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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Ford Fiesta ST Mountune - The Goodwood Mini-Review

I still think the new ST cars look a bit fish-faced, but it works better in person, as usual
This was originally written shortly after the event, at a time when I was for some reason neglecting this blog, so here it is at last. For some pictures you can check out the supercar car park for a start!

For the first time, I went to the Goodwood Moving Motor Show, which is essentially the same as the Festival Of Speed in every way, except the track is only open for people who got there early enough to book free, no-pressure test drives on the famous hillclimb course with a range of cars to choose from that ranged from the Dacia Sandero to the Audi RS6, with an R8 V10 plus and Ferrari 458 & FF being used for high speed passenger rides. The event opened at 7am, and having arrived half an hour later than planned at 9am due to a backfiring shortcut, I was shit out of luck as everything was booked. No matter, I'd simply win a test drive at the Ford stand by being awesome at Gran Turismo 6.

See, there was a special demo of GT6 at Goodwood that features the hillclimb course in it, so Ford decided that if you really knew your way up in a Ford GT, and you have a driving licence, then why not give you a drive in a real Fiesta ST, thus promoting the hot hatch to hip, cool people and also me? As well as Ford, Nissan of course have a couple of game pods set up, but they were offering a far more immersive real test drive, as it was the GT Academy Wildcard event. The fastest time (initially set in the Delta Wing, no less) up the hill would win a wildcard entry into the second phase of the famous racer-making competition. Unfortunately, this was the first one I came across, and the Thrustmaster T500 RS (I swear that isn't a sex toy) for some reason had a really slow steering setting, so it took a lot of getting used to, plus it was in cockpit view, so I'd line it up for a corner and then catch the wide tail on something and crash, which sucked. I got on the leaderboard at midday but was knocked off by the end. Alfa Romeo also had one set up, in a different part of the grounds, with the TZ3 Stradale, which if you don't remember it is essentially a Zagato-bodied Dodge Viper with some Alfa bits inside. I beat the then-record by 0.003 seconds! No prize for that, though, except to have my details sent somewhere for something**. The fourth place to play it was Mercedes-Benz, where you used an AMG SLS GT3. This had the best steering settings and the best grip. I narrowly set the fastest time of the day, which put my name in a draw with the three fastest times of Friday, Saturday and Sunday to win a real SLS driving experience (in a road car). This was after I won the Ford prize that made up for me being late. Alas, I haven't heard back so I must not have won that one...

So the Fiesta ST, then. The guy chaperoning me (who's a third-party professional driver that does work with the Paul Swift stunt driving team, by the way, and has done stunt driving in TopGear Live) had to drive me out and into the motor show area itself for insurance reasons or something. We swapped over at the little turning circle about 150m from the start line that you may have seen in some videos, and the padded Recaro seats are really fantastic. They may impede on rear legroom a bit, but they really hug you without being a squeeze, and are really supportive. For the first time in my life, I drove off without putting my seatbelt on, which was odd, but anyway, the clutch bit quite suddenly and we eased along in a queue, behind a Toyota GT86 TRD Edition. At 10mph or so, it's actually quite bassy, but in a way that sounded artificial somehow. The car on display (as terribly photographed here) had a "Mountune" logo on the back, so I don't know if this one also had a trick exhaust or not.*

At the start line, I thought aloud that I never thought I'd be there, getting ready to run up the famous Goodwood Hillclimb in real life. To be honest I never thought I'd be able to do it virtually either! A nice old man with big glasses and white overalls halted me with a raised open palm, waited for the 86 to go round the first corner, and then dropped his hand like a gentlemanly Fast & Furious remake. While I did put my foot down, I decided not to red-line it in 1st, but a booth professional told me to go for it on the first straight because it's the best opportunity to do so. Once in 2nd, I revved much higher, and the engine was fantastic! While the whooshing tells you that it's definitely turbocharged, the power builds in quite a natural way, and there's almost no lag at all. It was very responsive and gave you a nice big shove in the back every time.

We got into 4th gear before braking into 3rd for the first turn, a right-hander that opens out at the end. You can get back on the throttle very early in this corner, and the front tyres just bit, so I had no issue with being at full throttle through the final part of the turn. After a short straight I was at the top of 3rd gear, lifted off for the second right-hander that's barely more than a kink, and then got back on the power again and into 4th. This engine really is addictive. Unfortunately, due to some... overzealous drivers last year, they had put in a very tight chicane about 100m after the bridge, so we had to throw the anchors out and get all the way down to 2nd to drive around some cones and a hay bale, then off again towards a low-3rd-gear left. After this was "The Wall", which is a wall. A quick right-left to avoid it only needed a light squeeze of the brake pedal and then you could get your toe down again through the left curve. It's supposedly quite scary, this bit, but that's probably much more accurate an observation when you're in a classic racing car at full pelt. By the next corner, which is the penultimate one on the course, I had caught up with the GT86 TRD and had to hold back a bit, which satisfied me that I'd driven this car quickly enough :-)

Rather than sitting at the top and then cruising back down again like the FOS runners do today and over the weekend, we went left and down some weaving little side roads and lanes through the trees, where I chatted with my chaperone about his job and my Uni course, and occasionally the hot Fiesta's engine. We weren't really meant to go fast here, as we occasionally went past campers and stuff, but I couldn't resist one more dose of turbo rush after letting the Toyota pull away a bit. I want my next car to be turbocharged now! The steering let me point the car exactly where I wanted, but didn't really grab my attention in any way aside from that. It does handle very well, though, and it's a confidence-inspiring car to drive fast.

So overall, I definitely enjoyed my little taste of the Fiesta ST. Next year I need to get there as soon as it opens and book some test drives! Those who were earlier this year had the opportunity to test this car against the 208 GTi and the Renaultsport Clio 200 EDC, thus replicating the hot hatch group test of 2013. We'll have to see what's there in 2014...

These photos of the display car were taken casually on a phone, hence their rubbishness

* As it turns out, there is a £600 Mountune upgrade now available in the UK for the Fiesta ST, which bumps power up from 180 to 215bhp, plus the 20bhp overboost that's available as standard anyway. Now that's bang for buck! It also explains the bassy exhaust, a hallmark of theirs.

**Little did I know when I originally wrote this elsewhere a month or so ago, but that Alfa Romeo time was the fastest of the day, and as second prize - because someone beat my time on a different day - I got a free Alfa Romeo teddy bear!!


Don't worry, most people are jealous. It's only natural.

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