2015 Ford Fiesta ST

Subcompacts tend to prioritize affordability and fuel efficiency above all else, but the Ford Fiesta ST has a slightly different mission in life. With a 197-horsepower turbocharged motor and a sport-tuned suspension, this hatchback is meant to provide driving thrills - although, like a proper small car, it won't break the bank or consume gas at a rapid clip.

To create the ST, Ford started with the hatchback version of the garden-variety Fiesta and swapped in a high-output version of the automaker's turbocharged and directed-injected 1.6-liter "EcoBoost" four-cylinder. The motor produces 197 horsepower and 214 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm, enough to scoot the miniature hot hatch from zero-to-60 mph in less than seven seconds.

A six-speed manual is the only transmission available, and fuel economy is estimated at 34 mpg on the highway.

To ensure engaging handling dynamics, the ST sits on a lowered suspension with stiffened springs and dampers as well as a tautened rear torsion beam. The ratio of the electric power assist steering system is quicker than that of the standard model, and larger, stickier tires have been thrown in for good measure.

The ST also includes a torque vectoring system that can brake the inside rear wheel to cut down on understeer.

The result of the upgrades is a hatchback that's eager to play, but also one that won't beat the driver into submission on the daily commute with an overly harsh ride.

Though it lacks the designer-label styling flair of rival models from MINI and Fiat, the ST does manage to look sporty without veering too far towards the boy-racer end of the design spectrum. Inside, it's essentially the same as the normal Fiesta, meaning it features respectable material quality, an attractive overall look and questionable packaging that limits rear seat and cargo space.

Serious performance driving requires seriously supportive seats, and the ST can be spec'd with Recaro thrones that offer excellent lateral support and are wrapped in combination leather/cloth upholstery.

The ST comes standard with SYNC, Ford's Bluetooth-based connectivity system that allows smartphone users to place calls and stream music by using voice commands or steering wheel-mounted buttons. It can also read incoming texts aloud to help the driver keep his or her eyes on the road, and allows the use of Ford-approved apps like The Wall Street Journal news and Pandora radio.

Also included is MyFord Touch, an infotainment system that builds on SYNC by letting users control everything from navigation to climate control to the sound system with voice commands. MyFord Touch also replaces conventional sound system knobs and buttons with a center-mounted 6.5-inch touchscreen and touch-sensitive controls in the center stack. Many consumers report that the system is a "love it or hate it" item, so those interested in the ST are advised to try before they buy.

Standard and Optional Features
The Fiesta ST is fitted as standard with automatic climate control, power windows and locks, a Sony-branded AM/FM/CD stereo system with an AUX input jack, SYNC, MyFord Touch, remote keyless entry, a perimeter alarm and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Options include a navigation system, a sunroof and Recaro front seats with leather/cloth upholstery and a heating function.

Occupant Safety
Ford boasts that the Fiesta features more Boron (strongest automotive-grade steel available) steel than any Ford product, with key placement of boron steel in the most vulnerable locations. In all, the Fiesta's frame and sub-structure features over 55 percent high, or ultra-high strength steel.

In addition to paying special attention to creating a rigid steel cage for the Fiesta's occupants, Ford has also incorporated a driver's knee airbag, as well as dual-stage front airbags, curtain airbags and side airbags for a total of seven airbags. Other safety features include traction and stability control systems and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Key Competitors
The Fiesta ST's primary rivals are the Fiat 500 Abarth and the MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop. Both the Fiat and the MINI are more expensive than the Ford - to the tune of about $10,000, in the MINI's case - but offer similar levels of performance in addition to their own unique style. They're also just as big as imperfectly-packaged Fiesta inside, despite being down two doors.

Those willing to look outside of the subcompact hatchback segment for an inexpensive performance car should also check out the Ford Mustang, which combines retro-flavored looks with a potent 305-horsepower V6, as well as the lightweight and precise-handling Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ twins.