By Jake Holmes
The Ford Fiesta ST concept was first shown at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show (and again in four-door form at the L.A. show), teasing us with the promise of a go-fast hatchback that would slot below the coming Focus ST. Now, after several months of waiting, Ford has confirmed the obvious–the 2013 Ford Fiesta ST will indeed be produced. The new top-spec Fiesta is making its debut in production-spec form at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show in advance of its appearance in Ford’s European showrooms next year.
As was the case in the Fiesta ST concept, the motivating force comes from an EcoBoost turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four engine, with 178 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque directed to the front wheels by way of a six-speed manual transmission. Ford says the Fiesta ST will hit 62 mph in less than seven seconds, with a top speed north of 136 mph. To help keep up with the power increase, the Fiesta ST also scores unique suspension tuning that is 0.6-in. lower than a regular Fiesta, Torque Vectoring Control, and a three-mode stability control system.
The Fiesta ST’s mechanical upgrades are matched by a new body kit with a trapezoidal mesh grille, roof spoiler, new side skirts, lower front and rear fascias, and twin exhaust tips. Recaro seats with contrasting inserts that match the bodywork, metal sport pedals, and Sync voice recognition are all standard. The car looks like a scaled-down version of the Focus ST — a move we’re sure was deliberate.
Based on what Ford has told us so far, we have high hopes for the Fiesta ST’s performance character. Ford director of Global Performance Vehicles Jost Capito claims drivers “will be blown away by the new Fiesta ST.” An engineer with Ford’s Special Vehicle Team previously told us that the new car is “designed to reward excellent drivers, and flatter novices.” The car was tested and developed at the Nurburgring in Germany.
One big question remains: Will the Ford Fiesta ST be sold in the U.S.? The version shown here is a two-door model that likely won’t arrive on our shores because the American market only gets four-door Fiestas at present. But Ford received strong response to the four-door Fiesta ST concept at the L.A. show last fall and “remains open to the idea” of selling the Fiesta ST in America. That sounds like tacit confirmation to us that the hot hatch is destined for American market in four-door form sometime after the two-door launches in Europe next year.
style]1n-`�@�pt;mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt; line-height:115%;font-family:”Times”,”serif”‘>In the rear, the TRD team selected the three-leaf (plus one overload leaf) spring pack used in Tacoma towing packages, which provides a 10-mm increase in rear ride height. The damping comes form Bilstein 5160 remote reservoir shocks that have been custom-valved. The team did much of the suspension testing and tuning at the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) in California and had Bilstein’s shock-tuning truck on hand to make on-demand adjustments to the valving. “We did at least three or four rebuilds on the rear shocks before we got it correct,” says Zwillinger, “but basically we dialed-in the lightest tuning possible that would meet our durability requirements”. The rear suspension package increases wheel travel from 8.5 inches to 10 inches—mostly in rebound (droop) travel. And to allow for the increase, the rear brake lines have been lengthened slightly with a bracket.
Aside from the radical graphics package and TRD wheels wrapped with BF Goodrich all-terrain tires, the Tacoma Baja gets a slight bump in power from a TRD cat-back exhaust system. Engineers say the increase is slightly less than 10 hp.
Tech Tidbit:The 3-inch-diameter front coil springs are manufactured by Eibach for TRD. They are off-the-shelf race units rated at 650 lb/in. That’s slightly softer than the stock springs.
Driving Character: Lifted pickup trucks tend to ride more harshly than their stock counterparts. The taller springs and higher spring rates, combined with off-road shocks that are way too stiff, make life unpleasant. But the Baja wears such a mild suspension lift and is tuned so well that it’s only a bit firmer than stock. In fact, the sport packages offered on cars these days tend to ride rougher than this truck does. You feel a little more road texture in the Baja than you might in a stock truck. But at higher speeds, the Baja’s suspension really smooths out the road. And this is true off-road as well.
We drove the Baja up to the Hungry Valley SVRA, about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles, for a day of four-wheeling. Hungry Valley has a mix of slow and high-speed terrain. Early in the day we locked the Baja in low range, engaged the rear locking diff, and walked the truck up a few difficult rutted hill climbs. No doubt the extra wheel travel helped us out on these ascents, but on this type of trail, the rear locker and the aggressive all-terrain tires are the biggest traction aid. On the way down, you simply disengage the locker and let the hill descent control modulate the brakes for you. On higher-speed washboard roads, the Bilsteins really keep the back of the truck from hopping around. It stays planted and feels like it’s following the terrain rather than skittering around like most empty pickups do.
In sandy washes, where you need to slide the truck and maintain some wheelspeed, the electronic aids are best left in the off position. The Baja truck soaks up this rough, higher-speed whoops with ease—and much improved over any basic Tacoma. But make no mistake: You are limited in speed, depending on the size of the “whoops” on the trail—an extra inch or so of wheel travel doesn’t instantly turn this Tacoma into a Trophy Truck. And we did notice quite a bit of steering wheel movement as the front suspension cycled through its range of motion. Perhaps a steering stabilizer shock would diminish this effect. The Baja package does offer the driver a large safety net when hitting dusty roads and rutted washes. The suspension tuning keeps the tires on the ground. Instead of pogoing the front end as many stock trucks do, you can push the Baja a little harder and it will take the punishment.
Favorite Detail: Factory wheels typically aren’t the most attractive designs. Even the Tacoma’s lineup of 4×4 wheels are a little boring. But these TRD wheels (in a special finish just for the Baja) work. We even like the simulated beadlock rim, a nod to the real Baja race machines.
Driver’s Grievance: As good as the Baja is at handling higher-speed off-road terrain, for low-speed four-wheeling we’d like to see a front locking differential or a limited slip added. Ford recently included this (a Torsen model) in its Raptor. And Toyota could add this feature without affecting the on-road manners of the truck.
The Bottom Line: The Tacoma TRD T/X Baja Series is an impressive package, and it adds about $4300 to the price of a TRD Tacoma. Toyota says it will build only 750 of them for the 2012 model year. Why so few? Toyota is essentially capacity constrained. The Baja trucks begin as regular production Tacomas 4x4s that are completed on the assembly line at the San Antonio plant. The trucks are then driven a short distance within the plant complex to Toyota Logistical Services, where a small team turns the production Tacomas into Bajas by hand. It’s clear that if the package becomes popular, it will return for 2013. We hear some colors might be added, as well as some unique interior details such as a special doorsill plate or shift knob. Could a more radical package come down the line? Judging by the enthusiasm within TRD, it’s certainly a possibility.