From £18,995
Was five months enough time for Ford’s hot supermini to make an impression? After 9000 miles, we have an answer

Our Verdict

Ford Fiesta ST 2018 road test review hero front

Can Ford reclaim the hot hatchback crown with a Fiesta ST that’s missing a cylinder - or have rivals like the VW Polo GTI regained ground?

  • First Drive

    Ford Fiesta ST 2019 long-term review

    Was five months enough time for Ford’s hot supermini to make an impression? After 9000 miles, we have an answer
  • First Drive

    Ford Fiesta ST 2018 UK review

    Latest Fiesta to wear red ST badge is more refined than predecessor and more satisfying to drive over a range of speeds than any of its rivals
13 May 2019

Why we ran it: To see if Ford’s hottest supermini can successfully pick up the baton from its class-topping predecessor

Month 5Month 4 - Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Ford Fiesta ST: Month 5

Saying goodbye to the Fiesta ST - 24th April 2018

You will have seen more powerful cars appear on our long-term fleet in recent months. More luxurious. More expensive. But nothing on our fleet has attracted the level of interest this plucky little Ford has achieved.

It was continually being booked for weekend road trips. No sooner had one eager staffer returned the keys, another would appear pleading for a go. And after five months of Fiesta ST ownership, I can’t blame them.

The ST so comfortably fills its brief as a fast, fun supermini, with genuinely usable performance and an engaging drive, that it feels greater than the sum of its parts. It might be ‘just’ a Fiesta underneath that bodykit and Performance Blue paint, but the changes made by Ford have transformed the basic recipe into something special.

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Take the engine. On paper, the 1.5-litre three-cylinder unit sounds far less exciting than the four-pot turbos found in its rivals, but Ford has managed to extract an impressive 197bhp and tuned its engine note into something decidedly more rip-snorting than you’d think possible given its cubic capacity. Okay, I would have liked a few more pops and bangs, which only really present themselves in Sport mode and aren’t anywhere near the barking ferocity of the Hyundai i30 N’s outbursts, but then again, I’m easily amused.

What was most grin-inducing was the way it delivers mid-range shove, pulling faster in-gear than any of its rivals and at a rate that could surprise much pricier cars on motorway journeys. It’s also an indication of how far Ford has come in a relatively short space of time: when our road test team figured the ST, it dispatched 0-100mph faster than the original, head-turning 2002 Focus RS, while managing fuel economy of almost 50mpg when you’re being more careful. The ST made the biggest impression in the corners, with direct and sensibly weighted steering allowing for immediate shifts in direction, and plenty of grip through the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.

Would-be owners should consider the £850 ST Performance Pack. It’s a near-mandatory addition when choosing options, such is the effect the limited-slip differential has on handling. With it, a trailing throttle allows for easily controlled oversteer and a level of playfulness rarely experienced in a front-driven hatchback.

It often took a drive in something else to highlight how well-rounded the ST is, and it wasn’t ever short on challengers. A stint in Vauxhall’s Corsa GSi revealed how badly ride quality can be impacted by oversprung suspension, and while the Ford isn’t flawless, it’s a lot more comfortable around town than the previous-generation model. It proved itself on longer journeys, too.

The Suzuki Swift Sport showed that performance upgrades alone can’t entirely justify a premium price if the interior remains built to a budget. The ST might not be all that different from the regular Fiesta, but that car’s cabin was already above average for the class, and the half-leather Recaro sports seats and flat-bottomed steering wheel really help the ST feel special. I love how well Ford knows its audience, too. Take the cupholders in the centre console: I’m reliably informed the smaller, half-size slot between the two main ones is so that youthful owners have somewhere to securely stash their Red Bull.

The Volkswagen Polo GTI, perhaps the Ford’s closest rival, was hampered by an indecisive automatic transmission and overly restrained styling that felt at odds with the concept of a hot supermini. The ST has a slick-shifting six-speed manual and stands out from the standard car without needing Honda Civic Type R levels of styling aggression.

Pound for pound, I don’t think there’s a better hot hatch on sale – even after options pushed the price of our ST-3 model north of £24,000. There’s not much I’d change if I was ordering one myself, although I think I could live without the B&O Play sound system. My, ahem, eclectic combination of drum and bass, spoken word podcasts and 1990s grunge sounded decent but not good enough to justify the extra £350. And while I used Android Auto a whole lot more than Ford’s built-in Sync3 navigation, it comes as standard on the ST-3 anyway.

Shortcomings? Well, the Fiesta isn’t exactly class-leading when it comes to boot space or rear leg room. When called into action as a photography crew car, the rear seats would always need to be folded flat so our snappers could travel with all their gear. My weekly supermarket run posed no such problems.

The sculpted seats aren’t the easiest things for passengers to climb over, so the back seats of our three-door model really were best used sparingly. You could, of course, opt for a five-door – Ford, unlike many makers of small cars, still gives you a choice of bodystyles.

I would have liked a little extra firmness and feel in the brake pedal and thought the steering wheel was overly squidgy, but none of these minor quibbles was enough to spoil the outstanding driving experience.

I’m not sure if there’s anything else that’s quite as entertaining, while still being so usable every day. Which, for Ford, has to be pretty much mission accomplished.

Second Opinion

Many thought the old ST needed the Mountune upgrade to get the most out of it, but this car feels properly rapid out of the box. It’s helped by the close ratios of the six-speed ’box. I love the way it rips through the midrange with such enthusiasm, even if it does run out of puff right near the redline. It turns every commute into a joy yet is well mannered enough to be a refined daily driver. The powertrain is as impressive as the handling for me – and it’s even reasonably economical.

Lawrence Allan

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Love it:

Usable performance Engaging engine encourages rapid pace but remains manageable. Delivers sensible economy too.

responsive infotainment Nothing about Ford’s Sync3 system feels entry-level, with sharp graphics and smartphone support.

sports seats Firm Recaros pin you in place at maximum attack without compromising everyday comfort.

Loathe it:

basic drive modes No option to keep exhaust note while reining in throttle response and steering feel.

podgy steering wheel Abundance of padding makes for a spongy feel. A skinnier wheel would have done a better job.

Final mileage: 9148

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Life with a Ford Fiesta ST: Month 4

Which of our superminis, the Fiesta ST or Polo GTI, impressed most? We thrash it out - 3rd April 2019

Our time with the Fiesta ST is rapidly running out, but while it shared a space on the long-term fleet with Volkswagen’s fourth-generation Polo GTI (which we recently said goodbye to), I made sure to pit the two hot superminis against each other. That meant roping in Lawrence Allan, who has spent just as much time as me with each car, to argue it out over which would earn a spot in our personal garages.

TM I just can’t get behind the Polo as a proper hot supermini, and it’s all because of that automatic gearbox.

LA An auto does feel like a strange choice in a car like this, especially a unit that can’t seem to make up its mind. It’s keen to upshift early but equally ready to drop a cog if you so much as brush the throttle, even if that means copious amounts of wheelspin. The Fiesta’s precise six-speed manual is a joy to use in comparison. When you find the traction, though, the Polo carries its speed effortlessly.

TM That 2.0-litre EA888 engine is tried and tested elsewhere, so I knew it would deliver plenty of punch. I wouldn’t call the way it does so dramatic, though. The Polo sounds pretty tasty in Sport mode, with a few pops on the overrun, but side-by-side the Fiesta is definitely the rortier of the pair. Ford’s done a wicked job to make its three-pot sound as good as it does, and it’s by no means a slouch either. The short gearing just helps keep you involved when pushing on.

LA It’s easily the better handling of the pair, too. The ST has brilliant weight to its steering and a chuckable chassis that makes B-road blasts properly fun. I was more grateful for the VW’s softer ride on my mostly motorway commute, though. And that’s the Polo in a nutshell, isn’t it? As much as the performance and styling are just enough to earn it that GTI badge, it's feels more like a GT at times. 

TM It’s definitely the more mature of the two, and those rear doors make it a lot more practical; I feel I need to apologise whenever I had to ask someone to squeeze into the back of the Fiesta. But while VW’s grown-up styling works so well for the Golf GTI, I’m not convinced it carries the same kind of appeal among supermini buyers. The ST’s more aggressive looks really help it stand out from the normal Fiesta, and that’s before you get inside and slide into those excellent Recaros.

LA They really do keep you firmly in place, though if the tight fit encouraged me to go out and get a bit more exercise. Add in the flat-bottomed wheel and the ST does feel special inside, even with a dashboard that’s near-identical to the standard car. I know the GTI has all this history, but I wish VW had done more than add a bit of tartan pattern to the seats. It feels largely like any other Polo, although that means it's more upmarket than the Fiesta. I like the digital instrument display, too.

TM It’s so customisable, and having navigation and mapping right in your line of sight is great for unfamiliar roads. It was probably the thing I missed the most when swapping into the ST, but once you get on some twisty roads, I know which of the two I’d rather be driving. The Polo would make a great daily driver, but if you want to enjoy your weekends as well, the Fiesta is the better choice.

Love it:

Steering feel The Fiesta is pleasantly weighty, precise at all speeds and largely consistent, while the Polo is overly light.

Loathe it:

Rear room It might not be called into action very often, but rear leg room and boot space are both lacking in the Fiesta compared with the Polo.

Mileage: 7748

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Infotainment is perfectly pitched - 20th March 2019

I’m really liking Ford’s Sync 3 system. The touchscreen is sharp and detailed, and the interface is straightforward to use and super-fast, even if it’s not quite as comprehensive as some rivals. Navigation comes as standard on the ST, too. I’d worry it would feel a bit too simple in a Focus, but it suits the Fiesta perfectly.

Mileage: 7587

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Where the ST makes the most sense - 13th March 2019

Escaping London showed how much more engaging the ST feels when you open the taps on a challenging B-road. Full throttle reveals a grin-inducing aspect to the turbo triple. In a recent video on the Autocar YouTube channel, Dan Prosser reckoned the Fiesta’s limits revealed themselves on track – but I doubt you’d ever truly find them at road-legal speeds.

Tom Morgan

Mileage: 7479

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Life with a Ford Fiesta ST: Month 3

From Italian mountain passes to bottom-warming commutes - 27th February 2019

I have been on something of a hot supermini fact-finding mission over the past 12 months. Having had stints in a Suzuki Swift Sport, Vauxhall Corsa GSI and Volkswagen Polo GTI, it was about time I added the Fiesta ST to that list.

The regular version of Ford’s ever-popular hatch had already made an impression on my family, my parents having owned a sixth-generation car and my sister recently swapping her Mini for one. Until late last year, though, I’d yet to get my hands on this latest one, let alone an ST. The next month of reports will be an attempt to make up for lost time.

On handing over the keys, photographer Luc Lacey warned me he’d found that the Recaro seats, while perfectly designed to keep you locked in position when attacking twisty B-roads, weren’t especially comfortable when contending with stop-start city traffic. That’s not been my experience so far: I quite like the cosseting feel of the stiff side bolsters, and I’m nowhere near as lithe as our snapper.

I’m planning some longer-distance drives in the next few weeks to see if my opinion changes but, at the moment, I’d happily sit on rusty springs first thing in the morning as long as they included a heated seat function. Heated seats thankfully come as standard on the ST-3, and they get toasty very quickly, so I’m not sat shivering on my way to work.

As I'm a stickler for neat and tidy interiors, the ST received a much-needed in-and-out valet (it having most recently been used as a crew car on a few back-to-back jobs). The various cupholders and cubby holes in the centre console seem to be magnets for crumbs and the like, but their rubber liners pop out for easy cleaning. The downside to living in a fourth-floor flat (and owning neither a hosepipe nor an extra-long extension cord for a vacuum) meant that said interior wipe down was all I could manage before a trip to my nearest (Car Wash Advisory Service-approved) hand car wash to get the Fiesta looking suitably spangly.

I was a little worried that the Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tyres would struggle for grip on my cold February commute, but so far they’ve proved infallible. I can be as vigorous as I like at traffic lights and junctions and they always find traction – something James Attwood’s VW Polo GTI long-term car seems to find incredibly difficult. I’m also loving the Fiesta’s sharp manual gearbox and crisp-shifting gearlever, although I’d probably have to give the nod to Hyundai’s i30 N as the best I’ve experienced in a sub-£25k hot hatch.

The i30’s near-infinitely customisable N mode settings also spoiled me a bit, so I was a little disappointed not to have the same flexibility in the Fiesta – even if drive modes of any kind are still a novelty in hot superminis. Normal, Sport and Race are your lot, so if you want the pops and bangs (which I do, because I’m easily amused by rorty exhausts), you have to also accept the way Sport mode tweaks steering and throttle response.

Normal mode is fine for Monday-Friday driving, and has rewarded me with impressive fuel economy. I am knocking on the door of 40mpg, but am going to need a lighter foot if I have any hope of seeing Ford’s claimed 47.1mpg combined figure in the coming weeks.

Tom morgan

Love it:

BESPOKE INTERIOR Recaros and ST-branded steering wheel are reminders you’re driving a Fiesta that’s a little bit special.

Loathe it:

DRIVE MODES Some flexibility would be nice, as the ST sounds best in Sport but I don’t need the instant throttle response when city driving.

Mileage: 7245

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The styling really sells it - 13th February 2019

I was keen to try the ST after hearing great things about it from colleagues and now I’m a fan of it, too. I found myself admiring its terrier-esque proportions and aggressive alloys, and in this blue shade I think it all comes together to look wonderfully appealing. Perhaps that’s because it makes me feel young and trendy; or perhaps I mean to say ‘on fleek’.

Olgun Kordal

Mileage: 6799

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Life with a Ford Fiesta ST: Month 2

A return trip to Leeds and a back-to-back drive with a past class master - 16th January 2018

On the first day back at work after a week off for Christmas the Fiesta provided me with the greatest possible present for the morning commute: the Waze navigation app now works with the infotainment system.

No longer do I need to balance my phone precariously in the car’s centre console to view the app: a simple glance at the 8.0in touchscreen is now all that’s needed. For those of us that use our mobile for navigation, the development is a significant one, and it was a welcome boost to the ST’s already generous level of convenience.

A few weeks earlier our three-door had already scaled new heights in proving its maturity over the old ST when, on a trip to Leeds, it officially achieved the best mile-per-gallon figure of any long-termer I’ve run while contributing to Autocar. A 38mpg average might not sound like much cause for celebration, but on a weekend that involved a sprint up the M1, dozens of miles around Leeds’ inner roads and a quick jaunt on a country route, it’s highly impressive. It’s evidence of the effectiveness of the 1.5-litre triple’s ability to run on just two cylinders and its low-down grunt that negates the need for the engine to be worked hard.

These traits do come with their own drawbacks, of course. The turbocharged motor responds so quickly from low down that, perhaps inevitably, exploring the top end is less rewarding. Mostly this is because there’s simply less of it to explore: you’ll bounce into the limiter at just over 6250rpm. In isolation, and once you get to know the engine, this is of little concern, and you instinctively change up a gear when the bassy three-pot reaches its upper realms. But if you’re used to driving a hot hatch with an elastic top-end, the otherwise impressive engine might feel a little capped.

This was certainly the case on a recent back-to-back drive with a former Autocar hot hatch champion, namely a 2010 Renault Sport Clio 200 Cup. The ageing French car lacked a large number of creature comforts that come as standard on our Blue Oval hatch, meaning it was a far less comfortable place in which to be on an icy winter morning. But as soon as the oil temperature was up and the road conditions improved, the 2.0-litre-engined Clio’s natural sporting ability was clear. Its engine, for starters, begged to be revved, while its chassis felt racy and planted compared with the Fiesta ST’s more supple set-up.

Still, the ST was definitely quicker thanks to its broader torque window and grip advantage, partially helped by the use of its more extreme Michelin Super Sport tyres compared to the discontinued 200 Cup’s ContiSport Contact 5s. On cold asphalt, the Quaife front differential, included as part of the Ford’s optional Performance Pack (£850), was a godsend, finding grip where there really shouldn’t have been much and enabling the power to be applied earlier and with more aggression. The Clio, even with less grunt to juggle, struggled to compete and felt comparably nervous when asked for both steering angle and traction.

This drive gave me a chance to test the ST’s engine modes, which have so far divided opinion. I’m still firmly lodged in the camp that doesn’t see the point of them, because – aside from coaxing a couple of pops from the exhaust when you lift the accelerator – there are no real benefits to switching from Normal.

The only real argument for using Sport is a slight decrease in intrusion from the electronic stability control, but even this feels like a minute change. I know this opinion exists outside of Autocar HQ, too, because reader Paul Mason, an ST owner, messaged me to say he “defaults to Normal mode as this is usually sufficient and doesn’t make the car any less fun”. Not that this is a bad thing. It’s quite the opposite, actually.

Love it:

APPY NEW YEAR The addition of the Waze navigation app gives our Fiesta’s infotainment a key advantage over rival alternatives.

Loathe it:

MORE OR LESS POINTLESS Very occasionally the keyless entry doesn’t work until you pull the fob out of your pocket and wave it next to the door handle.

Mileage: 5378

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Sensitive in all the right places - 27th December 2018

One of the ST’s best traits is the responsiveness of its engine. It pulls strongly from barely over 1000rpm, but the most satisfying thing is the pace at which it reacts to the smallest movements of your big toe. Perhaps it’s just a hypersensitive throttle map, but it enhances the connection to the engine and makes the car feel light on its toes.

Mileage: 4162

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Life with a Ford Fiesta ST: Month 1

Another one? Here’s why we wouldn’t, shouldn’t and couldn’t be without a hot Ford - 28th November 2018

Another Fiesta already, you ask? Well yes, this is the best-selling car in the UK by a long shot (as of October the Fiesta racked up 79,416 sales to the second-placed Volkswagen Golf’s 52,162) and there are many versions that each slot into their own niche. Of course there wasn’t going to be a Fiesta-shaped hole in the Autocar fleet for long.

Anyway, this particular one’s worthy of your attention because it’s the top dog, the halo model. Out of all the Fiestas, this is the one that has the best potential to get people like us wandering into a dealership asking for a brochure and test drive, even if we don’t really need a new car right now. The latest arrival on our fleet is a fully-fledged Fiesta ST. Yippee.

We won’t need to delve into too much detail to explain why we’re so excited because the ST has already proved itself as brilliantly fun to drive. You might recall it won our Junior Handling Day contest in the summer, which is impressive for a car that is neither the most potent nor most focused in its class. Anyone can jump into an ST and have a giggle, which is what it’s all about really, isn’t it?

Well, no, not really. It’s only part of the puzzle. Hot hatches have to be hot – and the ST is that – but they also have to be hatches. This means they arguably have the hardest job on the market: to be extremely practical, easy to drive and comfortable enough for daily use, while also being quick, playful and, hopefully, a bit silly. Oh, and they must remain affordable and cheap to run. The pressure’s even higher if your predecessor was the best hatch of its class, or if you rivals are supremely talented.

Unfortunately for our ST, that is exactly its case. The previous ST, particularly the ST200 run-out variant, was much-loved and still stands as one of the most enthralling front-wheel drive cars. It faced a tough bunch of rivals but the new car arguably has it even harder, because today there’s a much better Volkswagen Polo GTI, the Mini Cooper S has received a list of improvements to enhance its appeal further and there’s a newcomer in the Toyota Yaris GRMN that is bloody good fun. Our Fiesta ST must keep us on side over the coming months as winter sets in, while also resisting the pressure from its fellow sporty hatchbacks and anything else that crops up between now and spring.

No doubt a key topic for investigation will be the ST’s use of a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine. That’s about 100cc and a cylinder down on the old car’s 1.6, which you might think will lead to a higher stressed engine more dependant on the boost provided by its turbocharger.

Certainly that’s been the case with plenty of other downsized engines in recent years, but the ST has cylinder deactivation technology up its sleeve. Impressively, it means it can run on just two cylinders in low-load situations, which might help explain the claims for 47.1mpg combined and 55.4mpg extra urban. Those are numbers never before achieved by a hot Fiesta; in fact, our experiences of the previous generation left both figures at least 10mpg lower. This tester’s wallet hopes the claimed figures are accurate.

As a top-of-the-range ST-3, our car comes loaded with kit. As standard it gets 18in five-spoke wheels with a two-tone machined finish, red brake calibers and rear privacy glass, as well as part-leather Recaro sports seats, a rear view camera and keyless entry.

There’s also an 8.0in touchscreen with Sync3 infotainment, including Apple Carplay/Android Auto. But the key features that should really set our car apart are the options of the ST Performance Pack (£850), which includes a Quaife limited-slip differential, as well as full LED headlights (£600) and a B&O Play premium audio system (£350), complete with a sub woofer in place of the spare wheel. These features have potential to substantially enhance fun, usability and in-car entertainment. They also help to push our car’s on the road price up to £24,515, almost £3000 more than the standard ST-3 figure.

The venue for the handover of our ST was none other than the Service Park of Wales Rally GB, where M-Sport fielded its Fiesta World Rally Championship cars. It was hard to not get revved up when the Ford keys were handed over as we stood beside five-time WRC champ Sébastien Ogier’s Fiesta. Okay, so our car lacked the big wing and protruding aerodynamic bodywork, but it still managed to catch the gaze of several M-Sport mechanics who you might imagine to be bored of the Fiesta form. It seemed they were all eager to see the ST’s top-spec interior and hear the burble from its exhaust note in its naughtiest Race mode. Some even jested that they were thinking of getting one.

Does this motorsport link go deeper than the matching bodywork applied to the road ST and its WRC counterpart? Probably not. For some it might help to make the ST experience more exciting, but in truth almost all people interested in a hot Fiesta are unlikely to be drawn over by the model’s involvement in the WRC. Exactly what does attract – or deter – people to Fiesta ST ownership is what we’ll be investigating over the coming months.

Sam Sheehan

Second Opinion

There’s a tremendous amount to like, but not the drive modes. They complicate what should be simple. The noise is contrived, the steering given unwanted additional weight and the throttle made too snatchy. When I can pinch the ST from Sam, it stays in Normal – and it’s great.

Matt Bird

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Ford Fiesta ST-3 specification

Prices: List price new £21,495 List price now £22,445 Price as tested £24,515 Dealer value now £19,961 Private value now £16,758 Trade value now £18,535 (part exchange)

Options: ST Performance Pack £850, Performance Blue paint £745, full LED headlights £600, blind-spot information system £475, B&O Play premium audio system £350

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 40.4mpg Fuel tank 42 litres Test average 36.9mpg Test best 43.1mpg Test worst 34.9mpg Real-world range 341 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 6.5sec Top speed 144mph Engine 3 cylinder, 1500cc, turbocharged petrol Max power 197bhp at 6000rpm Max torque 214lb ft at 1600-4000rpm Transmission 6-speed manual Boot capacity 292 litres Wheels 7.5Jx18in, alloy Tyres 205/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Super Sport Kerb weight 1262kg

Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £334.18 CO2 136g/km Service costs 0 Other costs 0 Fuel costs £973.32 Running costs inc fuel £973.32 Cost per mile 12 pence Depreciation £2960 Cost per mile inc dep’n 51 pence Faults none

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Join the debate

Comments
26

12 January 2019
Welcome back Sam, I thought you had left Autocar.

12 January 2019

some of the VW ads that appear, stay over the text and can't be closed. 

12 January 2019

Glad that Autocar have got the more attractive and more appropriate three door version. Their rival weekly mag is always pushing people towards the "more practical" five door.

14 January 2019
catnip wrote:

Glad that Autocar have got the more attractive and more appropriate three door version. Their rival weekly mag is always pushing people towards the "more practical" five door.

I think the three-door looks unbalanced and slab-sided.

14 January 2019

This is probably an excellent car, a class leader, but I just can't get excited about a three cylinder engine.

14 January 2019
Did it have one? No mention at all!
Not a word. :o(
Paq

18 January 2019

There’s a tremendous amount to like, but not the drive modes. They complicate what should be simple. freecell​ The noise is contrived, the steering given unwanted additional weight and the throttle made too snatchy.

24 January 2019
That’s it for month 2 update?? Any news on fuel economy etc...?

25 January 2019

You have made a great website about cars which i like it a lot.I have learned a lot from this post which will help me in future.Keep posting more similar articles.

gym flooring

30 January 2019

A colleague at replaced his old Fiesta ST with this new model and I had the chance for a spin. It's fun to drive, but what struck me was how hard riding it was, even for a hot supermini. crashing on every indentation on the road! It surprises me that car journalists, here and in other magazines, don't even mention this in their review of the car!

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