With any luck, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST performance subcompact will start a race. Not a street race. That would be wrong. I'm hoping for a race among other automakers to develop their own fast and frolicsome subcompacts.

The Fiesta ST provides a lot of fun at a relatively low price. The appealing package faces very little competition. Surprisingly, no Japanese or Korean automaker sells a hot subcompact in America.

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The Hyundai Veloster turbo comes closest, but it's a compact.

To find legitimately sporty subcompacts, look to Europe: the Fiat 500 Abarth and Mini Cooper S. Chevrolet has a toe in the water but has yet to take the plunge.

Its Sonic 5 RS has go-fast looks and good handling but no more power than its mainstream model.

The Sonic 5 RS, 500 Abarth and Cooper S constitute the Fiesta ST's entire competitive set.

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Fiesta ST prices start at $21,400. It's only available as a four-door hatchback with a 197-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission.

I tested a nicely equipped Fiesta ST with Recaro seats, navigation, Sony audio, voice recognition, a touch screen and more. It cost $24,190, not including destination charges.

The ST leads the pack in power and price. Its engine outmuscles the competition, and its base price is lower than the Abarth and Mini.

The Fiesta ST needs premium gasoline to generate its advertised 197 horsepower and 202 pound-feet of torque.

Regular gas won't damage the engine, but it does reduce horsepower by 3 percent to 7 percent. Still, the Fiesta achieved its EPA fuel economy rating -- 26 mpg in the city, 35 on the highway and 29 combined -- with regular gasoline.

The Fiesta's engine delivers plenty of power for confident acceleration. Unlike the more powerful Focus ST, it has almost no torque steer. That makes the Fiesta more fun to drive in many circumstances.

The Fiesta ST's steering is direct and responsive. The suspension kept the car flat and stable in enthusiastic maneuvers.

The hatchback layout provides good passenger and cargo space. The controls combine voice recognition with dials and buttons. A touch screen in the center of the dash is too small to use easily in a moving vehicle.

The race is on. The Ford ST was quick out of the gate, and its performance, fuel economy and value are likely to establish it as a leader among the sporty subcompacts likely to follow it.