The decision to buy this car over the new Golf GTI took four test drives and several (literally) sleepless nights. In the end, the Ford's more charismatic and stronger engine won the day, not to mention its sharper steering. The substantial saving was simply the icing on the cake.
Two months on, I do not regret my choice. Quite simply it has exceeded my expectations. The engine is magnificent, loosening up noticeably as we clicked past 3,000 miles. Bottom end torque is barely believable, with virtually no lag and instant throttle response. The offbeat growl as the revs build is also very pleasing on the ear, and gives the engine real character. It's still not as keen to rev as I would expect, but given the grunt on tap up to 6,000 RPM, it's not a real hardship. I also suspect it will improve as the miles go on. The 6 speed gearbox was a little notchy on delivery, but is now as slick and smooth as I could wish for.
Handling is superb. Grip from the front end is astonishing for a front wheel drive car, and I was very pleased to note that Ford didn't suck up to the health and safety lobby, and engineered in some lift off oversteer. The result is a car which can be steered beautifully on the throttle, and recovered easily thanks to the torque and low-lag response of the engine. It has a lovely old-school hot hatch feel to it, which encourages you to drive it hard. This has always been a key strength of fast Fords, and I'm pleased to say the ST has it in abundance. The Golf by comparison felt a little more "grown up" and, well basically a lot more "German". For some this will appeal, but for me it didn't.
The interior quality is good, if not quite to the level of the Golf. The controls have a slick, well damped quality, the alignment of panels and trim is faultless, and nothing creaks or rattles. The central pod with boost and oil gauges reminds me of my old Escort Cosworth, and the overall ambience of the interior is definitely a step up from Fords of old.
Running costs are pretty much as expected. I'm averaging around 24 mpg with spirited driving. This can creep up to 33 mpg on a motorway run, or down to 17 mpg when really giving it some welly. Which sadly (for economy purposes), it tends to encourage.
But who cares about that? The upshot of all the positives about this car is a package which sticks a big grin on my face whenever I drive it, and which, when driven properly, is capable of handing out a pasting too many far more expensive cars on the right roads. I'm still not 100% sold on the styling (I went for Performance Blue), but it does look kind of chunky and aggressive. I'd never call it pretty though.
For all its slightly rough edges compared to the Golf, it's a pure fun machine. It's a bit raw in comparison and a bit crude feeling sometimes, but it's quicker, sounds far nicer, sends much more feel up through the wheel rim, and has a lovely, slightly lairy feel to its chassis setup. It's also so far proving 100% reliable. I love it so far, and it's nice to see that real drivers cars are still available at a (relatively) affordable price.