I can’t really recommend doing what I did: swap a boring but perfectly functional daily driver for a fun yet troublesome one. (Actually, it’s probably a law of the universe that the a good decision is the diametric opposite of what I’d do.) I gave up my reliable 2003 Honda Civic and replaced it with a 2016 Ford Fiesta ST that has been nothing but trouble since I brought it home.
But the car has so much charm and spunk that I can’t help but love it.
A cheap car
The Fiesta ST was another one of my impulse buys. It was the depths of winter, all of the fun cars were stored in my garage to keep them safe from the salt, and all I had to drive was my Honda Civic.
I was browsing online car ads as one does when one is on a lunch break, when I spotted this Fiesta ST for sale mere blocks away from me. It was the right color (not white, black, or grey), it was nearly fully loaded with heated waist-constricting Recaro front seats but minus the headroom-robbing sunroof.
The cherry on top? It was 2017, and this leftover 2016 model had a $5,000 cash rebate on the hood.
I went to my Ford dealership, took it for a slow test drive (the car only came on summer tires, so I wasn’t willing to risk doing something stupid in freezing weather), and decided that I’d have a lot more fun with the Fiesta ST than I would with the Civic. I signed on the dotted line and brought the car home with me, and I sold the Civic to another friend who was looking for some basic daily transportation.
The overheating issue
The honeymoon was blissful but short. I threw on a set of winter tires on the car and thoroughly enjoyed my turbocharged, heated seat equipped, modern infotainment having little city car.
When the warm weather arrived, I was eager to see how the car did at the limit of grip. I bought a set of wheels that looked pretty nice in online pictures but turned out to be the ugliest set of wheels I have ever had once I saw them with my own eyes and mounted my favorite max performance summer tires. I took the car to an autocross, and it immediately started overheating after two runs, cutting power as I was coming across the finish line on my third run.
Hmm, that’s strange. But it’s a new car under warranty, so I can get this fixed!
I took the car to a dealer, and the diagnosis was pretty swift. They were working on another 2016 Fiesta ST when I brought my car in, and it was determined that my car was suffering from the same malady: a warped head. The fix was a brand new motor.
So before the car made it to its second oil change, the car had a brand new motor, replaced under warranty. Surely this will fix the overheating issue.
I took the car to another autocross. It overheated again. Frustratingly, there were several Fiesta STs at the autocross, but only the 2016 model year cars, which included mine and one other car, were overheating. The 2015s and 2017s were doing just fine making their runs and idling in grid with the outside temperature comfortably sitting in the mid-80s, yet the 2016s couldn’t handle the “heat.”
Back I go to the dealership. Another round robin of diagnosis, and they went off and replaced something in the cooling system. I don’t remember exactly what they did, because whatever the hell it is they did, it didn’t work.
It was the dead of winter, and I decided to take the Fiesta ST rallycrossing. I had a lot of fun driving the car sideways in the snow, if it weren’t for the fact that the car was also overheating in below freezing temperatures. And no, the radiator grille wasn’t blocked. The car should have been fine, but it wasn’t.
This time, I tried a different dealership. I was recommended a specific dealership service department, as one of their techs specialized in all woes suffered by Fiesta STs, Focus STs, and Focus RSes. I found the tech on Facebook; one of the pictures on her Facebook wall was a service bay filled with nearly a dozen turbo Ford hot hatches on lifts. Comforting to see that she was the one for fixing STs and RSes, not so comforting to see how many cars needed her services.
The tech did a comprehensive series of tests to figure out the problem. A diverter valve of some sort was replaced, and the car was given a clean bill of health and released back into my possession. Surely now the overheating problems are past me.
It was a hot summer day and I was at an autocross site setting up a course for the Detroit Region Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Solo School. It was 90 degrees outside, so I was using the car to ferry cones around the lot. I was setting up an element when I heard the familiar chimes coming from the car through the open hatch. I looked inside the car, and much to my dismay, the car had overheated while idling in the parking lot.
Throughout this entire ordeal, I had refused to do any diagnostics on the car myself. My friends suggested at least logging temperatures and doing some basic troubleshooting myself, but I was adamant that, as a new car, I didn’t have to touch anything on the car myself.
One last time, I took the car back to the dealership that I purchased it from, and asked them to trouble shoot the car. I explained that this was the fifth service visit for the same issue, and that I didn’t want to come back again. Having exhausted nearly all the options, the dealership tech called the tech hotline and was instructed to replace the radiator.
Naturally, the car had just rolled over 36k miles, and the radiator wasn’t covered under warranty. Wait, wouldn’t a radiator fall under the much longer powertrain warranty? Nope. I declined the work, and took the car off to my favorite shop and had them swap the radiator out.
Lo and behold, that seemed to do the trick. I took the car out to another autocross, and the car was able to complete all of its runs. I have no idea if the radiator was the original culprit, or if it should have been replaced first before all the other random things that didn’t seem to make a lick of difference, but whatever. I didn’t want to do any work myself, so this is the price I paid.
Tracking the Fiesta ST
The real test for the Fiesta ST was the race track, a place I didn’t dare bring the car while I was having overheating issues at 50mph on an autocross course.
A last minute transmission failure in the Miata meant that I needed a substitute ride for SCCA Time Trials Nationals at the National Corvette Museum (NCM) Motorsports Park. I decided to press the daily driver into track duty, and scrambled to get the car ready for three days of intense track work.
I mounted a new set of summer tires on a set of wheels, did a complete brake fluid flush, loaded up the tire trailer, and headed out. I had wanted to replace the front pads, but few make aftermarket pads for a Fiesta ST, and I couldn’t secure OEM pads before leaving town. I’d have to source them in Kentucky during the event weekend.
It was a hot weekend, with temperatures in the upper 80s and lower 90s all weekend long. I was super worried that the Fiesta ST would falter and I’d get no track time in.
Fortunately for me, the car did okay. Whatever former gremlins were in the cooling system had in fact been excised, resulting in an as-built barely adequate cooling system that could only let me do two hot laps around the long NCM full course track. So yeah, back to “normal,” where normal still isn’t all that great.
Still, I wasn’t the only turbo car to have serious overheating issues that year at the track. The Honda Civic Type Rs were also having a hell of a time keeping cool out on track.
The one hiccup of the weekend was my fault. I was deep on the brakes in Faux Rouge, a fast uphill right hand sweeper, when the car simply didn’t stop nearly as well as it had the corner prior. I did one more lap in the car before figuring that something was seriously wrong, and brought the car back in.
Once in the paddock, I figured out what had happened. I had blown though all of the pad material in one of my front brake pads, destroying a rotor and turning one set of pads into croissants. I borrowed a friend’s car and drove two hours roundtrip to a local dealership to get a set of replacement pads and rotors for the car, missing out on the rest of my time trials sessions for the day. But I got the parts, threw them on the car, and had the car ready for the last day of competition.
The car didn’t miss a beat for the rest of the weekend. Surprisingly, the stock front pads (when they had a non-zero amount of pad material on them) handled track abuse way better than expected, which almost negates the limited availability of aftermarket brake pad options.
Stuck with you
We’ve had some fun, and yes we’ve had our ups and downs
Been down that rocky road, but here we are, still around
We thought about someone else, but neither one took the bait
We thought about breaking up, now we know it’s much too late
I’ve had this car for three years now and counting.
Now that the overheating issues have been resolved, I only have to deal with the persistent annoyances that keep cropping up, most of them occurring due to my abuse of the car. I’m constantly replacing motor mounts, as rallycross and the occasional rough road rally keeps obliterating them. The two little plastic posts in the back hatch area that the hatch cover pivots on broke off after I kept throwing loads of wheels and tires in the back, and are now replaced with the finest macgyvered fix consisting of 1/4″ bolts, nuts, and washers. The underbody shield is absolutely shredded. The crack in the front corner of the bumper is slowly expanding its domain. I did my first blend door motor replacement, and fully expect to have to do it again in a few years.
The car’s sitting at 60k miles and looks like its been through absolute hell. Which, in a way, it has.
If the car was in pristine condition, at this age and this mileage, it still would be hard pressed to bring much money on the used car market. My beat up example probably couldn’t bring any more than $9k. So in three years and 60k miles, I’ve lost about $10k in depreciation.
Yes, part of that is due to my insistence that I beat the ever loving crap out of the car in a way that 99.999% of people never do, but it’s also a reflection how little market interest there is in small cars, and small fast cars. The fact that I got $5k off the price right off the bat was a warning sign — no one offers a 25% discount off a cheap car with comparatively little margin in order to move metal if there wasn’t desperation involved. And no one wants these cars used.
But perhaps that’s the silver lining in this tragic tale. Shunned by the market for the bigger hot hatches, the Fiesta ST managed to slip under the radar. And I’ll tell you this, having owned both a Focus ST and a Fiesta ST, the Fiesta ST is way more fun. It feels nimbler, it feels more playful, it feels more joyous. Even after all of the problems I’ve had with the Fiesta ST, I still love driving it and don’t doubt for a moment that I made the right decision in ditching the Civic for this.
As someone with serial car ADD, I’ve thought many times about what could replace my Fiesta ST, but for the money, nothing does what it does better.
And for those of you who don’t currently own a Fiesta ST, the day will come very soon where these cars are super cheap. A small hot hatch with 200 horsepower for under $10k? Maybe all the way down to $5k? I foresee a brief period of time where Fiesta STs become the cheap enthusiast car of choice, before they all inevitably get crashed or rusted away, like so many other now-extinct tiny hot hatches from the 80s and 90s.
When you get one, just make sure that the car doesn’t overheat. Might wanna check that radiator first…
There’s one for sale in Denmark. It’s a pristine looking 2015 with around 60,000 miles. It’s 24,000 usd.
While the US isn’t looking too great to the rest of the world right now, there are definitely still some upsides.
There are few things more frustrating when you have a new/near new car with a persistent problem that the dealer cannot fix.
You have also nailed a truism that when you love something about a car you are willing to put up with some crap from it.
Had no one mentioned a mountune radiator? That and a rear motor mount should be the first mods on these cars
That brake disc looks horrific even wihout looking at the damage due to the bare pad. Do they do any kind of tech inspection at SCCA events? The pads must have been quite low to have worn down all the way in a few track sessions, a few 100-40 or whatever slowdowns don’t seem like they’d use up that much material and the amount of scale in the vent passages of the discs seems severe, you’d think (I’m no expert) that the cooling properties of those would be adversely affected.
Bummer about the cooling issues, between that and the documented Focus RS head gasket issues along with the Powershift issues on the non-performance versions, these smaller cars seem a bit cursed. I’m impressed you stuck it out, good thing it wasn’t your only transportation.
It should be noted that the Fiesta ST also uses the brakes as the stability and traction control, as well as a replacement for a proper lsd. So the brakes get used even when you’re not actively braking.
I owned a 2015 Fiesta ST, one of the first ones off the line, and identically equipped as yours. I had the same ownership experience. After my sixth trip to the dealer, I sold it. I could have overlooked the reliability issues, because it was so fun to drive. But, I never fell in love with the car. It wasn’t a beautiful car, the interior was horrid, and I hated the boy racer vibe.
Because those things are an affordable enthusiast car they have been kinda tempting to me. But, now I know…….the rest of the story!
This is an excellent car, i will like to own a red one like yours, a lot of them are in Europe, are they more reliable over there or their mechanics are better than us. My experience with car trouble is a good and honest mechanic is critical. Otherwise, even you owning a simple and reliable Toyota can become a nightmare.
For your Fiesta ST problem, i think the problem is as simple as the radiator fan connector. If no electricity goes to the fan, you can’t escape the overheat being you drives very hard in the track. The problem was solved when they changed the radiator, the mechanic was very likely disconnected and reconnected the radiator fan. Those Ford dealers love to mil Ford every time when they claim the warranty work.
Very frustrating. I had the opposite experience with my 08 VW GTI. It was very slow to warm up in cold weather. Took it to the dealer as it was under warranty. Nothing wrong, I asked about the gunk in the oil fill area, sure looks like moisture contamination for cold running engine. No, you are not driving it long enough, too short trips. You need to drive it at least an hour once a week. Yea, right, I drive 10 miles to work in rush hour traffic. Turns out VW had a bad batch of thermostats for about two years running. Thru in a new stat and all was fine.
I’ve always enjoyed driving a sub-compact or compact car for getting around. More maneuverable, slips thru spots that others can’t. My favorite was the GTI with the dual clutch transmission. Ford just should have licensed that one or stole the plans instead of their stupid decision to go with dry clutches. The only fault with the GTI was its weight. The GTI had everything I wanted, turbocharged, direct injected, DSG trans. 200hp and a ton of torque down low. Very fun, never did run autocross with it. The Mustang is to fun to leave home. The AWD version would have been fun but that was another 10K. The other model I liked was the Sirocco, but VW didn’t import that model, slicker looking body and a 7 speed DSG trans.The traction control, stability control used the brakes and that was another minor annoyance. If you spun a wheel on acceleration, especially in wet conditions the brake calipers would slam back and forth in its mount and it was a lot of racket for a second before you lifted or regained traction.
Same deal when it was time to say goodbye to the GTI, nobody wanted it on trade. Gave it to my son.
Very interesting. I never did trust the Ford econo cars from 2012 onward. Maybe that is because I was so spoiled by my 2004 Focus. By the way the Focus is at 175,000 and still has the original brake pads I kid you not. The engines might have received more power but then that is only one part of the car. Consequently in 2018 I didn’t take a chance on Ford and went with Mazda for my wife. In 2004, between Ford and Mazda, I took a chance on Ford myself. Oh, I do believe your $9K value for the car currently is very optimistic as these cars drop fast and dramatically.
Hmmmmm. On the one hand, track/autocross is much harder on a car than how most people might drive a fiesta, on the other hand, why is it an st if you can’t drive it like that and other non auto crossers have some of the same problems? I can see why this was rebated. With petrol where it was when you bought it, a tiny car was a tough sell and the size/price difference isn’t much between the focus and fiesta, so ford had two similar products competing for a narrow, and narrowing market. Your experience is why it’s very difficult to purchase, or recommend someone purchase, a domestic car over a japanese or korean brand. It’s hard to say buy a cruze or focus when a corolla or forte is so consistently more durable than the cruze or forte. They STILL haven’t really closed the gap. I’m happy it’s at least fun and it sounds like you’re doing amazing things with it.
Traded a ’02 Civic for a 2015 FiST and while I haven’t had your problems it’s the first and last Ford I’ll own. Have had to replace the engine mounts, no racing just from hitting pot holes, I guess. Can’t keep the HVAC panel working. I’m on my third one. Then when everything works SYNC always sucks.