Every year at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, a lucky few drivers get to attack the legendary Goodwood hillclimb course in all manner of exotic machinery. Some of the very best drivers have just finished flying up the twisty Goodwood course, as another Festival of Speed wraps up for 2013.
Some of the world’s fastest and finest cars and drivers never fail to impress as they take on the challenge of the hill. But what about us? Do we get to prance up the hill in a prancing horse-powered supercar? Err, probably not, if we’re honest. But we can all have a similar, Goodwood-style experience, in a punchy little hot hatch, and for nowhere near the kind of cash that these hypercars go for.
How about this Ford Fiesta ST? It’s under £16k at ‘ST’ trim grade, and gets up to 200bhp (on short, full throttle over-boosts; 180bhp standard), 290Nm of torque, will hit 62mph in sub-seven seconds, and haul on to well over 130mph. I had a blast in an ST up the Goodwood course on the Thursday before the full show day, and in similar, back lane conditions, I think the ST could easily get you smiling as much as I was on the Goodwood track.
Okay, so yes, it’s pretty cool to zip up this famous hill in a hot car, but, you know, once you’ve done it once, the rest is just showing off. And I’m all about carving up some fast and twisting back lanes, rather than showing off how connected / rich / talented I am – or indeed how talent I am not! – to a few thousand people I don’t know, watching from the trackside on the Goodwood hill.
Take the ST out on your favourite lanes and it will make you smile. You see, there are thousands of lanes around the UK that are very similar to the Goodwood hillclimb. Twisty, off-camber, lined with houses and blind corners. And if the ST is as good on your favourite lanes as it was up the Goodwood hill, we’re all onto a winner!
The ST performed brilliantly on the Goodwood hill. I’ve driven the Goodwood track a few times now, so I know how it twists and turns and how, every now and then, you’ll nip very close to some stone buildings on track-side. It’s a challenger of a track, and if you get it wrong on certain bits there’s only hard stuff to bounce off.
I know the Fiesta ST well, too. I’ve driven it on road and track several times, so I knew before driving it that it would carve up the Goodwood hill a treat.
On the start line, ESP off, max revs, and drop the clutch. The ST has more than enough torque to light up its front tyres, and I leave the line in plumes of smoke. It was for the pleasure of the watching crowds, I tell the guys at Ford!
Hard into 2nd gear and leave it on the rev-limiter for a second or two as the first and right-hand bend approaches. It’s not the meanest bend in the world, but you need to keep as much corner speed as possible so you can belt down the joining straight, showing the Goodwood crowd what a hero you are! This is how my mind works, at least, so I make the first turn quite hard, but nice and clean, and power onto the straight that runs in front of Goodwood House.
Hard into 3rd gear and the ST is making a deeply gruff and enjoyable tune as the gears snick one to the other, and the turbo boost from the torquey little 1.6-litre EcoBoost motor comes fast. In normal conditions I’d say leave the ESP on as it’s very well calibrated and lets you have fun without dipping into ditches! But, again, I was in hero mode.
There’s something new however for this part of the Goodwood event, this year. A huge chicane! It’s been built this year to stop inexperienced drivers – not the pros – going too fast on the straight and remoulding metalwork in the hay bales at the next turn; a tight left-hander.
I knew it was there, but seeing it on the track sent a gulp down my throat. It’s huge! Very hard on the ST’s vented brakes and she gets as little squirrelly. ESP would keep things in check, but even the basic chassis on this ST – without the ESP doing clever things with the brakes – is surefooted and grippy. And the steering is as fast as you are. Easily.
A quick flick left and then right and the ST is through the chicane without a whiff of body roll. Stiffer and lower suspension, a thicker front anti-roll bar, vented front discs and wide low-profile tyres work in impressive harmony here. Yes, it’s stiff, but if you want a soft car to wobble up the hill in then I suggest you look elsewhere. The ST is stiff, poised and ready to carve.
I give the car another hard squirt of power before that mean left-hander and then another very hard brake for the corner. I scrub too much speed – a little chicken when it comes to other people’s cars and 5,000 witnesses! – and the ST makes the hard left with ease. In fact I think I can hear the car yawn!
Pedal to the metal with six forward gears chopping up the horsepower perfectly and we’re on a full charge to the top of the hill. This is where the buildings try to nibble at your wing mirror and where it feels the quickest. I thrapp over the line at about 90mph with a big grin and an ST that’s only just beginning to warm up.
It’s true that there are way faster cars than the ST ripping up the Goodwood hill, but for an average driver that wants to get excited (but not petrified!), the ST is perfect. Fast, roarty on the soundtrack and with the kind of chassis balance that makes you look good and feel fast, there’s little wonder that this little rocket from the pocket is already well ahead of its sales target.
My Goodwood run is over in little more than a minute, and while I’m not going to sit here and say it wasn’t awesome, I will say that in a car like this, you, me and everyone else can have just as much fun. Enough power to party, a ton of grip for exciting cornering and top-notch ESP (electronic stability programme) to keep things safe and tidy. Get some Goodwood excitement in your life and get the Fiesta ST on your favourite back lanes.
By Dan Anslow