What is it?
This is the new sporty Focus's more practical sibling, identical to the five-door ST hatchback in all the mechanical respects that matter– such as wheelbase, suspension settings, engine power and torque – but a little porkier at the kerb (by 25 kilograms), a little pricier to buy (by a remarkably reasonable £745) but just as quick against the watch and in top speed as the hatch. Its big claim to fame is a large and uncluttered carrying space of up to 1500 litres capacity, suitable for dogs and large furniture items that just aren't comfortable in a hatchback.
What is it like?
The measure of a great car, we always reckon, is when it shows impressive properties in exactly the opposite direction to the expected ones. The Focus ST estate is a great example. Sure, it's virtually as fast and agile as the saloon (you'd need to go head-to-head on a circuit to tell the difference), and expectedly capacious, but it's also remarkably supple-riding, comfortable and refined. This is one sporty car that has no drawbacks at all in long distance capability or day-to-day practicality, with the enormous bonus of being able to swallow as much luggage as you could possibly want to take on holiday.
The outright acceleration is strong and sustained, even above 100 mph, but the turbocharged four-cylinder engine is also remarkably flexible at low revs and when working at small throttle openings. This is one 154mph car in which the most sedate driver can feel at home. Seat and driving position comfort are special features: the ST Focus feels as good at the wheel as many a car a twice the price. Drawbacks? The gearchange action, though claimed to be improved when this Focus was introduced, is still well below par for the class. The dash layout, though faced in attractive piano-black in our top-spec ST-3 test car, is more complicated and confusing than the best in the class (you can bet the new Mk7 Golf will do it better) and there is a rather claustrophobic feeling not present in rivals.
Should I buy one?
Tough decision. There are so many good cars in this class that only a confirmed Ford lover or someone who doesn't much care about the car he/she drives would decide without trying the rest. But the Focus ST estate has to be a very strong contender for anyone who wants pace with practicality. Sporty Fords have always had a rather special halo, the prices seem reasonable (especially the well but not over-equipped base ST) and the estate has all the excellence of the much-praised five-door hatch, if not quite the visual panache. It's a great car.
Ford Focus ST-3 EstatePrice: £26,240; 0-62mph: 6.5sec; Top speed: 154mph; Economy: 39.2mpg (combined); CO2: 169g/km; Kerb weight: 1380kg; Engine type: 4cyl petrol turbo, 2000cc; Installation: Front, transverse front-wheel-drive; Power: 247bhp at 5000rpm; Torque: 265lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual