The ST may lack visual impact – Electric Orange paintwork aside – but it remains a joy to drive

They may be separated by 18 years, but of all the cars featured here, it is the Focus ST and Fiesta XR2 that have the most in common.

While the Racing Puma and Focus RS were limited-run rarities, and the Cossie a piece of hairy-chested exotica, the ST and XR2 are hotted-up versions of standard-looking models. The magic happens not in the wings or flared wheel arches but in the bits you can’t see, and that matters because performance Fords shouldn’t be museum pieces; they should be wrung out over the best roads that Wales has to offer.

Read our full review on the Ford Focus ST, as we put the hot hatch through its paces

The ST may lack visual impact – Electric Orange paintwork aside – but it remains a joy to drive and is the perfect illustration of how far Ford has advanced over the past two decades.

The ride is cosseting, the cabin quiet and the power delivery relentless. Admittedly that has much to do with the Mountune Performance pack and exhaust fitted to our car. The £2268 kit boosts power from 222bhp to 276bhp and cuts the 0-62mph time from 6.5sec to 5.6, but even the muscular mid-range of the standard ST has Cossie-slaying potential.

The blend of five-pot burble, occasional rally-style bang through the exhaust, light but feelsome steering and 310lb ft of torque can turn the most sedate driver into a hooligan. And because it’s only the front, back and side plastic trim that’s bespoke to the ST, it’s a weapon that is happy to be abused. No costly trawls to specialists for expensive, hard-to-find parts are required.

Best of all, the ST’s popularity means there are many to choose from, priced from less than £5000. And because it’s a modern car, the ST is the most reliable, toughest and rust-free of those featured here.

Our Verdict

Ford Focus 2011-2014

Can the Ford Focus capture the hearts and minds of hatchback buyers, or have its traditional rivals managed to perfect the formula?

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But it’s not all good news. Front tyres will be tortured, road tax is pricey, it’ll struggle to keep above 30mpg on a motorway run, and you can expect half that when the car is driven with a bit of verve. But that’s a small price to pay for a truly great, truly usable fast Ford.

Factfile

Dates produced 2006-2010; Price new £18,995; Top speed 150mph; 0-62mph 5.6sec; Economy 30.4mpg; CO2 224g/km; Kerb weight 1379kg; Engine type 5 cyls in line, 2522cc, turbo, petrol; Power 294bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 324lb ft at 2750rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Complete Fast Ford buying guide 

Ford Sierra Cosworth

RS Cosworth is starting to feel its age, but can still deliver thrills; steering wheel is a tactile delight, seat trim is of the picnic blanket variety and its four-pot motor makes 204bhp.

Ford Racing Puma

This limited edition, 153bhp ball of fun has limitless amounts of charm and is supremely easy to fall for.

Ford Fiesta XR2

Of all the fast Fords here, the XR2 is the most basic, and none the worse for it. Peppy 1.6-litre engine makes 96bhp and unassisted steering hardwires the XR2 driver to the road.

Ford Focus RS

RS produces 212bhp, but the focus here is more on handling than power; steering wheel features a useful 'this way up' marker.

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