I got more and more comfortable however, I gained the courage to give it a bit more gas. As I rounded a corner onto a country back-road, I decided to do a hard pull in second gear. I was not at all prepared for what happened next.
For the uninitiated: The ST comes from the factory with ~200 horsepower (not a lot by modern standards), but the sensation of its delivery is not something you expect. There's some turbo lag at lower RPM's, but it's almost immediately followed by a massive load of torque, almost like letting go of a really tightly stretched rubber band. Coming from the 14 year old V6 in the Cougar, the ST could've been a Veyron for all I cared. I was immediately sold.
After the test drive, it was a few days of paperwork, phone calls, and number crunching before the reality of being able to actually buy the car settled in. But soon enough I found myself crossing the t's, dotting the i's, and finally taking the ST home!
So fast forward a few years - what do I think of the Fiesta ST? Do I still love driving it? Well Let's start with the good.
Thoughts: The Good
The most impressive aspect of the Fiesta ST to me is the interior quality for the price. It's not a GTI, but Ford has seriously stepped up their game in recent years with the fit and finish of their interiors. Heated seats, soft touch materials, and a sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel make the Fiesta a very nice place to be on a daily basis.
The transmission is excellent and makes driving the ST nearly effortless at any speed. The shifter is crisp and precise, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've missed a gear (mostly due to me being lazy/tired). The clutch can be a bit "springy", making it a challenge to engage smoothly, but it's light enough for some extended stop-and-go traffic.
While some may feel the ST's suspension is too stiff (I'll talk about that more later), it could also be argued that this stiffness lends itself to the car's "playful" attitude.
What I mean is this: the Fiesta feels almost "puppy-like"; egging you on through tight corners, and always ready for a sprint between the stoplights. This eagerness inspires confidence, and is great for tight, bumper-to-bumper traffic. To this day, I still get a smile when burying the throttle mid-corner, or passing on the highway.
The "love-it-or-hate-it" sound symposer also really contributes to the car's personality; generating a distinct, low-end growl when accelerating hard, but isolating almost all of the engine noise the rest of the time.
In addition to looking good, the hatchback design of the ST has proven extremely versatile With the rear seats folded down, the ST's interior is able to swallow up a surprising amount of cargo. I even fit an entire queen-size bed frame inside! (Please pardon my finger on the lens...)
DISCLAIMER: That was not a comfortable one hour ride home from Ikea
As far as reliability, I've had no serious issues. I got a flat tire in my driveway a few weeks into ownership, but the first real "malfunction" didn't occur until over a year into ownership, when the stereo became unresponsive and wouldn't turn off. A hard reset on the SYNC system seemed to fix the issue, and it hasn't returned since. Then most recently, the silver paint on the passenger's door handle began peeling unexpectedly.
Both issues were resolved under warranty with no questions asked, so no complaints there.
The ST makes a very strong case for itself - blending practicality, refinement, and fun in a competitively priced package. However, there are a number of annoying quirks that prevent it from being a perfect daily driver.
Thoughts: The Bad
First, the combination of a subcompact wheelbase, 17" wheels, and sporty suspension equate to a very "bouncy" ride around town. I wouldn't call it "uncomfortable", but it can certainly become annoying. On the highway, you feel every expansion joint and imperfection in the road. The Fiesta may have an agile personality, but it's certainly not a highway cruiser.
Tire noise is also a big problem. The stock wheels are wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza rubber which, while superb for handling and responsiveness, are abhorrently loud. To make matters worse, the Fiesta doesn't have a huge amount of sound deadening from the factory, so wind and road noise easily leak into the cabin. I elected to try and mitigate this with some aftermarket deadening (which you can read more about here), but aside from settling any remaining rattles and high-frequency resonance, it didn't do much to lower the road or tire noise. If I planned on owning the car for an extended period, I'd almost certainly add a healthy layer of mass loaded vinyl on top of the deadening.
Now, regarding the seats. One of the biggest selling points of the Fiesta ST is the optional partial leather Recaro bucket seats. They are easily the feature I get the most comments on when people are riding in the car.
They are very aggressively bolstered in both the thigh and waist, making them well suited for keeping you in the seat while blasting around corners. The trade-off is that they are extremely difficult to get in and out of gracefully. In addition, the heavy bolstering means you don't have much ability to "fidget" or reposition yourself during long road trips, as there's really only one way to sit in them. This can be exceptionally uncomfortable when you're in the seat for hours at a time. On the plus side, they are heated, and boy do they work fast. I'm convinced they could be used to bake a batch of cookies if you wanted. Overall, I really wish Ford would offer something a little less aggressive than the Recaros, but more refined than the alternative cloth option.
A number of my biggest complaints about the ST however, come as a result of aftermarket mods I chose to make.
While I originally felt there was no need to modify the Fiesta ST (spoiler alert: there really isn't), I eventually caved and began investing in upgrades.
The first upgrade I made was to replace the factory air filter with a Cobb drop-in filter. This was one of the easiest mods, and took less than 10 minutes with a single screwdriver. The result was a whole lot more intake noises (i.e. 'dat turbo whistle) and +5hp on the butt dyno. The unexpected downside to replacing the factory filter was an annoying "whistling" noise at certain RPMs. It's best described as "blowing air over the end of an empty bottle", and has no obvious cause. Being an aftermarket filter, you get the best/worst of the noises from the engine amplified, so this is something I learned to live with.
In an effort to mitigate/isolate the unwanted noises from the intake, I decided to delete the factory sound symposer next. For those of you that don't know, the symposer is a plastic box mounted inline of the intake tubing that routes noise into the cabin.
Inside this box is a rubber diaphragm that oscillates and vibrates at certain RPMs to create the low-end "growl" I described earlier. It's technically not fake noise, and it's certainly not a performance inhibitor, but it can also be annoying to a lot of owners. Using a vacuum plug and rubber cork, I sealed both ends of the tubing leading into the symposer, and immediately noticed the car felt much more refined. Even though in many ways I miss the way the symposer contributed to the ST's peppy attitude, but have left it deleted.
The next upgrade I did was to add a set of mudflaps. Love them or hate them, having been through a winter without flaps, I had been fully educated in the limitations of a vehicle with widely-offset wheels. Months of slinging snow, salt, mud, etc. onto the side of the car had left me desperate for a solution before the next winter. Thankfully Rally Armor came through just before the snow fell, releasing their line of UR mudflaps for the Fiesta ST.
Installation was a bit tricky, but the detailed instructions with pictures helped me get the flaps installed in a matter of hours.
The flaps themselves are extremely durable, and do an excellent job of keeping crud off the car. If I had one complaint, it would be that the urethane flaps are susceptible to "flapping" at freeway speeds, and I'd prefer something a little lower profile. But that's the trade-off you make for the durability of urethane!
A few months later, I came across a number of forum threads addressing the limitations of the stock Rear Motor Mount (RMM) in the Fiesta ST. I had been noticing the feeling of the engine mount bottoming out under hard acceleration, and read that an aftermarket RMM could address this issue while also providing smoother shifts. There are any number of options available, but I eventually ordered and installed the Mountune RMM due to it's claims of increased performance and minimal impact on noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH).
Initially, I felt it was 100% worth the investment. My low-speed shifts were significantly smoother (with less noise and engine movement between gears), and high-speed, hard shifts were no longer as jarring. However, as the summer months brought intense heat, I grew weary of the extra NVH the RMM created with the air conditioning on. At speed it was hardly noticeable, but at a standstill a decent amount of engine vibration would be transferred through the cabin and steering wheel. It wasn't unbearable by any measure, but the marginal improvement in performance didn't justify the reduced daily comfort for me, so I re-installed the stock RMM a few months later.
Finally, about a year and a half after purchasing the car, I decided to take the plunge on an aftermarket exhaust. I had waited as long as I did for a number of reasons, foremost of which was the potential for drone. I had a custom aftermarket exhaust on my Mercury Cougar, and loved the sounds it made. However, the Cougar was a much bigger car, and not strictly a "hatchback" in the traditional sense, so there was a measurable separation between the occupants and the trunk, minimizing drone. But after hearing a number of exhausts on other owner's STs, I knew it would sound amazing and ordered up a MAP catback for my Fiesta.
I had never installed an exhaust myself, but it was fairly straightforward. I highlighted the install experience on a Reddit thread here. Overall, the fit and finish of the exhaust added a level of polish and refinement to the car I had been looking for. However, the sound it produced was unexpected, in both a good and bad way.
NOTE: I have reached out to MAP regarding my concerns with their exhaust, and they have been extremely responsive and understanding, but reiterated the same points below.
In short: I am convinced that any off-the-shelf aftermarket exhaust on a Fiesta will drone. Considering the dimensions and shape of the car, and the proximity of the hatch area to the occupants, anything louder than stock will most likely generate some amount of resonance in the cabin. That being said, the MAP exhaust for the Fiesta ST is on the aggressive side. It sounds great burbling around town - tons of pops, crackles, and other goodness - but can be very "boomy" and harsh under harder acceleration. If I was to upgrade the exhaust again, I most likely would not go off-the-shelf aftermarket, and instead invest in a custom fabricated system that retained the stock muffler and resonator.
Overall, if I was planning my mods again, I would most likely skip the RMM and exhaust upgrades altogether. It's a highly subjective thing, but as I get older, I find myself less interested in "maximum performance" and more drawn to comfort with the potential for performance when it's needed/wanted (more on that later).
The ST Community
Prior to owning my ST, I had been a member on a variety of car-related forums. These communities were a great resource, but always felt "hostile". Car ownership (more specifically how you mod your car) can be a very personal subject for a lot of people, and unfortunately the internet makes it far too easy to be overly aggressive and intolerant. As a result, I never really felt like I was part of these groups - more of an outsider occasionally stepping in for a conversation.
When I joined my first ST group however, this all changed. All of the forums, groups, and clubs in the ST community have all been very inclusive and welcoming. I've been fortunate enough to be part of a local club - MN STs - giving me the opportunity to meet a lot of other ST owners in-person. Nearly every person I've met has been extremely sociable, and thanks largely to the generosity and kindness of these people, some of the my favorite memories now include cruises, shows, meetups, and other car-related events.
In so many ways, ST ownership has given me a greater appreciation for the car enthusiast community as a whole. Whether it's participating in charitable events, local meetups, or just cruising with friends, I feel that being an ST owner has made me a more well-rounded person. I find it incredibly easy and enjoyable to talk cars, and see my ST as not just a means of transportation, but an opportunity to expand my horizons and meet new and interesting people.
I will say that the Fiesta ST is not a perfect car. As I highlighted earlier, it has its flaws. However, in spite of this, it always manages to bring a smile to my face. It's has a genuine personality - one that inspires immense confidence and maximizes the joy to be found in the act of driving. All of this in combination creates a unique experience unlike anything I've ever had with another car. To quote Jeremy Clarkson:
"If you're going to form a relationship with a car, if you're gonna develop a bond, it's got to have human qualities. And if it's gonna have human qualities, it's got to have faults."
Unfortunately, I must also admit that my time with the ST is rapidly coming to an end. In the last year or so, my priorities have shifted, and I find myself increasingly frustrated with the limitations of a subcompact car. I yearn for something bigger, more comfortable, and more refined. Funny enough, I once again find my heart set on a WRX.
Only time will tell. :)