It seems like only yesterday that Ford was down in the dumps, turning out safe but unexciting cars.

Your head might tell you to buy a Fiesta, Focus or Mondeo but your heart wouldn’t be in it. Well, things have changed.

Every Ford owner I speak to tells me loving stories. In recent months people have extolled the virtues of hitherto unexciting cars. Focus? Fun to drive. C-Max? Better handling than I expected. Kuga? Beautiful and very comfortable.

But what about the star of the show? The Fiesta ST is the hot-hatch version of Ford’s most accomplished Fiesta yet. It came out at about the same time as Peugeot’s equally superlative 208 GTi. I’ve driven both and it’s a very close call.

It has to be said, though, the Fiesta is cheaper and just as quick. Which is best? It’s a photofinish and there are arguments for both. Whichever you chose, you would be a happy driver, but the ST just edges it. Just.

It’s quick, economical, balanced and, above all, refined. Of course it will go at a frightening speed but it’s a placid town car, too. The looks won’t scare the neighbours either because it is just the right side of menacing. In fact, it’s possibly just a little too restrained for my liking. On looks alone, the Peugeot wins.

At first glance the Fiesta ST looks quite different to the standard car, mainly thanks to the huge front grille. Rather than the normal slick offering (that nods discreetly towards a well-know British luxury brand) the ST has its own blacked-out honeycomb version with a discreet ‘ST’ badge. Add to that the standard 17in alloy wheels and discreet but purposeful bodykit and you have all the right ingredients.

Inside there are standard Recaros on both ST and ST2 versions, a unique steering wheel and gearlever and some carbon-like trim. This is all window dressing if the mechanicals aren’t up to scratch, but Ford has hit the mark here too.

The 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine is used elsewhere in the Ford range but here it is in a unique state of tune, with more power than the last Fiesta ST but fewer emissions too. The driving position is close to spot on, with the Recaros offering the kind of support expected from that particular brand. Start slowly and the ST demands no more from you than the standard car.

On the open road, you won’t find any other car that offers as many wows for £16,995.

Ford Fiesta ST PRICE: £16,995. The ST2 costs £1,000 more ENGINE: a 1,596cc, four-cylinder unit generating 182ps via front wheel drive and six-speed gearbox PERFORMANCE: Top speed 139mph, 0 to 60mph in 6.9 seconds COSTS: town 35.8mpg; country 58.9mpg; combined 47.9mpg EMISSIONS: 138g/km INSURANCE: Group 13 WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles