When I got my first full-time job doing this journalism thing, I went out and bought myself a semi-decent car as soon as I could. It had to be small, with a good amount of poke under the hood and nippy handling. It had to be cheap to insure and run (it turned out to be anything but … though that’s a long tale of woe for another day) and, most of all, it had to be something special.
What I found, quite by chance, was a 2004 Peugeot 206 GTi 180. For those unaware, the GTi 180 was a pumped-up version of the regular 206 GTi, created to celebrate the brand’s success with the 206 on the world rally stages. I had long read how (after the unassailable RenaultSport Clio 182) it was one of the finest and highly lauded hot-hatches you could buy – righting Peugeot’s wrongs with the mediocre, standard 206 GTi and harking back to the glory of the fabled 205 GTi. I always thought it was a cool little car.
The 180’s 2,0-litre engine was beefed up to produce 132 kW (or 180 hp – hence the name) and 202 Nm torque; it had lowered, stiffer suspension; body-hugging tombstone-backed sports seats with special upholstery; and a few exterior add-ons like bespoke 17-inch rims, a large hatch spoiler and even larger twin tailpipes for the revised exhaust system.
And I loved every second of driving it. With its long gearing and 7 300 r/min redline it could roar to 70 km/h in first gear and 110 in second. It outran more-powerful cars with turbocharged engines (only at the oxygen-rich coast, I admit…) and was underpinned by such a fantastically entertaining chassis.
While other cars have graced my garage over the years, I still miss my spunky little 180 and have looked forward to the day that I could again enjoy just as lively and characterful a small hot hatch…
Happily for me, that day came recently when Ford dropped off a Fiesta ST200. The ST200 (like my Peugeot) is an uprated, limited-edition special; Ford’s goodbye to the soon-to-be-replaced current Fiesta. Just 160 units have been allocated to the South African market and, if you’ve been excited by anything you’ve read herein thus far, you will want one.
While the standard ST200 (unlike my Peugeot) was never anything to be scoffed at – in fact, it’s been widely regarded as the best hot hatch in its class – the ST200 is truly something special.
As you might have guessed from its “200” moniker, the 1,6-litre turbocharged motor now produces 200 hp (149 kW to be precise) and an outrageous-for-its-size 290 Nm torque. Furthermore, overboost gives you an additional 11 kW and 30 Nm for 20 seconds… The ST’s snickety six-speed manual now has a shorter final-drive, meaning it charges relentlessly to 100 km/h in 6,7 seconds and overtake like a scalded cat, too.
The ST200 has benefited from upgraded suspension (27-percent stiffer in the rear and a two-millimetre thicker anti-roll bar in the front) and steering for improved response and feedback. And, my goodness, this thing is good to throw around. You can pin it into a bend and keep accelerating all the way through thanks to the ability of the Torque Vectoring Control to put the power down and keep the nose tucked in nice and tight. Or, you could kill the electronic nannies and indulge in some grin-inducing lift-off oversteer through tighter bends.
The ST200 feels as lively, adaptable and controllable as my GTi 180 was. No, it’s actually even better! This is because, unlike the Peugeot, the Ford offers a perfect driving position. The ST200’s heated Recaro sports seats drop low, its steering wheel sits flat at your chest; it feels natural, comfortable. If I have a complaint, it’s that the pedals are spaced too far apart for easy heel-and-toeing.
Oh, and that the ride is rather harsh… You get used to it after a while and at least the cab is comfy enough; with good material and build quality, climate control, decent Sony sound linked to Ford’s Sync infotainment system, and seven airbags.
Unfortunately, you pay for the exclusivity – at R339 900 the ST200 isn’t cheap. I guess that those who appreciate a good hot hatch will see the value in it (while the others unlucky enough to acquire one will nod with approval as they recognise the bespoke Storm Grey colour and matt-black 17-inch rims).
Overall, though, ST200 reminds one exactly why small hot hatches are so great. Indeed, it reminded me that I shouldn’t have gotten rid of mine…
Ford couldn’t have come up with a better way to send off the current Fiesta.
CyberStoep rating: 7,5/10