They may share the same ST badge, but the Fiesta ST and pre-facelift Focus ST were very different propositions. The Fiesta ST could quite easily wear an RS badge, the way it darts around the place and completely immerses the driver in the experience. The Focus ST, as good as it was, never quite felt as good or as alive as it could have been, Ford perhaps leaving a bit too much room for an RS in the range.
That’s not the case now. The Focus ST is bursting with its own character, and feels more alive for more of the time. It feels much more in line with the Fiesta ST now, in other words.
A real high point is just how stiff and rigid the body feels, and the associated benefits this brings to the handling. Turn-in is very sharp, and the Focus ST is supremely agile, responding positively to different driving styles. You can chuck it into corners or tactfully glide through a sequence of them, and either way the car will corner without too much roll and raise a smile every time, albeit with predictable mild understeer if you overcook it or the road lacks grip.
The steering is about as sweet as electric set-ups get at this end of the market, the rack quickening as you apply more lock. It’s very precise and offers decent feedback.
The Focus ST, by nature, is a firm-riding car, but never an uncomfortable one; indeed, even on the optional 19in alloys you glide over the most broken road surfaces and few potholes or patches of road scarring leave much of an impression in the cabin. It’s a supple ride, then, and one that commendably gets even more supple the faster you go.
No matter how clever the electronic systems are on the new Focus ST, though, there’s no getting away from the fact that it can struggle to get its power down. Floor it off the line or out of the corner on a dry surface and there will be a bit of play at the wheel. Do the same on a surface that’s damp or worse, however, and the Focus ST pulls you all over the place, and it can spin its wheels even up to fourth.
You’re never left fearing an accident, but you’re inclined to trust what electronic aids you do have in the absence of any mechanical assistance. It’s a car that demands respect, and as such is a challenge to drive truly quickly.
You won’t be surprised to hear, then, that the powertrain is the dominant force in this car. The engine makes the Focus ST feel every bit as quick as the figures suggest, with a broad spread of torque delivering hefty response to a prod of the right pedal, even if you're not in the optimum gear when you ask for it. As a result, there’s real fun to be had firing the Focus ST forwards in a straight line, thanks to the slick short-throw manual gearbox and a very nice, authentic-sounding exhaust note that is subtly pumped into the cabin.
Also of note are the optional, beefier brakes Ford has fitted to the Focus ST, offered with the stylish 19in alloys you see here. These address a criticism of the pre-facelift car: the brakes faded after any mildly sustained period of hard driving on road or track.
The interior still lacks the class of a Volkswagen Golf GTI but is much simplified and easier to use than in the previous Focus, as well as more interesting visually. The optional Recaro seats of our test car also hold you firmly and are perhaps best avoided for those fuller of figure.