The hot hatch segment is always an exciting one, so when the opportunity presented itself to pit these two unlikely competitors against one another I couldn’t say no. The new Fiesta won me over with its brilliant handling, and the Beetle GSR’s loud exterior paired to a GTI-based powertrain earned its own solid collection of brownie points. Only a few thousand dollars and a mere 13 horsepower separate the two compacts, and after I gave a narrow victory to the GTI over the Focus ST I wondered who would come out ahead in this second Ford versus VW hot hatch showdown.
Fiesta ST: Much like the bigger Focus ST the new Fiesta is a good three degrees over the top in the style department. Its aggressive nose, pronounced rear wing and Molten Lava red/orange paint means it gets noticed just about everywhere. The Fiesta ST rides on sharp 17-inch alloy wheels, which aren’t that massive by today’s standards, but they look just right. That catfish-like grille takes a bit of getting used to but otherwise the five-door hot hatch ticks all the boxes. The same cannot be said about the Fiesta’s interior. Those heavily bolstered Recaros are perfect for enthusiastic driving, but the plain-Jane Fiesta steering wheel is just plain out of place.
Beetle GSR: As always, the current generation Beetle lives in that narrow and polarized love-it-or-hate-it category of the automotive world. The GSR, a German acronym that translates to “Yellow Black Racer”, is by far the loudest of loud Beetles on the market. Its bumblebee black and yellow body borders on cartoonish, as does its monster of a rear wing. I rather like the big brash bug, and more than anything I’m happy to see Volkswagen finally build a Beetle that’s not something most would call either “girly” or “cute”. The Beetle’s passenger cabin is sharp and stylish, clad in black leather with contrasting yellow stitching. It’s all very tasteful and well put together, but in trade, its sport seats aren’t nearly as comfortable or supportive as those in the Fiesta ST.
a) If you’re into a modern interpretation of vintage flair, the Beetle GSR
b) If you prefer a more tasteful take on the Fast and the Furious revolution, the Fiesta ST
Fiesta ST: I could sum this up in one word. Wow. The Fiesta ST drives like a true champ. Its suspension is tuned stiffly enough to get you through your favourite winding roads in record time, without making you feel like the next bump is going to knock your teeth out. That little 1.6-litre turbocharged mill packs a whole lot of punch for such a small car and its six-speed gearbox keeps throws short and precise. The final piece of the puzzle is the ridiculously quick 13.1:1 steering rack.
Its only stumbling block? Torque vectoring. On Vancouver’s soggy roads, putting your foot down means you can actually hear the car shifting power back and forth from left to right and back every second or so. It’s better than an open differential, but there’s no replacing a proper, mechanical, LSD.
Beetle GSR: As you can see, the Fiesta is a tough act to follow, and unfortunately the Beetle just can’t quite keep up. Volkswagen’s tried-and-true 2.0-litre turbo mill has been wrung out to provide an extra 10 horsepower (210 in total), which sounds absolutely brilliant as it spins its way up to its upper register. The Beetle’s acceleration was slightly stifled due to Volkswagen deleting the ability to shut off the traction control, but it still proved to be reasonably quick.
Where the Beetle really struggled was in body roll. Its high-domed roof and large panorama sunroof puts a lot of weight up high, compromising the car’s ability to stay flat through the corners. If VW could take a second to stop worrying about competing with the GTI they could have easily made the Beetle more competent through the bends.
a)If you autocross on Sunday and drive to work Monday, the Fiesta ST.
b)If you like having more power and can’t handle 3 pedals, the Beetle GSR (Or suck it up and get the Fiesta)
Real World Driving
Fiesta ST: There are many categories where I can sing praises all day long for the wee Fiesta ST, but when you put it through the daily grind, its imperfections start bubbling to the surface. The biggest stumbling block came in the form of squeaks and rattles. This think is now in my top three for worst marks on the noise, vibration, and harshness test. Just hope warranty repairs can take care of them.
As a daily driver, the Fiesta has all the creature comforts you need. The MyFordTouch interface gets less glitchy as I worked my way through the 2014 lineup, and this time around it was relatively problem free. When it comes to hauling folks around, there’s a decent amount of space in the back seat due to some clever forming of the drivers seats. When it comes to cargo, although this is a five-door, you’re really choosing between passenger space and cargo space; there is no “both.”
Beetle GSR: This is where the Beetle makes up for its performance flaws. The Beetle is a joy to bomb around town in. VW’s infotainment is seamless as always, and that massive sunroof makes the cabin seem bigger than it is. The car’s overall fit and finish is really good, and gives the impression that VW is starting to move away from some of its recent cost-cutting measures. The big surprise in this thing is carrying capacity. Because the rear glass and trunk opens as a hatch, there’s a surprisingly good amount of room for your weekly grocery run, and you can still cram a couple of reasonably sized adults in the back.
Beetle GSR. The end.
If I’m looking at this as a straight-up battle of the $30K hot hatches, the Fiesta ST is an absolute hands-down champion. It’s faster, more fun to drive, and really it’s just more of a true hot hatch than the Beetle. If we look at this as more of a generic, I-want-something-cool-that’s-fun-to-drive-and-stands-out-in-a-crowd-but-I’m-not-compelled-to-go-racing, then the equation gets a little blurry. The Beetle GSR does win out in a handful of categories, especially in the daily grind, but that doesn’t make it a good enough hot-hatch to beat the Fiesta.