There have been fast Fords since time immemorial. Even Model Ts were modified for speed, but the Escort XR3 of 1980, the first front-drive, mid-size hot hatch that Ford offered, is the Focus ST’s direct forebear.
This is the third generation of Focus ST, but only the second that could be described as a proper hot hatch. Nevertheless, the ST has become as much of an icon for performance hatchback drivers in this – and the previous – decade as the XR was in the 1980s.
This hot Focus is the tricky third album for Ford. Not only does it have to live up to the much-loved Mk2 Focus ST, with its evocative 2.5-litre five-pot, but it lands bang in the middle of the ‘One Ford’ plan. That means it needs to work on the same suspension set-up in Adelaide, Alabama and Aberdeen. It’s a tough ask, even for a group of engineers as talented as Ford’s Special Vehicle Team.
On paper at least it has its work cut out to win the hearts and minds of dyed in the wool British hot hatch buyers. It ‘only’ packs a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine, rather than the streetfighter 2.5-litre five-pot from the old car. It is ‘only’ front-wheel drive, it’s only available as a five door, and it has its engine note piped into the cabin rather than letting it be absorbed through the firewall and via exhaust.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine develops 247bhp – significantly more than the old ST and interesting more than the facelifted Volkswagen Golf GTI – and the new car has vastly improved running costs, which is so important when targeting sales all around the world. The current ST is also available in estate guise and with a low emission diesel engine designed to compete alongside the Volkswagen Golf GTD. In 2015, the Focus got a facelift and that translated to the ST too, with the big Aston-esque honeycomb mesh grille and more aggressive style dominating, although the ST looks more like a less hardcore version of the formidable, all-paw Focus RS.
As the previous ST – and the last Focus RS – proved, front-wheel drive is no barrier to a supremely entertaining steer. There’s no RevoKnuckle, but it’s capable of some fairly ferocious standing starts without diverting itself into a hedge. And as with the last car, Ford has clearly delineated the ST and RS; while the RS is a weekend warrior, the ST is a very fast but useable daily driver much in the same way Volkswagen positions its GTI and GTD models.
As such there’s no shortage of practicality. The Focus ST can also be specified as an estate, which offers an intriguing experience that a decent proportion of buyers are choosing to opt for, but is ends up in direct competition with the Seat Leon Cupra ST and the Skoda Octavia vRS estate.