Britain’s Best Affordable Driver’s Car. It’s no small accolade, and each year the winner of our Junior Handling Day contest no doubt bears almost as much significance to the majority of our readers as the usually more hardcore machines that receive the overall Best Driver’s Car title.
So when the current Ford Fiesta ST claimed the top spot over cars such as the Mazda MX-5 and Renault Mégane RS, we knew that this was a particularly special hot supermini. The fact remains, however, that even its ‘affordable’ £22,000 starting price pushes it well out of the realm of possibility for some.
Happily, you don’t have to break the bank to nab a Fiesta ST – you just have to settle for a slightly older model. This, then, is the ST – or rather ST 150 – version of the fifth-generation Fiesta. It tips the scales at just 1137kg, is capable of accelerating from 0-62mph in around eight seconds and can currently be bought for the princely sum of just £1000.
It’s worth noting that if you do only have a grand to spend, you should be prepared to get your hands dirty. At the time of writing, the cheapest car on sale was vaguely claimed to have “a noisy engine” (it could be as trivial as the rockers needing adjustment or as serious as the big end bearings letting go), while the second-cheapest – at £1200 – had a rough idle and looked like it had been dragged through a hedge backwards.
But these are rare problems in the grand scheme of things, and you should be able to find a healthy selection of clean, drivable cars from £1500 and up. As is so often the case with modern fast Fords, however, the boy racer brigade did get its hands on a large proportion of them, so expect to see poorly painted wheels, massive subwoofers, questionable decals and gaping aftermarket exhausts on your journey through the classifieds. We would pick a well-used factory-spec car over a low-mileage example with extensive modifications in this case.
The ST’s naturally aspirated 2.0-litre motor engine sounds like a gargantuan powerplant for a car so small and light, but this was no spicier a lump than that which motivated the humble Mondeo, and it’s often criticised for its lack of character and zip – especially in light of contemporary rivals such as the Renaultsport Clio 182 and Suzuki Swift Sport. But it certainly helps the little Fiesta get down the road quickly enough, and it’s pleasingly durable given the right maintenance. It’s also pretty frugal when you want it to be.
It’s the handling that will really sell you on the ST 150, though, should you be unpersuaded at first glance. The standard Mk5 Fiesta was already among the more dynamically competent models in its segment, and the ST only sweetened the deal.
■ Electrics: ECU remaps are common and can make for a more aggressive drive – but also cause starting problems or activate limp-home mode. The airbag light coming on is a common complaint that can usually be traced to a loose connection under a front seat.
■ Suspension, steering: The power steering pump is poorly cooled so is known to ‘cook’ its fluid. Check for heaviness and a whirring sound once the car is warmed up and see that the fluid in the tank is red, not grey or black. Low-profile tyres make the wheels susceptible to bending, so feel for vibration and wandering. Expect the suspension to feel quite firm and take bumps with caution.
■ Bodywork: The rear arches are prone to rusting, particularly in coastal areas, but it’s the rear brake pipes you should be more concerned about – they’re made of particularly thin steel and exposed to the elements, so get underneath the car with a torch. Most importantly, make absolutely certain the car hasn’t been crashed or, if it has, that the DVLA has approved its return to the road.
Also worth knowing
The Mk5 Fiesta was facelifted at the end of 2005, but changes were limited to new ‘bubble-eye’ headlights, an optional colour-coded dashboard, revised dials and some other subtle interior tweaks, nothing mechanical.
How much to spend
£1000-£1499: Unfinished projects, tatty track-day toys and cars with undiagnosed faults.
£1500-£1999: High-mileage but otherwise sound pre-facelift STs. Watch out for naff add-ons.
£2000-£2499: Cherished cars with low mileages, few owners and decent history.
£2500 and above: Well-specified facelifted cars, topping out at £5k for the cleanest examples.
One we found
Ford Fiesta ST, 2006/55-reg, 83K miles, £2650: This mid-production-run ST has a fresh MOT, drives “as smooth as it should”, wears a set of professionally refurbished alloys and – crucially – is fully stock. We reckon it’s worth every penny and wouldn’t worry about the small stone chips on the bonnet.