The hot hatch segment, which began life with the 108-horsepower VW Golf GTI back in 1975, hit the gym hard in 2016.
The Mercedes A45 AMG and Ford Focus RS arrived, each packing 350bhp and four-wheel-drive, and each capable of embarrassing much more expensive sports cars on a twisty road.
Along with the pumped-up Honda Civic Type-R they brought with them the dawn of the superhatch. But as the sun shone on their rally-bred bodies, bucket seats and massive brakes, a shadow was unintentionally cast over their smaller, cheaper, less powerful siblings. Cars like the Ford Fiesta ST, with "just" 200bhp, suddenly seemed less impressive.
But is that a fair judgement to make? We take the new Fiesta ST 200, a car built to celebrate the end of the current ST's life, on a trip to the B-roads of the Peak District to find out.
Sporting unique 'Storm Grey' paint and an equally exclusive set of wheels, the ST200 is the last Fiesta iteration to roll off the Cologne production line before Ford starts building the new, eighth-generation car later this year and a new ST soon after that.
Originally just 400 examples were to be built (all in the same colour and with the same, every-box-ticked spec), but early demand saw that rise to a number Ford will not reveal. Much of that demand came from the UK, where the regular Fiesta is currently the country's best-selling car.
It might be approaching five years old, the current ST, but it still looks as sharp today as it did back in 2012. The wide front grille giving the look of a moody fish, while the arch-filling alloys, lowered suspension and creases along the shoulders and sills make the car look tight, taut and ready for the off. The interior, which has changed little since the Mark 7 Fiesta arrived in 2008, is a different story. It is still tidy and modern in its design, but technology has moved on and the scatter-gun approach to button placement leads to a cluttered dashboard; the Sync infotainment system, while functional, also looks and feels dated.
But tuning the radio and having text messages read out isn't why we are here. The ST has always been about driving involvement and enjoying yourself on country lanes, while still being a small, affordable and practical hatchback. We set the sat-nav and its mid-2000s robotic voice for the Peak District and head to the M40.
Before we leave London we've stopped twice to adjust the seat. The standard-fit Recaros are supportive but, as in the Focus RS, set a little too high. We spent a good few minute adjusting the seat and steering wheel until we found a position that worked, and even then it took a couple of hundred miles of driving before we were completely satisfied. The seats are also quite snug, so even average-sized drivers might find them uncomfortable on longer drives.
It may sound like we're being negative about the little Ford, but in truth we're just getting the bad bits out of the way so we can focus on the good, and the very good.
We reach a snow-covered Yorkshire and the Peak District where the driving position is forgotten and the car comes alive. The 200 gets an extra 19bhp (taking the total to 212) over the standard ST. This and a shorter final drive means the 200 surges through the gears more quickly. You'll be changing gear more often, but it's worth it because the changes give the car an increased sense of urgency. Third gear, in particular, is an absolute joy, as the car yanks you down the road like an excitable puppy on its first walk.
The enthusiasm is matched by a rasping soundtrack that isn't Asbo-loud but fills the cabin with an addictive bwaarp each time you press the accelerator. We'd like to have heard the occasional pop, bang and crackle from the exhaust like you get from the Focus RS, but otherwise the ST200 is a characterful little thing.
Performance-wise, the ST is as good as the numerous awards it has won over the years would have you believe. Turn-in is sharp and accurate, the car summoning more grip from its front tyres than you'd think possible, even on damp winter tarmac, while the rear is eager to move around if provoked. Decent communication through the steering wheel and seat means the car never takes you by surprise, but while the suspension's stiff sure-footedness makes it fun on B roads, the hard ride can become tiring on long motorway drives, just as it can with the Focus.
Ford has made some changes to the ST200's suspension – softer rear springs and anti-roll bars, and a stiffer torsion beam, since you asked, and the front is stiffer too – but since autumn 2015 every ST has had these changes fitted as standard, because it would have been too costly to set up a new production line for the limited-run 200.
Unlike the Focus, there are no drive modes or suspension settings to chose from; you can have the traction control on or off, and that's about it. Instead, the driver is the Sport button, you decide how to drive the car and it acts accordingly. Pop to the shops and it'll feel like any other Fiesta, but turn up the wick and that puppy dog mentality comes to the fore.
Introduce this side of the ST to a snow-lined Holm Moss and the A6024 connecting West Yorkshire's Holmfirth to Crowden reservoir – and home to the second stage of the 2014 Tour de France – and everything makes sense.
It might not have excelled during the 200 mile slog up the M1 last night, but on a deserted moorland road like this, Saturday morning sun shining behind us, there are few other cars we'd rather be in.
The price, however, is a sticking point. At £22,685 the ST200 is £4,500 more than the entry-level Fiesta ST-1, which offers almost the same performance, from the same engine, and as of late last year features the same tweaked suspension. Even the ST-3, which has the same kit as the 200 (minus the paint wheels and power increase) is over £2,000 cheaper, and Ford-authorised tuning company Mountune will make up the power difference for £649. That ST200 badge and grey paint doesn't come cheap.
A toned-up pocket rocket with puppy dog excitement and limited-edition kudos, the ST200 is a fitting finale to what has been one of the all-time great hot hatchbacks. It isn't the comfiest motorway mile-cruncher, but on any other road, it is simply superb.
So long as Ford don't make too many then it should hold its value a little better than the regular ST. But really what the 200 has done is, over four years later, remind us just how brilliant the regular ST still is.