Matt Prior
11 June 2012

What is it?

It's the welcome return of the Ford Focus ST, Ford's Volkwagen Golf GTI-rivalling hot hatch.

It has been two years since Ford last had an ST in the ranks, but this time around it's a slightly different beastie: there's no longer a five-pot engine under the bonnet, thanks to ever-tightening emissions regulations. But the Focus retains a couple of defining advantages over some of its rivals. 

One, it starts at under £22,000 and two, it has 247bhp driving its front wheels. Its power comes from a 2.0-litre Ecoboost engine, while the fact that it is so keenly priced comes partly from the absence of fancy shenanigans in the front suspension and transmission of the sort that mark out its fastest non-rivals (such as double-axis strut front suspension and a mechanical limited-slip differential). 

Instead, the ST has an electronic torque-steer compensator (whose motor feeds forces back into the electric power steering system to counter disruption), and not Ford's RevoKnuckle suspension. Likewise, instead of a limited slip differential, the ST it gets torque vectoring: an extension of the ESP system that will brake a lightly loaded inside wheel and effectively pass power to the outside. 

If you want more hardware than that from a Focus, you'll have to pop down to your dealer and beg for an RS. (Try and talk them into doing a Fiesta as well, if you do.) There's no three-door version either, only this five-door hatch and the Focus ST estate.

What is it like?

Inside at least, very tidy. There are Recaro seats that, praise be, let you sit a lot lower than in the previous ST. The steering wheel, pleasingly round all-round, adjusts hugely for reach and rake, and there are three diddy additional dials for oil pressure, temperature and turbo boost atop the dash; all angled towards the driver. It's a cabin that stands comparison with anything in the class.

Next, the motor: the first thing that strikes me about it is that, although it has lost a cylinder on the old car, its noise is precious little worse for it. Ford has been tweaking the ST's sound heavily during the past few months in an effort to make it far more theatrical. And it has worked. There's a genuinely grunty, near five-pot induction growl to it. It's now a peachy drivetrain. The Golf GTI doesn't just give away a lot in power: for all the GTI's linearity of response and the positiveness of gearshift, it lacks the ST's charm, too.

But where the ST really gets different to the Golf, and the previous Focus ST, and the Focus RS and, well, just about any fast Ford before it, is that Ford really has ramped-up the steering response. It feels night-and-day different to the previous Focus ST, or Golf GTI. It's a quick rack, wanting only 1.8 turns from lock-to-lock, and as soon as you wind it away from its the straight ahead (to which it's highly willing to self centre), it weights up and quickens up very smartly. 

The steering ratio increases the further you go from centre, so it quickens more once lock is applied, and that makes it feel terrifically agile. Chuck the ST into a corner and it very rapidly tucks in feeling, in its way, a bit like a Renaultsport Clio 200; which is not a bad benchmark. Feel? There is some, but it's subtle. Torque steer? The tiniest of tugs here and there; just enough to remind you the ST has 247bhp. It's an intuitive, albeit not totally natural feeling system.

The rest of the handling almost follows suit. The Focus is bigger than a Clio 200, obviously, but in its agility and willingness, there are similarities. In the dry the Focus feels like it's pivoting around its middle and would tip a back wheel into the air like a Clio. And if you give it a lift mid-corner, the ST is very happy to slip its rear wheels into action. There's plenty here for those who like a bit of lift-off oversteer. 

The ST isn't as engaging as a Renaultsport Megane Cup, but Ford didn't want it to be: isn't so aggressive either. If you want a Focus with a harder core, you'll have to wait for an RS. Hence, although it rides firmly, the ST is supple too. There is roll and pitch, but they happen at a controlled rate and, I suspect, given the market Ford is going for, they hit the right note. 

Should I buy one?

Sure. If you want a well-rounded hot hatchback, friendly in daily use but capable of entertaining on the right roads, the Focus ST stands comparison with the best, no question. The Golf still has a real charm to it, a natural feel to its steering that the Focus doesn't quite. But the ST's chassis counters with an agility and neutrality that that's superior to the Golf GTI's.

So, in the end there's little denying: the ST brings renewed vigour and unrivalled agility to the class, at a price nothing else can touch. The best fast Fords always do, and I think the ST might just be one of them.

Ford Focus ST 5dr

Price: £21,995; 0-60mph: 6.2sec; Top speed: 154mph; Economy: 39.2mpg (combined); CO2: 169g/km; Kerb weight: 1362kg; Engine: 4 cyls in line, 2000cc, turbo, petrol; Installation: Front, transverse, front-wheel drive; Power: 247bhp at 5000rpm; Torque: 250lb ft at 1750rpm; Power to weight: 181bhp per tonne; Specific output: 124bhp per litre; Gearbox: 6-spd manual

 

Join the debate

Comments
25

The nose looks good atleast

2 years 6 weeks ago

The nose looks good atleast in this colour

3dr??

2 years 6 weeks ago

chequeredflag wrote:

The nose looks good atleast in this colour

The revised nose looks a damn sight better than that on the standard Focus (thankfully, for all the tweaking over the years, Ford has finally got one aspect right) ... I only hope that, for singles and couples without children, this ace car is produced in a three door variant as well ... The march towards five doors on every car (even superminis) is worrying ...

"unrivalled agility to the class"?

2 years 6 weeks ago

What, unrivalled agility even compared to the Megane Trophy?

Take the badge off and....

2 years 6 weeks ago

If you took the ford badge off then it could be any car... Kia, Hyundai, Mazda, who knows.....

ST2

2 years 6 weeks ago

Won't be a classic like the old ST2 but still pretty reasonable considering the price

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

I'm sure its a good drive,

2 years 6 weeks ago

I'm sure its a good drive, but I think it already looks dated. The old facelift ST looks like a newer car than this. Shame.

Especially in a subtle Grey or Black. I think its the rear lights coming around the sides. It really  looks huge from the side to me.

Sign of getting older

2 years 6 weeks ago

MooMooHead wrote:

If you took the ford badge off then it could be any car... Kia, Hyundai, Mazda, who knows.....

My 70 year Mum says exactly that.  Maybe you're in the wrong forum if you can't tell the difference.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

xxxx wrote:MooMooHead

2 years 6 weeks ago

xxxx wrote:

My 70 year Mum says exactly that.  Maybe you're in the wrong forum if you can't tell the difference.

he didn't say he couldn't tell the difference, he was making a reference to the car's derivative must-please-everyone design.

And frankly, yes, if you took the Ford badge off, it could be any car... Kia, Hyundai, Mazda, who knows...

ThwartedEfforts

2 years 6 weeks ago

ThwartedEfforts wrote:

xxxx wrote:

My 70 year Mum says exactly that.  Maybe you're in the wrong forum if you can't tell the difference.

he didn't say he couldn't tell the difference, he was making a reference to the car's derivative must-please-everyone design.

And frankly, yes, if you took the Ford badge off, it could be any car... Kia, Hyundai, Mazda, who knows...

He said if you took the badge off it could be any Kia car etc,  therefore he couldn't tell the difference without the aid of the badge.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

xxxx

2 years 6 weeks ago

xxxx wrote:

ThwartedEfforts wrote:

xxxx wrote:

My 70 year Mum says exactly that.  Maybe you're in the wrong forum if you can't tell the difference.

he didn't say he couldn't tell the difference, he was making a reference to the car's derivative must-please-everyone design.

And frankly, yes, if you took the Ford badge off, it could be any car... Kia, Hyundai, Mazda, who knows...

He said if you took the badge off it could be any Kia car etc,  therefore he couldn't tell the difference without the aid of the badge.

I believe he was stating that the car looks as generic as all the cheap cars of these times, unlike the Focus's previous design which was fantastic and relatively unique. And if you want to bully people online at least be able to read and understand his comment properly...

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Our Verdict

Can the Ford Focus capture the hearts and minds of hatchback buyers?

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