Focusing on speed and style
Road Test:Ford has an illustrious history of creating fast Fords, from the original Escorts, which were legendary in the world of rallying, through the 1980s and 1990s with the Sierra and Escort Cosworths. In more recent times Ford has produced high-performance variants of the Focus, with two ST and RS models.
Now we have this, the new third-generation Focus ST. It’s a hot hatch squarely aimed at competing with the likes of Volkswagen’s Golf GTi, Seat’s outgoing Leon Cupra R and Renault’s Renaultsport Mégane. The ST is a stepping-stone to the faster, hardcore Focus RS, in a similar way in which the GTi sits below the potent Golf R. Both are more user-friendly on a day-to-day basis, yet provide an abundance of power to excite the keenest of drivers.
Visually, Ford has created a striking car, although I wouldn’t be rushing out to order Tangerine Scream, the colour of our test car. Up front, the gloss black grille and substantial air intake aids the ST’s athletic features; there’s a centre-exit exhaust, not too dissimilar from a Lamborghini Aventador, which sits below the rear bumper. The car’s ride height has been lowered by 10mm, with 18in alloy wheels filling the wheel arches.
The interior of the car has been spruced up slightly to distinguish it from the regular Focus models, primarily with the addition of figure-hugging Recaro sports seats for the driver and front-seat passenger. Three additional gauges sit neatly on top of the dash, housing oil temperature, oil pressure and boost pressure. More for show than information, they add that touch of racing pedigree to the cabin.
The remaining architecture has been lifted directly from the regular Focus. The fit and finish isn’t up to the top quality experienced in the Golf GTI; it’s let down by trivial items, such as the armrest with its flimsy catch made of cheap plastic – there’s no place for it in a car of this class or price.
The ST’s strong points clearly lie under its skin: the 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol engine that powered its precursor has been replaced with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine. Crucially, power has been increased, with 250bhp and 360Nm of torque available. This strong torque figure enables you to drive at a sedate pace in comfort around town, and the six-speed manual transmission provides a fluid gear change with a light clutch pedal to match. Engine noise is well insulated at low revs, enabling you to travel in comfort; however, once you press firmly on the accelerator there’s a distinct engine note inside the cabin.
Amplified engine sound
Ford has developed a sound symposer that amplifies the engine sound from the engine bay into the car’s interior. This has been produced before by other manufacturers with varying degrees of success; in this case Ford has managed to attain an accurate balance between engine noise and authenticity.
The ST’s firm suspension setup can translate into a slightly harsh ride for its passengers on uneven roads, though not as raucous as the Mégane RS. This, however, is a minor grievance: for drivers of hot hatches who enjoy track days, the ST will reward far greater than they may expect. On track, the ST’s stiff chassis translates into a hot hatch with incredible cornering ability; this, coupled with the razor-sharp steering that gives instant feedback, results in a car that’s astonishingly quick on track.
To put it into perspective, around Mondello Park’s national circuit the ST was 0.69 of a second quicker than the Seat Leon Cupra R and just 0.66 of a second behind the Mégane RS Trophy, the current hot hatch pace-setter. We haven’t had the opportunity to take the GTI out, but we did test the Volkswagen Golf R previously; it was 1.47 of a second off the ST’s time.
The Mégane RS is undeniably fast around the track and still my personal favourite for track driving; the ST, however, is easier to live with on a daily basis, in a similar way to the versatile Golf GTI.
Both cars offer practical motoring; they will happily fulfil the family duties and entertain the driving enthusiast behind the wheel. Daily running costs for these hot hatches aren’t too steep considering the performance on offer: the Focus ST will return a combined fuel consumption of 7.2l/100km (39.2mpg), while annual motor tax will set you back €481, although this will have gone up since the Minister for Finance dished out his budget earlier this month.
Standard specification on the Focus ST includes keyless start, Recaro sports seats, 18in alloy wheels and Bluetooth connectivity. Our test car was the ST2 variant (€2,300 premium); this benefits from additional equipment that includes Ford’s SYNC advanced voice control, device integration and connectivity interface, and electronic climate control.
Ford has priced the ST competitively. The entry-level ST (priced at €35,170) has a price advantage of almost €2,000 over the equivalent five-door Golf GTi. The GTi, however, tends to have a stronger residual value when it comes to selling after a few years of ownership.
This latest incarnation of the Focus ST embodies all the characteristics required to fulfil the status of a true hot hatch. It’s practical, properly fast and above all entertaining to drive.
On the other hand it’s expensive and something of a luxury in these austere times, but there are petrolheads out there who would sacrifice light and heat for the right car, and this falls firmly into this category.
The ST is fun without too much compromise in terms of practicality. Delivering on both fronts means it scores high in our ratings.
The Lowdown: Ford Focus ST
1,999cc EcoBoost four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine putting out 250hp at 5,500rpm and 360Nm of torque from 1,750rpm with a six-speed manual transmission .
0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds, max speed 248km/h.
Urban 9.9l/100km (28.5mpg) extra-urban 5.6l/100km (50.4 mpg) combined 7.2l/100km (39.2 mpg).
169g/km (€570 from January 1st)
Standard features on the ST2 model include 18in alloy wheels, keyless start, Recaro sports seats, Bluetooth, climate control, auto wipers, auto headlights.
Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0 Petrol 210hp €37,025 (motor tax €481); Seat Leon Cupra R 2.0 Petrol 265hp €39,525 (motor tax €677); Renaultsport Mégane 2.0 Petrol 265hp €35,990 (motor tax €677).