You can recognise ambition everywhere you look around this fourth-generation affordable fast Ford. No Focus ST has had launch control, adaptive dampers or an electronically controlled locking front differential before. This one offers all of the above in a bid to deliver the sort of adaptability of everyday-use character that it’ll need to rival a Volkswagen Golf GTI, as well as greater outright grip, pace and handling response than any Focus ST has had before it.
The car’s suspension springs cradle its mass 10mm nearer the road than do those of the next sportiest Focus ST-Line and are 20% stiffer at the front axle and 13% so at the rear. The car has stiffer anti-roll bars front and rear, too, as well as its own special steering knuckles and stiffened suspension bushes. Wheels are either 18in or 19in, wrapped with 235-section Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres and concealing uprated, electromechanically actuated ventilated disc brakes.
Ford offers a choice of 276bhp 2.3-litre turbocharged petrol or 188bhp 2.0-litre turbo diesel engines, and five-door hatchback or estate – but if you want adaptive dampers and that torque-vectoring front differential we mentioned earlier as standard, you’ll need to pick the petrol hatch. There’s a choice of one transmission, a six-speed manual, but a seven-speed automatic is coming. Only with the manual (and petrol engine) can Ford’s Performance pack be added as an option, which includes an additional Track driving mode, launch control and an automatic rev-matching function for the gearbox.
Its trick electronically controlled diff (an eLSD, for short) comes from specialist supplier GKN and – very much like the XDS+ BorgWarner system on a Golf GTI Performance – is made up of a conventional open differential that can be bypassed by a couple of extra driveshafts and clutches. With the clutches engaged, the shafts are locked together and torque is split 50:50 between the front wheels, to similar effect as a helical mechanical locking diff might achieve. The Ford’s active system can lock up much quicker than a passive helical one, however, and do so under very close, sophisticated control, depending on the effect desired by the electronics.
Ford’s anti-lag engine technology isn’t quite the fire-spitting Group-B-style system you might expect, but instead simply a means of holding open the cold-air induction port of the car’s 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine even before throttle is applied, to the improvement of engine response. That under-square, DOHC, all-aluminium engine produces 273bhp at 5500rpm, which may not be quite enough to get the attention of Honda Civic Type R owners, but the 310lb ft of torque it makes, available at 3000rpm, just might be.