Badge snobs will have clicked straight past this page. Their loss. Now you’re in on Speed Week’s best-kept secret. I don’t want this to sound too ‘school sports day’, but these two are already winners. Difficult second album syndrome didn’t strike when the old Fiesta ST made way for this prettier, more mature, downsized-engine sequel. Meanwhile, Hyundai has come from nowhere to build an authentic first hot hatch that sweats credibility. These two are by no means the token bargains of Speed Week; they’ve earned their pit garages at Charade. It’s no accident that, in the supermini stakes, the new Polo GTI is absent, and the Hyundai’s pinched the latest Megane RS’s family-hatch-sized grid slot.

Leaving the i30N to be curiously pored over by the quizzical Dallara and Lamborghini pit crews, I venture out for my first laps of this bonkers circuit in the Ford. Hello, old friend. We’ve already done plenty with this car in 2018 – roadtrips, track work, drag races – so there’s an arm around the shoulder while I tiptoe down to the hairpin and pick four different braking points, all of which turn out to be incorrect. Yep, there’s the magnetically instant turn-in, the subtle but useful bite of the Performance Pack differential, and the invasive backside nibble of the ST’s narrow, pinching chair bolsters. Doesn’t do it any favours as a grand tourer, but when the racing line is more cambered than a circus Wall of Death, the personal-space-invading seat is much more welcome.

If a hot hatch doesn’t seep into your conscience and egg you on to rag it like a stolen hire car, it’s a failure. Three laps later in the ST, I’m hunting Alpines, harrying the G-Class through the chicane – where it changes direction staggeringly – and thumbing the stability control button. It’s so friendly, so eager to entertain. What Ford has got so right is balancing the new ST’s grip. It’s wearing trick Michelin tyres that vary their compound across the surface – they’re efficient when you’re rolling along, but bite hard around the sidewalls. Wary of locking the Fiesta down in a handling straitjacket, the rear suspension is set up to unstick it.

Basically, without provocation it clings on like a hungry leech, but on cue it’ll tripod around bends and be your benevolent tutor in the art of lift-off oversteer. Pratting around, in other words.

So, like any catch-up with old mates, professionalism quickly deteriorates into arsing around. Even on the cool-down lap. The brakes need a rest, so best box the Ford and shoo away the Italians.

“This car is good, eh?” They’re astounded the Hyundai’s not here as a generously warrantied Deliveroo. Actually, this i30N Performance (+£3,000, +25bhp, + front diff, 19inch alloys and bodyshell girders) might be even happier on track than the Ford. And I’m not saying that because its long-term keeper is looming over my shoulder, threatening to strangle me with his best Sunderland AFC scarf.

The i30N’s diff summons traction earlier than the Fiesta’s, and though it’s nowhere near as juvenile, keeping all four wheels on the deck and riding Charade’s serrated kerbs with aplomb means it’s searingly quick. The gearshift’s not as slick as the Ford’s (though the crisp auto-blip is ultra-helpful in those early Bambi-clumsy laps), and the steering weight is over-chunky in any of the thousand modes, but otherwise, I’m sold. Twenty-seven grand for a car this complete is a steal. Sounds naughty, goes like stink, corners tenaciously and does the just-be-a-hatchback-now-please grind as well as a Golf, apart from its monumental thirst.

It’s criminal to split them, but the Ford’s infectious on-track misbehaviour and soulful three-pot blare edges it, for me. Stevie disagrees, predictably. He’s perfectly entitled to. This pair have defended their blue-collar badges with honour. Buy one.

To read more from TG’s Speed Week 2018, click here, and stay tuned for more from the track this week

Source: TopGear

November 7, 2018