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First Times Drive: 2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Now this is a Fiesta you’ll actually want to go to.

Nothing against the regular version of Ford’s subcompact hatchback, but that Fiesta isn’t exactly a performance-oriented party (nor does it need to be).

For those duties, drivers now have the all-new 2014 Fiesta ST to turn to. ST stands for Sport Technologies, Ford’s global performance division. This Fiesta is only the second car to wear this badge in the U.S., behind the larger Focus ST that went on sale last year.

PHOTOS: First drive of the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST

The all-new Fiesta ST starts at $22,195 and takes aim at other pocket-rockets like the Chevy Sonic RS and the Fiat 500 Abarth. But with more power and tighter handling, the Fiesta ST sets the bar high for cheap thrills.

Though the Fiesta ST has mundane roots in the vanilla Fiesta, Ford took great pains to wring as much performance out of its small, front-wheel-drive platform as possible.

For starters, the 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine has been thoroughly reworked and turbocharged. It’s direct-injected and has a revised air-induction system. It now pumps out 197 horsepower at 6,350 rpm and 202 pound-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm.

This power flows to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. This combination is good for a 6.9-second zero to 60 mph time, Ford said. Go lighter on the car, and you can expect a fuel economy rating of 26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.

Other mechanical changes include disc brakes in the rear (yes, the base Fiesta still comes with drum brakes back there), a quicker steering ratio, and a stiffer and slightly lower suspension system.

A torque-vectoring system has been added that will scrub the brakes of the inside wheel for tighter cornering, and Ford’s Sync infotainment system is also standard.

Aesthetic changes include 17-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust tips, a rear wing and diffuser, a larger front grille and side skirts. The result is a handsome exterior that Ford fortunately resisted the temptation to ruin with ungainly wings or bumpers that only appeal to the "Fast and Furious" set.

Options are few on this car: a $1,995 package adds heated, heavily bolstered, partial leather Recaro seats and heated side-view mirrors. A moon roof runs $795. Adding navigation to the Sync system costs another $795. Painted wheels are $375.

All told, the loaded model we thrashed around the twisty roads of Malibu for a day can be had for $26,155.

With a short wheelbase and plenty of power, this car is an absolute blast to throw around. The power is nicely modulated to the front wheels; though you can feel hints of the dreaded torque steer that plagues other front-wheel-drive cars like the Focus ST or MazdaSpeed 3, it’s minimal at best on this model.

You can flick the Fiesta ST into and out of corners with ease, and it has an excellent power-to-weight ratio to always make it feel responsive and nimble. Sure, there is some understeer if you come in too hot, but with a few adjustments to one’s timing, it’s possible to figure out how to pop through turns with maximum speed.

An upgrade to more worthy tires on this car would likely go a long way in the search for more grip.

The steering itself -- with its quickened ratio and thicker steering wheel -- is appreciated and generally felt precise and responsive, but the electric power system could use a bit more granularity.

Despite a tighter suspension, there is a bit more body roll than we’d like, and the car’s high center of gravity didn’t help this. The suspension also bottomed out pretty hard over a couple of bigger hits.

The EcoBoost engine has its best power high in the rev-band and buzzes happily once up there. Power comes on smooth and even once you’re in the 3,000 rpm neighborhood. Just watch out for a rev-limiter lurking just after peak power that demands an upshift earlier than you’d expect.

Freeway cruising was also smooth, especially with the aid of the taller sixth gear.

The rest of the gearshifts were a smooth affair, despite feeling a little vague. Also on the numb side was the car’s throttle tip-in, a flaw we noticed in our review of the Focus ST in January. This may be fine on the garden-variety Fiesta, but on a performance-oriented model such as the ST, we’d hope for a crisper, more responsive go-pedal.

When it came time to slow things down, the Fiesta’s brakes deserve a special mention. It was at least 100 degrees during our testing, and though they did fade with time, the brakes held up much better than you’d expect given the conditions. A tip of the cap to those poor pads and rotors; you guys were the real heroes that day.

So the Fiesta ST isn’t perfect. And at more than $26,000 for what amounts to a very quick econobox, the model we tested was not particularly cheap either. But choose your options wisely (as in, skip all of them) and you’re still treated to this car’s best traits: easy and fun power, a chipperness in tight roads and a widespread appeal to drivers.

All for around $22,000. That’s a party you can’t afford to miss.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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