I had a 2003 Honda Civic coupe, and it was a reliable but boring daily driver. I replaced it with a 2016 Ford Fiesta ST, which is a lot of fun, but has required the most work I’ve ever had to do for a daily driver.
I’ll cut to the chase: outside of maybe the front axles, my Fiesta ST no longer has anything in the drivetrain that it originally left the factory with.
As I paid my shop over 3 grand to replace the transmission and all of the engine mounts, I caught myself wondering how I had gotten to that point. Why was spending so much money to keep this car around when it would make a lot more sense to simply dump the thing and move on to something else? I kept telling myself that the car was so worthless that I might as well keep it around, but was that really the case?
It’s been nearly two months since the car returned to the fleet. I’ve only put a few tanks of gas through the car since — I’m still working from home during the pandemic, so I don’t drive the car much — but the few times I’ve driven it around have only reaffirmed my affinity for this car.
In fact, I concluded that the Fiesta ST may very well be one of my favorite cars, ever.
Yes, you can hardly call a car that has had so much stuff under the hood replaced reliable. Yes, if you catch the car off boost (like starting from a near stop in second gear), the car is agonizingly slow. Yes, the car is very prone to two-wheeling — I managed to get the car so far over twice over a 20 minute period — basically on back-to-back autocross runs! — that the car shut itself down and dialed 9-1-1 each time.
So the car is definitely flawed. Very flawed.
Still, I like it, and like it a lot. Maybe even love it.
I had a Focus ST before but didn’t love it in the same way that I do its little brother. I’ve driven other sport compact cars — the VW GTI, the Honda Civic Si, both cars that would be competitive in Solo competition — but always came away uninspired.
The Fiesta ST is spunky in a way the bigger sport compact cars aren’t. It’s the first word that comes to mind when describing this car. It’s playful. It’s easy to rotate. And the little motor, once it gets going, fills my heart with glee, like a pack of puppies chasing after a thrown ball. The car is so much more fun than the Focus ST I had before it, despite the similarities between the two.
I’m certain the size and weight of the Fiesta ST plays an important part. It’s only about 300 pounds heavier than my NC Miata, and occupies about the same footprint, except that it can carry a full set of tires (and then some), something the Miata could never dream of doing.
And while we’re at it, if we’re comparing stock to stock, the Fiesta ST is way better and way more fun in stock form than the NC Miata. Dare I say I like the Fiesta ST better than a stock ND Miata.
It occurs to me that this bite size fun came in many forms in the past and was also lauded back then: the early VW GTIs, the ensuing hot hatch wars of the 80s, extending into the sport compact scene in the 90s. These cars sold in huge numbers back in the day.
And now… good condition examples 80s and 90s fun size greatness is hard to find. Which leads me to the other, perhaps darker half of the equation.
I realized that half of the joy I derive from my Fiesta ST lies in the fact that it is disposable.
It’s a cheap car. While the price of the average car these days approaches 35 grand, this car cost me 20. If I completely destroy my car, I can replace it with an equivalent used example for 12 grand. There’s a freedom that comes with cheap cars that don’t come with more expensive ones. It invites the prospect of using every ounce of utility out of a car because it’s comparatively easy to replace.
And so it is with this car. I’ve taken this Fiesta ST to autocrosses and run it on race tracks, which outside of cooked brakes doesn’t really inflict serious wear and tear. What does inflict serious wear and tear is all of the rallycrossing I’ve been doing with the car.
I love rallycrossing this car. The car feels like a little supercar in the dirt. Running in Detroit Region rallycrosses in Stock Front, I’m usually the car packing the most horsepower in the class, competing against lower horsepower (but lighter weight) older cars for bragging rights. The car is easy to slide, and there’s enough power on tap to quickly achieve ill-advised speeds on loose surfaces but no so much as to be useless in putting down power when over eagerness gets the best of me and I floor the accelerator pedal.
It also helps that, after a decade of really sucking at driving on loose surfaces, I now sorta know what I’m doing and can at least look fast, even as I know full well that the top folks in Detroit Region could hand me my ass any day of the week.
But it does make the “great cars need to be preserved” side of me uneasy. How do you reconcile that you will completely use up — kill, basically — a car that you love?
The other side of me says it’s better to have a life well lived than to have never lived a life to the fullest. The ultimate value that little hot hatches like the Fiesta ST (and the 80s and 90s Hondas and Volkwagens that preceded it) lie in the experiences they give, not in their longevity.
In the end, I realized that I was willing to dump money into keeping my Fiesta ST alive because the only reasonable replacement for the car was another Fiesta ST.
It’s not a great autocross car. It’s not a great track car. But it’s a damn good daily driver, and makes my drive to work or to the grocery store a pleasurable experience instead of a drag, and more pleasurable than a lot of cars aimed at enthusiasts’ hearts. The Fiesta ST is currently the longest standing member of the fleet, which for someone who used to routinely get bored of my daily drivers and swap them out every two years, hitting the 4-year mark of ownership is really something.
So yeah, I love this car. I’d take my Fiesta ST over a stock ND Miata, and over a stock C5 Z06 Corvette. It’s better than the Focus ST, the VW GTI, and the Honda Civic Si. I think, in 20 years, history will look back on this car and realize it was one of the greatest little cars to ever appear in the 2010s. It’ll just be too bad that the Fiesta ST will be nearly extinct by then, much in the same way that the great hot hatches of the 80s and 90s are nearly extinct now.