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…