CULPEPER, Va. -- On a serpentine strip of esses in Blue Ridge ripples of Virginia, we're sawing a quick-to respond steering wheel and the stubby shifter stick while cinched firmly against a body-hugging Recaro bucket in Ford's souped-up Fiesta ST, a 5-door hatchback for the itsy-bitsy subcompact class wearing a racy aero kit and body paint tinted to the not-so-subtle shade of Molten Orange.
Is this a cool set of wheels, or what?
The 2014 Fiesta ST incorporates a small-but-strong direct-injection and turbo-charged 4-in-line engine with a fast-shifting 6-speed manual gear box plus tightly-tuned suspension and electric power steering systems squeezed into curvy-cute skin.
With a roof pitched well under five feet high and the body drawn for only 13 feet long, the Fiesta ST looks seriously sporty with a bullet-sleek shell, ultra-fast windshield rake and curt overhangs front and rear.
It rides on Ford's global front-wheel-drive small-car platform used for the subcompact Fiesta series of 4-door sedans and 5-door hatchbacks and comes together at Ford's Cuaultitlan Stamping and Assembly Plant in Cuaultitlan Izcalli, Mexico.
Yet the powertrain is unique to this new car, and so too is the sheetmetal styling and 5-seat cabin content.
Fiesta ST resembles a streamlined egg up front with a smoothly rounded prow projecting a wide-mouth trapezoidal grille with mesh insert and front corners housing elongated headlamp clusters that sweep back to muscular bulges of the forward fenders.
The body kit adds a chin spoiler, sculpted side skirts and a dynamic rear bumper with prominent diffuser-style vents evident in the lower fascia, plus shiny twin-exhaust pipes and a high-mount roof spoiler.
Ford applies the ST badge, signifying "Sports Technologies" to mark a group of special performance models.
Then there's the power surge of a muscle car that stems from a high-output variant of Ford's 1.6-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine.
The aluminum 1.6-liter in-line-4 with dual overhead cams (DOHC) features high-pressure direct injection and low-inertia turbo-charging with special tuning to decrease the response time and increase power through the rev range.
It delivers 197 hp at 6350 rpm plus torque of 202 lb-ft at 4200 rpm.
Sole shifter for Fiesta ST is a close-ratio 6-speed manual stick featuring revised gearing to guarantee maximum thrust from every shift.
The highly efficient EcoBoost plant not only delivers fast off-the-line thrust but also EPA-estimated fuel economy figures of 26 mpg city and 35 mpg highway.
Fiesta ST's body drops by 15-mm closer to the ground than the base Fiesta hatch.
The suspension design produces responsive handling and a firm ride quality. Ford installs independent MacPherson struts in front with a modified front knuckle, tuned shock absorbers and 19-mm stabilizer bar. Then there's a twist-beam rear axle with coil springs and gas-charged shock absorbers plus increased roll stiffness to boost stability through fast corners.
A rack and pinion steering system has electric power assistance, which eliminates a load of hydraulic equipment and contributes to the efficiency of the 1.6-liter engine. This setup has a quicker overall steering ratio of 13.6:1.
For predictable straight-line stopping, Ford installs a standard anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus an electronic stability control (ESC) device with three driver-select settings of standard/sport/off.
Ford also loads passive safety systems aboard. Fiesta's strong unibody structure serves as the first line of defense for passengers, surrounded by a safety cage rigged with force-deflecting energy management zones fore and aft plus reinforced side panels and doors.
Front riders get dual two-stage frontal air bags, side air bags and seatbelts with pretensioners. Then there are curtain-style air bags stretching the length of the cabin above outboard seats front and rear, plus an air bag aimed at the driver's knees.
Fiesta ST loads up on cabin gear: Automatic climate system, keyless ignition and entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, aluminum-trimmed pedals, MyFord Touch interface with Sync voice-activated control and a 6-speaker audio system with AM/FM/CD/USB. Options include a navigation system, power moonroof and the Recaro sport seats.
MSRP points for Ford's 2014 Fiesta ST start at $21,400.