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.
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.
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.