The sportiest Ford Fiesta of the launch line-up is the ST-Line model fitted with the most powerful three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine - does it manage to make us feel a little more excited about this important newcomer?
In the Metal:
As its model name suggests, the ST-Line is supposed to look like the 'proper' hot hatchback version of the Ford Fiesta. Hence, it gets big, 17-inch alloys in a smoked Rock Metallic finish to imitate the old ST's wheels, it has a beefier lower body kit than the rest of the MkVII Fiesta line-up, the roof spoiler on the boot is enlarged and - in a move you almost can't see - the suspension set-up is a more focused one; it's 10mm lower to the ground than on the other cars and also firmer in its responses. Inside are sports seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and alloy pedals, all of which aim to heighten the sense of expectation in the driver before they've even fired up the engine and got going...
Talking of the engine, the supermini market is one segment in our country that isn't dominated by diesel sales and so if we're going to make the most of the ST-Line's supposedly sharper chassis, we really ought to give it the most potent motor that's available at launch. So here it is: it's the 1.0-litre EcoBoost 'triple', running its top output of 140hp and 180Nm. The 100- and 125hp versions of this car make do with 170Nm. The 140hp version, though, can top out at 202km/h and it posts the fastest 0-100km/h time of 9.0 seconds (shared with the 1.5 TDCi variant) as well. Until the 200hp ST (powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine) gets here in 2018, this is as fast as a Fiesta will go.
Praise be, it's a lovely little engine, although we remember it being keener to rev last time we tried it in the old Zetec-S Black Edition; Ford seems to have fitted quite a lazy flywheel to the transmission and so the EcoBoost hangs on to revs momentarily when you push the clutch pedal to the floor to change gears. It's a minor annoyance that can sometimes make driving the petrol Fiesta smoothly a frustratingly elusive affair, something that couples to another fact: the diesel has a slightly nicer gearbox action, which is an odd revelation.
However, we still love this drivetrain. It provides plenty of pep for the 1,164kg five-door ST-Line and with its meaty midrange torque, plus the typically raspy sound of a three-cylinder engine, it's definitely got our vote ahead of the sweet, if less appealing diesel lump. So motive power is not an issue with this ST-Line. And neither, really, is the road-holding. Grip, as with the other new Fiestas, is tremendous and the front axle is remarkably dependable for what is, at its heart, a shopping trolley on wheels. It's still one of the greatest cars for rewarding its driver in the segment.
Yet there lingers the pervading feeling that it's not as frisky at the limit as its predecessor was. OK, so the ST-Line's steering feels just a touch more natural than in the other MkVII Fiestas, while there is less give in the suspension when you turn into a high-speed corner, but at no point did we think this 140hp machine could qualify as a warm hatch. In the great dynamic balancing act between refinement and fun, it feels like Ford has nudged the Fiesta closer to the former than the latter; it's as if the car's chassis is akin to someone who comes fifth on Dancing with the Stars - it has all the right moves and it's technically very proficient, but somehow you know it's not going to win the glitter ball trophy come the end of the series. Looks like we're waiting for the ST itself to relight our fire for the Fiesta, then.
What you get for your Money:
It's not confirmed yet whether the ST-Line will come to Ireland on the new Fiesta, but if it does, it sits near the top of the range. However, it most likely won't be equipped with the eight-inch infotainment screen and satnav as standard, instead making do with the 6.5-inch display and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto support. The mighty ten-speaker, 675-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system is also a cost option on the ST-Line; what you're paying for with this car is not opulent equipment levels, but the racier appearance inside and out.
We cannot stress this enough: the new Ford Fiesta is a brilliant supermini, one that should be at or near the top of anyone's shopping list if they're in the market for this type of vehicle. As an overall package, it has been highly polished in several departments - principally, interior finishing, refinement and technology - to a level where it is undoubtedly a better all-rounder than it was before. And the chassis is hardly a pudding of a thing, as Ford rarely makes dynamic duffers.
Yet we can't help feeling that an almost intangible sprinkling of handling pixie dust has been missed out of the recipe. If you loved the old Fiesta because you knew that it was incontrovertibly the best thing to drive in its class, then the new one's refined-but-ultimately-reserved character might leave you feeling a bit disappointed. Ford makes brave noises about having improved the Fiesta's chassis, but this ST-Line car hasn't convinced us the game has moved on markedly. So can the 2018 Fiesta ST win us over once and for all? We can't wait to find out.