LOS ANGELES — Traffic jams occur when fast-moving vehicles are brought to a stop, impeded by an obstacle or simply slowed by traffic volume on an overwhelmed road. Traffic puddles happen when those vehicles stop after barely moving at all before settling into a lengthy highway repose.
I was in a traffic puddle in weekday, late-noon traffic on Interstate 66 moving west near the Interstate 495 interchange. It was a situation born of poor thinking. I had the living, breathing human passenger required to enter I-66 in prime late-noon, early-evening hours. What I did not have was common sense. I should have known something was awry when I saw a traffic puddle at a westbound I-66 ramp in Northern Virginia.
But, lured by the super-perky performance of the car in hand, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST, and by the occupied front passenger seat, I thought: “I got this.” Except, I didn’t have anything. I had motored into traffic molasses.
Under such a circumstance, all of the television commercials showing fast cars whizzing by on practically empty roads become meaningless. All of the car-guy talk about horsepower, torque and 0-to-60 acceleration times is rendered nonsense. I wasn’t accelerating anywhere. I had to get out of there.
Luckily, the Fiesta ST I was sitting in came with an optional navigation system equipped with Sirius XM Traffic and Travel Link. Stated simply, the system offers real-time traffic guidance, leading you to the least-congested and, because of that, often the most fuel-efficient routes. It worked. The system suggested that I take the Nutley Street exit in Northern Virginia and use a few side roads to get to my destination.
It was a longer way around. But at least I was moving — as opposed to being stuck in traffic, burning fuel and going nowhere. It was a lesson in vehicle performance redefined, which goes something like this: It is no longer enough for a car to go zoom-zoom, to have sub-five-seconds acceleration times or to become one with corners in sharp turns.
All of that stuff is important, and the little Fiesta ST — a subcompact front-wheel-drive hatchback — does nicely in meeting that standard definition of automobile performance. But nowadays, a car also have to have intelligence. And the Fiesta ST, equipped with Ford’s much-improved MyFord Touch with Sync telecommunications system and Sirius XM traffic guidance, excels in intelligence. I fell in love with the little car, which on this day was much smarter than its driver.
I eventually found some Northern Virginia roads relatively free of traffic. But none of them were roads I normally use to get to any appointment. They were quiet community roads, busy only when people were going to or coming home from work. And by the look and sound of things that evening, most of those folks had already gone home or not left their homes in the first place.
I pushed the Fiesta ST a little trying to get a bit of harrumph-varoom out of its exhaust system, especially modified to, in Ford-marketing speak, “enrich the natural sounds of the vehicle” by capturing “engine-generated frequencies from the intake system” and transmitting them to the passenger cabin.
In practical terms, that means the rich exhaust note you hear while driving the car is not necessarily being heard by people in neighboring houses, which is a good thing. Not everyone wants to hear a car’s exhaust note.
The Fiesta ST is the performance star of the Fiesta line of four-door and two-door hatchbacks. It is equipped with a turbocharged (forced air), 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine (197 horsepower, 214 pound-feet of torque) linked to a standard five-speed manual transmission. It is arguably more fun to drive than the sport version of the Honda Fit. But the Honda beats the Ford in the important matter of utility.
Still, there is much to recommend the Fiesta ST, which gets 29 miles per gallon in the city and 35 miles per gallon on the highway, and its lesser Fiesta siblings — the base S, mid-grade SE and semi-fancy Titanium. The ST is the sport model of the bunch, outfitted with very responsive and precise power-assisted steering, four-wheel disc brakes, and a suspension system that takes the jolt out of driving a small, short-wheelbase subcompact car.
Bottom line: I like this one. I think you will, too. Compare with anything in the subcompact car category.
Ride, acceleration and handling: It gets good marks in ride and acceleration. Handling is excellent largely thanks to the Fiesta ST’s electronic power assistance steering.
Head-turning quotient: It looks like the fast bug of a car that it is — attractive depending on mind-set.
Body style/layout: The Ford Fiesta ST is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive subcompact economy car available with four or two side doors and a rear hatch. There are three basic trim levels—S, SE, Titanium. The ST is the performance version.
Engine/transmission: The Fiesta ST comes with a turbocharged, direct-injection, 16-valve inline four-cylinder gasoline engine (197 horsepower, 214 pound-feet of torque) linked to a standard five-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic transmission that also can be shifted manually is optional.
Capacities: Seating is for five people. Cargo capacity with all seats in place is 10.1 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 12.4 gallons of gasoline. Ford’s engineers say that regular grade is okay. But they concede that premium fuel offers “best performance” in this one.
Mileage: I averaged 33 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving . . . and sitting in traffic, burning fuel and going nowhere.
Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front/solid rear); four-wheel antilock brake protection; electronic brake-force distribution; stability and traction control/ post-collision safety system; side and head air bags.
Pricing: The 2014 Ford Fiesta ST starts at $21,400 with a $20,598 dealer’s invoice price on that model. Price as tested is $25,810, including $3,201 in options (onboard navigation, power-operated glass roof, Recaro seating package) and an $825 factory-to-dealer transportation charge.