What is it?
With the fire-breathing versions of the Ford Focus ST and Ford Fiesta ST not destined to arrive until next year, fast Ford fans have had to endure a lull in blue oval-badged objects of lust since the final Ford Focus RS found a home.
Unable to turn the product tap all the way up to hot, Britain’s best-selling manufacturer has resolutely settled for warm. The Ford Fiesta Zetec-S has been the range’s peak performer (special editions aside) for years, and the trim level has taken less than a year to migrate to the new Ford Focus Zetec-S, tested here.
With it comes the more powerful version of the 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine already at the heart of the petrol line-up. Producing 180bhp and 199lb ft of torque in overboost mode, it improves the Focus’s 0-62mph time to 7.9 seconds, but retains the capacity for 47mpg fuel economy.
Around the beefier powerplant, Ford has hung all the usual Zetec-S trinkets. A bodykit is the obvious addition, but underneath the car has been treated to stiffened springs and dampers, while the cabin gains sportier front seats and a slightly better standard of trim.
What’s it like?
Perhaps inevitably, the shortcomings of the standard Focus make the dynamic alterations made here feel irresistibly superior. The discernable inertia in the chassis has been partly alleviated by the firmer setup, and the Zetec-S’s tauter turn in and proddable rear end now encourage enthusiastic driving rather than competently enduring it.
The newfound vibrancy is still marred by less-than-brilliant steering (the Focus’s previous incarnations have arguably set the bar too high for current model) but it more than lives up to any expectations you might have had of the new badge.
Impressively (or, perhaps in Ford’s case, unsurprisingly) the enhancements have not entailed a dramatic loss of comfort. There’s the occasional abrupt shiver that wouldn’t have previously filtered through, but otherwise the tighter body control barely hinders the Focus’s class-leading ride quality.
The extra power is similarly well absorbed. With a five-door hatchback to shift away from the lights the 1.6-litre lump doesn’t feel especially potent from a standstill, but up into its linear stride, it adds sufficient brio to complement the revamped handling.
Arguably, it’s only the styling that strikes the wrong note. The Focus already appears like it may have had too many chefs contributing to its design broth, and one more to add the protruding front splitter, large rear spoiler and bulbous black diffuser has not delivered the athletic profile doubtless intended.
Should I buy one?
It depends which end of the blue oval you intend on buying from. Lukewarm hatchbacks always seem disappointing if you’re secretly hankering after the gratifying pace of something hot, and even armed with the perkier Ecoboost, the Zetec-S is unlikely to set your pulse racing.
Conversely, if you prefer to buy with your head and not your heart, the sum of the latest Focus’s parts really do add up to a greater whole. Cars capable of bashing a B road, satisfying the tax band and economising comfortably on a motorway are not common, but the Zetec-S does it all in some style.
If you can live with Ford’s idea of what the package should look like, and don’t mind the marginally firmer ride, this might just be the best Focus you can buy.
Ford Focus Zetec-S 1.6-litre Ecoboost
Price: £20,495; Top speed: 138mph; 0-62mph: 7.9 seconds; Economy: 47.1mpg; CO2: 139g/km; Kerbweight: 1333kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1596cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power: 180bhp at 5700rpm; Torque: 177lb ft (199lb ft on overboost) at 1900rpm to 4000rpm; Gearbox: Six-speed manual