Expectations are high for Ford’s latest family-sized hot hatch. Can it live up to them?

The recent European market fortunes of the Ford Motor Company can be read in the generational development story of one of its great emblems of success: the evergreen Focus ST. This hot hatchback, now entering its fourth model generation, has been through a surprising amount of overhaul and change since the very first appeared in 2002; more, certainly, than most of its direct rivals.

Emerging as its maker got used to the success of its epoch-defining Focus Mk1, the first-generation ST170 sprang to our attention in 2002. It had a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, a pretty modest 170bhp and the aura of a car that was almost more upper-trim level than proper performance driving machine.

Matt grey exterior trim details are among the handful of visual cues that mark this hot ST model out from the more lukewarm ST-Line variants.

By the time the second generation came along in 2005, CEO Jacques Nasser’s Premium Automotive Group (comprising Ford-owned upmarket brands such as Aston Martin, Jaguar and Volvo) was at its height. That helps explain the car’s switch to an offbeat turbocharged five-cylinder Volvo engine, which delivered a sizeable power boost, up to 225bhp.

When generation number three was launched in 2012, globalist Alan Mulally was in the big chair; PAG was no more; the One Ford philosophy meant the Focus had the weight of the whole world on its shoulders; and the ST was back to four cylinders and 2.0 litres again – this time with a turbo and enough grunt to break through the 250bhp barrier.

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And now, with the same mood of corporate consolidation in evidence at Ford as exists at most volume brands and the end in sight for the firm’s Bridgend engine plant, the fourth-generation ST switches again – this time to an American-sourced, European-tuned 2.3-litre four-pot.

And yet there is much more to this car than an engine block in common with a Ford Mustang. As part of Ford’s will to restore the Focus’s reputation for unequalled dynamism and driver appeal among family hatchbacks, this car has been given a host of electronic and mechanical features that it has never had before – every one of which you’re about to read in the usual detail.

The Focus ST range at a glance

The Focus ST is available as either a five-door hatch or a more practical estate. Two choices of engines are on offer, too: the headline 273bhp petrol and a 188bhp diesel.

Although it goes without saying that purists will likely be drawn to the five-door petrol hatch, the diesel estate will also appeal to those after a performance vehicle with a more utilitarian twist. Standard equipment at this price point is strong and includes everything from sat-nav to a heated steering wheel and excellent Recaro sports seats.

Price £31,995 Power 273bhp Torque 310lb ft 0-60mph 6.1sec 30-70mph in fourth 7.1sec Fuel economy 32.0mpg CO2 emissions 179g/km 70-0mph 45.1m

Ford Focus ST First drives