21 February 2005

The first hot new Ford Focus has broken cover. Out-powering the last-generation Focus RS, the new Focus ST is revealed in these first official pictures, and is set for a showdown with the new VW Golf GTi and Vauxhall’s 197bhp Astra SRi five-door later this year.

Prior to that, this enthusiast’s Focus will be one of the stars of the Geneva Motor Show, where its plunging bumpers, jutting sills, bespoke interior and 18in alloy wheels will be displayed to the public for the first time. ‘When performance enthusiasts see this car, they are going to have high expectations,’ said Jost Capito, boss of Ford’s performance division, TeamRS. ‘The Focus ST is going to live up to them. Every functional attribute is being engineered to deliver on that expectation.’

If it delivers, the ST will be like no fast Ford before, thanks to its unlikely powerplant. Hot hatch aficionados will doubtless approve of its chassis, which has been honed at Germany’s Nürburgring circuit, and the more sporting looks. The ST will also offer 217bhp – eclipsing the Focus RS by 5bhp. But the source of that power has come from an unlikely origin – Volvo.

The engine is the same 2521cc five-cylinder turbo petrol engine found in Volvo’s S40 and V50 T5. TeamRS’s challenge will be to endow the inline five with a character to appeal to hot hatch buyers used to fast-revving four-cylinder engines. The Focus ST’s chassis is still under development; it will need to be significantly stiffer than the standard car’s to keep the additional nose weight under control, as well as to effectively put 217bhp to use. However, Autocar’s sources suggest that the Focus ST is already lapping the Nürburgring faster than the 212bhp Focus RS, and if that’s the case development must be well advanced.

More focused

Ford sold 9000 Focus ST170s in the UK between 2002 and 2004 – the last three years of the previous Focus’s life-cycle. With the new car, it hopes to improve on that and, by introducing the new ST within a year of the new Focus’s debut, it is allowing it at least five years of production before the third-generation Focus is due.

This time the Blue Oval has the benefit of customer research to back it up. When it surveyed Focus ST170 owners about their cars, most wished theirs resembled a more full-on hot hatch, both in outward appearance and driving experience. That’s why, says Ford, this new ‘Sports Technology’ Focus is bolder, faster, harder and more sporting than the car it succeeds. It’s also why Ford will be able to charge significantly more for the new ST, assured that it is what customers want. Prices are likely to rise by as much as £2500 over those of the ST170 to around £19,000 – slightly cheaper than a Golf GTi and the same as the Astra SRi five-door.

Style

As with the ST170, the new ST will be available as either a three or five-door, but outwardly, there’s no mistaking this car for any other in the range. The designers have worked to increase the Focus’s visual impact. The front bumper is deeper, and accommodates a new trapezoidal air intake that mirrors the narrower grille above. Beefed up skirts run back along the flanks into blistered wheelarches housing 18-inch, five spoke cast aluminium alloy wheels. Extended side sill mouldings lead rearwards to a similarly reshaped rear valance sculpted to look like a ‘venturi effect’ bumper. Chrome-tipped dual sports exhausts jut from the back, and the reversing and fog lights are surrounded by brushed aluminium. A dramatic extended rear wing spans more the full width of the roof. The extravagance continues in the bespoke cabin. Leather and orange cloth-trimmed Recaro seats are matched by leather inserts on the doors. Combined with a black-trimmed headlining, Ford claims these lend the interior a tangible premium ambience. An extra binnacle has been added to the instrument cluster, housing gauges for turbocharger boost pressure, oil temperature and oil pressure, while the other dials and needles have been accented in aluminium. The thick three-spoke steering wheel is wrapped in leather and carries ST badging that also appears on the scuff plates and door pulls.

Drivetrain

Like the ST170 and RS, the Focus ST will direct its power through the front wheels. A six-speed manual will be the only gearbox on offer, but unlike the Focus RS, there will be no expensive limited-slip differential to aid traction and limit torquesteer. Ford is also aiming to make the Focus ST ‘a comfortable car for everyday driving.’ That will be quite a challenge, given its Nürburgring lap times. Not that the ST will be the supreme fast Focus: rumours are that a more hardcore 300bhp Focus RS Mk2 is in the pipeline, to combat the forthcoming 240bhp Astra VXR and the next Golf R32.

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