Want to know just how much fun it's possible to have in a ferociously fast small supermini? Then try one of these - Ford's Fiesta ST. It's been developed like a proper performance car - and drives like one, ready to paint a smile upon your face corner after corner. This time round, a 1.5-litre three cylinder engine replaces the old 1.6-litre 'four', but power's up to 200PS as standard and we're told the handling's sharper too. Of course, for not much more than the affordable prices Ford asks, you can buy more power. But after a drive in one of these, you probably won't want to.
The previous Fiesta ST suffered a little on paper against obvious rivals by not being able to claim a 200PS output - at least in its standard form anyway. An ST200 version was later launched to rectify that oversight. This third generation car has 200PS in its ordinary form from the start, courtesy of a lighter, more efficient 1.5-litre EcoBoost three cylinder powerplant which replaces the previous 182PS 1.6-litre four cylinder unit. 62mph from rest takes just 6.5s on the way to 144mph.
Also new this time round are selectable Drive Modes - enabling engine, steering and stability controls to be configured to Normal, Sport and Track settings. The Drive Modes will also adjust this Fiesta's Electronic Sound Enhancement technology and active exhaust noise control valve, which amplifies the sound of the engine note. But power of course is nothing without control - which is exactly where this Fiesta should really shine. With this MK3 model, the track is wider, the steering is quicker, the brakes are beefier and torsional stiffness is up by 8%. Pay a little extra and you can get a 'Performance Pack', which includes a Quaife limited slip differential, launch control and performance shift lights.
It's easy to go overboard and get all Max Power when it comes to a car of this kind, a temptation Ford has thankfully resisted here. This isn't the prettiest junior shopping rocket you can buy but the ST bodykit makes it playfully purposeful in demeanour. There's a choice of three of five-door body styles and gorgeous angular-spoked 18-inch alloys are fitted to the top 'ST-3' version.
Things aren't quite so overt once you take a seat inside. Go for a base-trimmed version and you get two of the things that most set the cabin apart - blue seatbelts and the larger 8-inch centre-dash SYNC3 infotainment touchscreen.
And rear seat space? Well, it's better than the claustrophobically rising beltline of the three-door body shape might lead you to expect. True, the heavily bolstered Recaros do slightly hinder your access into the back, but once you're there, the Fiesta surprises with headroom manageable even for a six-footer - though his or her legs will be crushed pretty snugly against the seat in front. There's also a 292-litre boot, extendable to 1,093-litres by flattening the 60:40 split-folding rear bench.
Ford retains market leadership in the junior hot hatch segment with this car. That's the headline news with this third generation Fiesta ST. It'll be a best seller on merit. This really is a special little car, usable every day but as focused as you could want when your favourite road opens up and you can flex your right foot, sink into the grippy Recaros and dial up a responsible amount of red mist. We'd also honestly say that it's pretty much the only car in its segment that's ultimately rewarding enough to consider taking on a trackday. Which, we think, says everything, the difference, if you like, between a supermini with skirts, spoilers and a more powerful engine - and a properly developed performance car.
Which is what this is, as much a go-to choice in its market sector as a Porsche 911 would be if you were looking for a performance sportscar or a Lotus Elise might be for those in search of a Roadster. In all honesty, you'd have more fun in this little Ford on a public road than you ever could in something pricier and more powerful. Think of it as one-up for the common man, small perhaps in price and performance but big in smiles per mile. Which, at the end of the day, is exactly what a hot hatch should really be all about.Click here to find out more about our Ford Fiesta ST range