Ford has resisted the temptation to make the diesel softer and less focused than the petrol ST – the route VW went down with its Golf GTD. That may not be entirely welcome news to those who spend their lives cruising up and down motorways, but if you think hot hatches are mainly about having fun, the Focus has plenty going for it.
You only need a couple of corners to realise this is a properly well-sorted hatch. It keeps its body in check far better than its two big VW Group rivals through fast direction changes, with lightning-quick steering that’s impossible to fault for accuracy – even if it’s not blessed with quite as much genuine feedback as we’d like.
As with the petrol version, you do have to be bit careful when feeding the power back in on the exit of corners – especially when it’s teeming with rain as it was at points along our Spanish test route. But despite having 11 per cent more torque than the petrol ST, there’s actually less torque steer to deal with. This is partly, Ford says, down to software tweaks in the ESP, but also because the diesel has a different final drive ratio, so there’s actually less torque arriving at the wheels.
The engine impresses in other respects, too. It’s strong from 1500rpm but done by 4000rpm, so although there’s no point revving it out you can make pretty rapid progress by short-shifting. If you’re looking for outright pace, of course, the identically priced petrol-powered version is still the way to go.
As with the petrol, the diesel's engine noise is overdubbed by a sound symposer. We’ve questioned how authentic the noise sounds in the past, but when it’s drowning out diesel clatter it’s surprisingly welcome. It’s just a shame the boomy soundtrack doesn’t subside a bit more at a fast motorway cruise.
There’s also another downside that we’ve already alluded to, because while some rivals combine a relatively easygoing nature with a reasonable amount of fun, the Focus is all about the latter. That means it’s firm - impeccably well damped, as you’d expect of anything wearing the Blue Oval, but decidedly firm nonetheless. This is the biggest issue at speed, as the high-frequency vibrations you feel through your backside do become quite annoying.