It’s swift without ever being scary; this much power could potentially be a problem in a front-drive car...
Base price: $52,840.
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four, 184kW/360Nm, 6-speed manual, front-drive, Combined economy 7.2 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4362mm long, 1484mm high, kerb weight 1437kg, luggage capacity 316/1101 litres, fuel tank 55 litres, 18-inch wheels on 235/40 tyres.
We like: Smooth, punchy performance, fluid chassis, manual gearbox.
We don’t like: Cabin bling and those loud seats.
How it rates: 8/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
Ford has always made great hot hatches. The latest Focus ST certainly qualifies, although it’s a very different car to the XR5 (also known as ST in Europe) it replaces. The old model had a growly five-cylinder turbo engine borrowed from Volvo, which was strong on character but liked a drink: this new one has Ford’s new EcoBoost four-cylinder turbo technology, which is smoother and more powerful but places just as much emphasis on fuel efficiency.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Fast but certainly not brutal. The ST is well up on power compared with the old XR5 (by 18kW), but it’s delivered in a smooth and impressively linear fashion that makes light work of windy roads or quick overtaking.
It’s swift without ever being scary; this much power could potentially be a problem in a front-drive car, but the ST delivers with lag-free turbo boost and a sophisticated ‘enhanced torque vectoring’ stability control system.
Ford did face one problem with the ST: buyers of old XR5/ST loved the growly five-pot engine and it didn’t want the new car to seem too subdued. So it has something called a sound symposer, which tweaks the engine noise and feeds it into the cabin under heavy throttle. It’s not quite a fake noise but it’s not exactly real either – you can make up your mind about whether that’s right or not. But it’s the type of technology that becoming more common as carmakers struggle to meet global noise regulations while keeping their cars interesting.
Ford has produced small cars with tremendously well-sorted chassis and suspension architecture for the past 20 years – arguably superior to any other mainstream brand and better than some premium ones – and the new Focus is no exception. The ST has unique calibration and some different components which result in a harder ride without being uncomfortable in everyday use. Brilliant.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
The ST shares its basic cabin architecture with the rest of the Focus range, so it’s all pretty familiar. The quality is outstanding, with plenty of soft-touch plastics and tactile switchgear, although there’s also an impressive of bling that may not be to all tastes: glossy trim inserts and fussy graphics.
The real low point in the cabin is one unique to the ST: the garish trim on the seats, which varies in colour according to exterior paint finish but looks like you’ve slapped a set of Supercheap Auto seat covers on regardless. That’s a real shame, for the seats themselves are superb: proper Recaro chairs up front.
The Focus ST has a few high-tech tricks inside, including standard-fit sat-nav (shame the screen is so small though) and Ford’s Sync voice control software, which allows you to operate your phone and audio functions by simply speaking to the car. That’s not unusual in itself, but Sync is by far the most advanced system of its kind, with a wide variety of commands and the ability to understand natural speech patterns.
Are we sold? Not completely, as we still had some difficulty getting the hang of which Sync commands to use and when. But a week is not enough for that; live with the car, learn Sync’s habits and it has the potential to be very useful indeed.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
That might depend on two things: whether you’re happy with a pure manual transmission and whether you’re comfortable with a Ford badge on the bonnet of your hot-hatch, when so much of the competition comes from premium brands.
For us, an emphatic thumbs-up to both: a car like this deserves a three-pedal gearbox and ‘fast Fords’ are an everyman performance tradition that stretches back decades.
The Focus ST strikes a fantastic balance between everyday usability and thrills-on-demand. Yes, there’s a new Volkswagen Golf GTI on the way and by all accounts it’s an outstanding machine. But to Blue Oval Believers, it still won’t have the cache of a genuine Fast Ford like the Focus ST.
Air conditioning: Dual climate
Audio: CD, iPod compatible
Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
Cruise control: Yes with speed limiter
Driver footrest: Yes
Head-up display: No
Heated/ventilated seats: No
Keyless entry/start: Yes/yes
Leather upholstery: Partial
Parking radar: Yes with camera
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: Yes
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
Steering reach adjustment: Yes
Trip computer: Yes