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Frisky, thrifty Ford Fiesta ST: Justin Pritchard's top affordable used sports car


As a used buy, the Ford Fiesta ST looks appealing, provided you select a unit that’s well-maintained and healthy.
As a used buy, the Ford Fiesta ST looks appealing, provided you select a unit that’s well-maintained and healthy. - Justin Pritchard

Friends, it’s that time of year when many of you start to email me and ask about what makes a good used sports car.

You want to go fast. You want on-rails handling. You want good noises from the engine.

Also, you need to haul a family around, need something that’s every-day drivable, and don’t want to spend a lot of money (on the car, or to fuel it).

Where to look? A used Ford Fiesta ST, that’s where.

Unlike the Fiesta your Yoga instructor drives, the Fiesta ST has been treated to a full going-over by the go-fast engineers in Ford’s in-house performance division — which put an “ST” badge on higher-performing variants of selected enthusiast models.

Fiesta ST packs a 1.6-litre turbo engine with 200 horsepower and even more torque, is complemented by sticky tires, bigger brakes and a taut, sports-tuned suspension. The body is lowered. Cladding is applied. It has the same sort of Recaro seats commonly found encircled by a roll-cage and fire suppression provisions in a race-car.

All models come with a six-speed manual transmission, to the delight of enthusiasts who like to browse their own gears. All units were front-wheel drive.

It’s got a knockout look, too. The intense neon-green colour could send you to a burn-ward, and the face is aggressive but not over the top. The Fiesta ST looks a menacing, but only a bit. It’s the visual equivalent of really intense flute music.

Also, and importantly, that apprehensive significant other doesn’t even need to know it’s a sports car. Just tell them it’s a sensible hatchback (true), that’s safe (true), and good on gas (also true, but only if you stay out of the turbo, so good luck).

There’s a decent little cargo hold, and split-folding rear seats open up the hatch to accept larger items when needed.

This one’s thrifty, feisty, and ready to rock, every day of the year.

Driving the Fiesta ST with intent puts you in the centre of a some carefully-crafted mania. The steering approximates that of a three bucks a lap Go-Kart, the body stays tautly sprung in close proximity to the wheels, and the engine pulls with glee through the revs, providing a solid shove into your seat, and a proper intake snort, in the process.

I’ve driven two of these when new, and figured that they were about the most fun you could have with a new car at this price-point. Or, drive sensibly, and it’s every-day usable and easy on fuel, to boot. Just watch the ride on rougher roads — some surfaces can turn this little hot-hatch into a real spine-buster.

As a used buy, Fiesta ST looks appealing, provided you select a unit that’s well-maintained and healthy.

Shop around — you’ll find sturdy selection and limited optional add-ons make shopping fairly simple, as most Fiesta STs are equipped fairly the same. You should have minimal issue finding a unit with plenty of life left from something like $12,000-$14,000, or even less, if you don’t mind doing a little work.

If you’ll shop for a used Fiesta ST, keeping a few things in mind can help ensure you don’t wind up with one that’s about to turn your wallet inside out, or give you an unpleasant surprise.

First? Stick to stock. Most owners should avoid a unit that’s been modified, as modifications can void any remaining warranty, and may adversely affect the life and durability of parts of the vehicle. Units running a “chip” or “tune” to turn up power from the engine should be avoided by most shoppers.

Second? As it goes with performance cars, parts like tires, clutches and brakes are largely considered to be disposable. Approach any used unit assuming it needs all of the above replaced, until you have confirmation to the contrary. Consider a professional assessment by a Ford technician before you buy for maximum confidence.

Third? Budget a few extra bucks to replace the climate control fan blower as soon as you can. Enough owners have reported failure of this fan (typically in extreme cold) that many Fiesta ST drivers have actually replaced functional fans to prevent being left with no heat in the dead of winter.

This one’s thrifty, feisty, and ready to rock, every day of the year.

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