From ST to STI (Part 1: Love at First Sight)

Three Thanksgivings ago, my brother totalled our family’s MK6 GTI and left me stuck daily driving a 2006 Smart Fortwo Diesel for the better part of four months. After week three of Fortwo commuting, I realized I couldn’t put up with the anemic and moldy “city car” any more and needed a change in my life. When buying time came around, the Fiesta ST was a bit of a no-brainer, amazing reviews and a price that I could actually stomach with my modest retail sales salary. I placed my order with the car completely sight unseen on January 2nd 2014 and waited a full four months till April 28th for the factory ordered car to arrive from Mexico.

Near Perfection

While anything would’ve been a huge step up from the beat-to-crap Smart car, the Fiesta was near-perfection and ticked all the boxes for me right away. The car was taut and delivered a modest amount of power with amazing fuel economy (8.5-9.0L/100km in city driving). I loved having all the standard features like auto headlights, heated Recaros, keyless go, and even the MyFordTouch system. It also delivered “chuckability” in spades and was so fun to drive even at relatively low speeds. It almost seemed too good to be true.

fiesta PDI

I picked up the Fiesta ST unprepped from the dealer to avoid the dealer installed swirls

That’s not to say I didn’t have any gripes with the car. The ride was crashy over potholes and the stock exhaust note was so quiet I would forget the engine was on. The Recaros were reasonably comfortable but in the Winter it’d be difficult to squeeze into them with a thicker jacket on. The stock brake pads were very dusty and had a bit too much cold bite. Then there was the biggest offence of all, a 4×108 bolt pattern which eliminated 98% of your wheel choices, not a cool move for a sport compact in my opinion.

The First Track Day

I bought the Fiesta as a dual purpose track toy and daily driver. I knew right away that it’d be an amazing daily but didn’t know whether it actually had what it takes to have fun on track. I followed a strict break-in procedure with the engine with 3 oil changes before 3000km and with the car on fresh synthetic oil I took it down to the Ridge Motorsports Park for an event with Turn 2.  This being only my second track day at the Ridge I signed up in B group and honestly felt like a hero in my showroom stock Fiesta ST chasing STI’s, a CTS-V, and a GTR.

This was my first time tracking a front wheel drive car and the car quickly taught me how to steer with the throttle. Compared to my 2000 Mazda Miata this car just felt so much more playful and actually had the torque to make it up some of the hills at The Ridge. It held up pretty well for a stock car but by the end of this track day I had cracked and overheated my stock Bridgestone Potenzas and noticed that the car developed a bit of a grinding noise with the front brakes.

Let the modding begin

After this first track day I was hooked but also convinced that I needed to pour money into this car to really get it where I wanted. Three years and more than $10,000 later, the car was a full stage 3 (Intake, downpipe, exhaust, intercooler, and tune) along with a ton of chassis upgrades like Bilstein coilovers and a Wilwood big brake kit. With the Fiesta being so new I actually tackled a lot of these jobs myself and increased my mechanical ability quite significantly over those years of ownership. Mind you that might not be saying much as I went to a fairly privileged high school with no auto shop program, and none of my friends even knew how to jumpstart a car or change a spare tire.

Fiesta sT Modified

With the mods came pros and cons, there’s a reason why cars aren’t built this way from the factory. The Bilsteins rode a bit better than the stock suspension and the exhaust was hilarious fun with the Stratified Crackle and Pop tune, but when it came to actually pushing the car on track I didn’t find that it was all that much better. At my first Ridge track day after I had upgraded to the 6-piston Wilwood kit, I overheated the brakes to the point of seizure. It turns out the “brake torque vectoring”, a great party trick on the street to help the car rotate actually generated way too much heat with the 6 piston brakes and higher friction pads. I had these replaced with a 4-piston Wilwood caliper which I was familiar with as it was the same as what was on my Miata. This resulted in smoother braking, better pad selection, and a few pounds of reduced unsprung weight.

Results?

After 2 years of tuning and money invested wasted, I managed to shave about 5 seconds off of my initial lap time with the stock car at The Ridge Motorsports Park. Arguably, 5 seconds is a lifetime on the track but it didn’t get me to the level of competitiveness I had hoped for. The car might have more power but the cornering speeds were nowhere near what you could achieve with something like a Miata/FRS or even an STI or Evo. To be fair this isn’t really a surprise, even on 215’s the car managed to rub a hole through the fender liner so I decided to stick to 205 tires. Even with the sticky Bridgestone RE-71R, the limits of grip were low with the wheel and tire size being a big part of that limitation.

Fiesta sT Autox

Slow car fast is always a good philosophy to have fun on four wheels, but what they don’t tell you is that some cars just aren’t meant to go all that fast. This car’s narrow track, high center of gravity, nose-heavy chassis, and undefeatable brake-torque vectoring all hurt its abilities to keep up with the big boys on track. When you constantly feel like you’re hitting a wall and maxing out a car’s potential before your own driving ability, that’s where slow car fast starts to lose its novelty pretty quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I couldn’t shave a bit of time with a bit of datalogging, fine tuning, and more seat time, but the car just didn’t feel like it was capable of much more without overheating and breaking some key components.

Breaking Point

Despite being an amazing car, and still to this day the best car I’ve ever owned, I knew it was time to move on from the ST and get something that would be a new learning experience and help me become a better driver. I knew that few cars would really match the combination of practicality, running costs, and fun factor of the Fiesta but I was willing to make compromises in some departments as long as my next car would have higher on-track limits. Picking a replacement was not an easy decision but I’ll save how I came to that conclusion for the next post 🙂

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