Historic hot hatch shootout: Fiesta XR2 vs. Fiesta ST

Historic hot hatch shootout: Fiesta XR2 vs. Fiesta ST

Britain's love affair with hot hatches stretches back decades and one manufacturer has consistently been at the forefront of the pocket rocket phenomenon – Ford.

From the legendary Escort XR3 to the Focus RS and fiery Cosworth models, the Blue Oval has been delighting with its hot hatchery for years.
However, for me, the story starts with the humble Fiesta XR2. Back in 1998 I had one as my first car and adored it.

Forced to sell it when I got my first job because I couldn't afford the fuel, some 10 years later I had to have another – the car you see here.

Now Ford is at it again with a spiritual successor – but is the Fiesta ST capable of living up to the legend? We took both to a test track in Wales to find out.

What are they?

They may have the same name on the boot and 1.6-litre engines, but the XR2 and ST are very different beasts. This is a MKII Fiesta XR2 and features a black body kit, spotlights and pepper pot alloys, which marked it out from standard Fiestas. Launched in the early eighties, the XR2 rapidly stole a large slice of Fiesta sales, accounting for more than a third of registrations at one point.

The ST, on the other hand, is Ford's reinvention of its legendary predecessor. Combining the same attributes that made its forefather such a success – a peppy engine and sporting looks – it has already captured buyers' attention with 1,000 sold just a few weeks after launch earlier this year.

What's under the bonnet?

Well, in my XR2's case, quite a bit of rust and a lot of filler. Next to that detritus is a relatively solid 1.6-litre CVH engine producing 96bhp and a mere 131Nm of torque. It's a characterful lump that serves up more sound than go, but the exhaust note is instantly recognisable. Top speed is 112mph, or was back in the day, and before the ravages of time took hold it could hit 60mph in 10.2 seconds. It weighs just 839kg (less now thanks to the rust) and returns 32.9mpg.

The ST has Ford's acclaimed EcoBoost technology in 1.6-litre turbocharged guise. It pumps out 176bhp and nearly double the XR2's torque (240Nm). It can easily hit 60mph in 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 137mph. Despite weighing a rather more portly 1,163kg, it can return 47.9mpg. While the emissions on the XR2 are bordering on the planet killing, the ST emits just 138g/km of CO2.

What's the spec like?

Spec in an Eighties Fiesta mostly consists of wind-up windows, cardboard door cards and a cigar lighter. It does have such luxuries as a rear wash-wipe, three-stage heater and the height of cool at the time – a digital, yes digital – clock. Outside it was a bit plusher with a rubber rear spoiler and classic pepper pot alloys. It has no ABS, no power steering and the traction control involves your foot and brake pedal. Yes, it's a bit basic by modern standards...

The ST, meanwhile, is positively Rolls Royce in comparison. Traction control, electric power steering, ABS and airbags all feature. A Sound Symposer channels the sound of the engine into the cabin (in the XR2 it just comes through the tin foil doors) and it features 17-inch alloy wheels, DAB radio, SYNC connectivity for mobile phones, air con, alarm and Recaro seats.

What are they like to drive?

Very different indeed. If you want to learn the meaning of body roll just get behind the wheel of the XR2 – it feels like you could poke your head out of the window and kiss the tarmac through corners. It feels slow and heavy compared to its modern equivalent with little power in the brakes, and heavy steering. That said, there's a classic purity to it that's very addictive and the exhaust note is extremely gratifying.

The ST really is incomparable. It's a brilliant little hot hatch that has a wicked turn of speed, extremely compliant handling, and crisp steering (that feels incredibly light compared to the XR2). And although the sound isn't as pure as the XR2's it's equally addictive. Ford seems to have learnt a few things about hot hatches over the years!

The AOL Cars verdict

Ok, so it was a little unfair comparing a 27-year-old car with a brand new model, but it does draw some interesting parallels. Both serve up their fun in tiny packages and it's interesting how the engine sizes haven't changed. Although they are very different sized cars, the idea of putting a feisty power plant in a little car still produces the same results: An entertaining drive that can't fail to put a huge smile on the driver's face. I don't know about you, but I'm just pleased that, some three decades later, Ford is still committed to producing fun machines for the masses. Amen to that.

The knowledge

Fiesta XR2
Price: £5,713
Engine: 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder petrol
Power: 96bhp, 131Nm
Max speed: 112mph
0-60mph: 10.2s
MPG: 32.9mpg (combined)

Fiesta ST
Price: £16,995
Engine: 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder turbo
Power: 176bhp, 240Nm
Max speed: 137mph
0-60mph: 6.9s
MPG: 47.9mpg (combined)

Ford Fiesta XR2 vs. Ford Fiesta ST2
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