Pictures: Colin Mileman / Ford.
Johannesburg - We're normally in the business of reviewing new cars in these pages, but you’ll have to make an exception here. Not only was today’s subject first launched overseas well over a year ago, it’s also based on a 2013 model. Actually, the Ford Fiesta platform at the heart of of this special ST200 edition was first on sale close to a decade back.

Of the 400 ST200s built worldwide, Ford South Africa took a massive 160 unit allotment and released them into our market in May. We suspect this sizeable chunk was never intended for our region specifically, but with the all-new Fiesta and all-new Fiesta ST due next year it’s possible Ford over-catered with this last hoorah variant, and misjudged global demand.

No matter. The base Fiesta ST proved such an enjoyable firecracker of a hatch when we tested it four years ago, we’re happy to give this up-specced version a go, even if it is a bit late and unwanted elsewhere around the world.

Even with 160 of them floating around, the ST200 qualifies as a sort of collector’s item and it’s unlikely you’ll see one every day. Spotting them won’t be difficult, with unique Storm Grey paint job (looks like flat primer), black wheels, red brakes, and a proud “200” badge on the tailgate. Inside you get heated Recaro buckets with special silver stitching, more silver stripes in the seatbelts, and illuminated ST sill plates.

But it’s what’s underneath that counts, and Ford’s done a good job of wringing some extra performance out of this already racy little number. Power’s up to 149kW from 134, and torque now sits at 290Nm from 240. Then, on top of that, you get max outputs of 160kW/320Nm for 20 second bursts of overboost. Not shabby for a 1.6-litre turbo.

They’ve fiddled with other bits too. Final drive gear ratios have been revised, the electric power steering’s been sharpened, and the suspension’s been tweaked with new settings. Interestingly, the shocks and springs are actually softer than in standard trim, while the anti-roll bars are firmer.

Without driving the 200 back to back with a regular ST it’s hard to say in detail what effect these changes have had, but it’s safe to say the recalibration has made for a pointy package. It’s one of those cars that’s always willing to play, even when you’re not, and if you don’t enjoy the communication of every road ripple through your hands and bum, it might be too feisty a car for you.

That said, there are few hot hatches that handle with this kind of pinpoint accuracy. The steering is so direct a surprise sneeze could see you up an unintended offramp, and the front end tucks into sharper corners with enough grip to get an inside rear wheel dangling. 

Get aggressive in bends with the stability control off, and it’s also possible to chuck the rear axle out into a wider arc than the front, four-wheel-drift style. The ST200 is in no way billed as a track day special, but there are genuine track day specials that would fail to deliver the same level of feedback and excitement.

The power hike comes with a claimed two-tenth reduction in 0-100km/h times (6.7 seconds from 6.9), but just as with the original in 2013, we couldn’t get anywhere near the factory quoted figure. After repeated attempts at clutch-modulated launches and snap gearchanges, the best we could muster was 7.23 seconds with the quarter mile coming in 15.2. It’s almost impossible to lay the power down off the line without losing time to wheelspin.

If we reference the Polo GTI auto and Clio RS Lux auto, which are less powerful but come with identical 6.7 second claims, it’s easy to see how modern auto gearbox tech has the dragstrip advantage. At our test track the Polo beat its claim with a 6.65 second run and the Clio pipped the seven second barrier with a 6.99.

Those cars might be more efficient in robot-to-robot warfare where they’re undeniably quicker, but the ST obliterates them in overtaking acceleration.

It takes only around 4.6 seconds for the ford to blast from 60 to 120km/h , where the VW and Renault take just under and just over 6 seconds respectively. That’s the ST’s power advantage showing through.

These rival hatches also miss out on the fun factor associated with a manual gearbox. The ST’s six-speeder is a delightful reminder of the way things used to be, and tapping the engine’s lusty torque curve with jabs of your left foot and flicks of your left wrist is an addictive and enjoyable experience. Just watch your elbow on the badly placed centre console lid.

It’s an ageing car, and it shows in some areas. The button bestrewn dashboard, for example, may have been cutting edge in 2008 but it looks dated now. Likewise the tiny low-res display screen and fiddly Sony-based infotainment system. The imminent all-new Fiesta should solve these issues, but that begs the question of whether to wait for it or not.

Bear in mind the next ST will have a three-cylinder turbo engine, and though its on-paper outputs (147kW/290Nm) are healthy, it’ll have big boots to fill given the current 1.6’s buttery smooth and torque-rich rev range.

VERDICT

On one hand we have an old model with a tried and trusted drivetrain we’ve come to love which you can have now, and the other a much modernised package with an unknown quantity under the hood that you’ll have to wait another year for. Tough call, but at least the ST200 offers some exclusivity, albeit at a small premium. At R339 900 it’s 14 grand dearer than an everyday ST.

Overall it’s a very lively little three-door hatch, with especially sharp steering, firm suspension and a fun to use manual gearbox.

FACTS

Ford Fiesta ST200

Engine: 1.6-litre, 4-cyl, turbopetrol
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Power: 147kW @ 5700rpm
Torque: 290Nm @ 4200rpm
0-100km/h (tested Gauteng):7.23 seconds
1/4 Mile (tested Gauteng):15.2 seconds
Top speed (claimed):230km/h
Price: R339 900
Warranty: 4-year/120 000km
Service plan: 4-year/60 000km

Drive360