The end is near for the Ford Fiesta ST, Nissan Juke Nismo RS and their ilk. This duo is on a shrinking list of amazing but dated anachronisms aimed at either a youth market that doesn't exist, or aging baby boomers who are mostly too old, plump and content to suffer squeezing over and into snug Recaro racing seats.
Perhaps five or six fifty- and sixtysomething men in Canada want the work and aggravation of boxing the gears of a street-legal racer in everyday traffic. Fewer can endure the jolt of imperfections through a hard-as-nails suspension – not without an Advil chaser.
The market for this sort of car has always been tiny, but as baby boomer boys become pensioners, the future is bleak. Imagine that old fellow in the Wiser's whisky commercial tucked behind the wheel of a Juke Nismo RS. No.
And yes, I've lived all the research that says boomers refuse to fade gently away, that they are working out and dieting to stay young. Boomer boys, true, are as likely as ever to see cars as status symbols and fast ones as symbols of sexiness and power. The spirit is willing, but the flesh has grown flabby and unwilling to trade comfort for killer performance.
Don't expect millennials to take up the slack. They're either not interested or can't afford a Fiesta ST with its "racing DNA." Millennials, notes Maritz Research, like boomers, look for value, fuel economy, durability, affordability, safety and a good warranty. "Fun to drive" ranks seventh among purchase reasons and looks are ranked No. 9, just behind cargo space. Millennials buy what their boomer parents buy.
Thus car makers go unrewarded for their cost-conscious tuning efforts. The Fiesta ST starts at $24,999 and for that you get a turbocharged, 197-horsepower mill, a sport-tuned suspension and amazing brakes. The car sits low, has a chin spoiler, dual exhaust pipes and a rear diffuser. It looks the part of a little beast.
Fun? In measured doses. The Sport Technologies (ST) suspension will give you a flat ride around a tight corner, but 30 minutes on an average city street will exhaust you. An hour and most boomer boys will reach for muscle relaxants. Ford has a serious performance car here, a "proof point" for One Ford's wicked side, and it's too much for almost everyone, especially boomers.
The Nismo RS ($28,298) is just as capable, though taller and bigger. The four-banger is also turbocharged, spinning up 215 horsepower. Nissan emptied the Nismo parts bin into this odd-looking hatch: limited-slip differential, close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox, oversized disc brakes, monster brake pads, stiff chassis, tight steering …
Looks? Put one on your front lawn for Halloween to scare small children and thrill big kids like me. I love those thin-strip LED accent lights and a long list of styling tweaks, ending with a rear lift-gate spoiler.
I glowed and smiled for the first 45 minutes behind the wheel. Then, after bouncing down four kilometres of a wretched, slow-moving construction zone, I'd had enough. Like so much in life, the RS is best in smallish doses.
Nissan and Ford have priced these two well, given what they offer. Similarly racy rides – the Chevrolet Sonic RS ($25,445) and Mini Cooper S ($25,490) – offer the same, monthly payments for 48 months for $600-plus, after taxes and fees, with discounts.
Not bad, until insurance enters the mix. Using InsuranceHotline.com, the best rate I could find on a Fiesta ST for a 28-year-old male was $2,600 a year. So, that's about $1,000 a month in insurance and car payments – not easy to make when you're saving for a condo, even living in your parents' basement.
So if not boomers and twenty- or thirtysomethings for these rides, whom? No one. See you at the wake.
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