What is it?
Normally, we would not begin a review of the latest, possibly greatest hot hatchback with a reference to Ferrari, but bear with.
When Ferrari launches a new car, journalists are invited to its Maranello HQ and are ritually subjected to a tableaux of complicated graphs and diagrams. It’s dry but oddly compelling, and reasonable on the part of the manufacturer: the chassis electronics even for mainline models such as the 488 GTB have become bewilderingly complex works of art and Ferrari would like us all to appreciate that.
Ford pulled a Ferrari for the fourth-generation Focus ST. Justifiably, too. This is a complicated car: an ocean of binary code away from even the last ST, which was launched in 2012 with nothing like the same spread of technologies.
We’ve seen graphs that plot torque from the upsized engine against the locking rate for the front axle’s electronic limited-slip differential. The hardware comes from GKN and is controlled via a locking clutch not unlike VW's 'XDS+' system, so while the red line assigned to Track mode (yes, there are now modes) rockets up in a way that, one senior engineer tells us, would probably help the newcomer lap a quick circuit such as the Nürburgring faster even than in the old Focus RS, its orange counterpart – Slippery mode – is reassuringly gentle. There’s also brake-based torque vectoring to trim understeer, which not so long ago would have itself been the headline news but is now merely part of the scenery.
Another graph tells us the continuously controlled adaptive dampers, which are reactive to the road surface but respond in just a couple of milliseconds, exert roughly twice as much force in Track as in Normal. Admittedly, to get access to the full, multi-mode functionality, you’ll need the optional Performance pack (otherwise the dampers operate only in a Goldilocks setting between Normal and Sport) but even that includes further programmes for rev matching, launch control and, goodness gracious, 'flat' shifting for which you needn't even lift off the accelerator pedal if you’re close enough to the redline. Deprived of context, you might think we were talking about the latest Porsche 911 Turbo.
Despite all its tech, though, the Focus ST is at its core a familiar device, with a transverse four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine mated to a six-speed manual. It has been engineered to be an enjoyable everyday performance car with some track day potential but excellent road manners. Like its closest rivals, it remains solely front driven, which keeps both weight and cost reasonable as well as preserving those traditional and – if the sensational Fiesta ST is anything to go by – still much loved hot hatch handling traits.
The Focus ST will also come with an seven-speed torque-converter gearbox, in 187bhp diesel form, and as an estate (not in that combination, mind), although the car we’ve driven is the straight-up five-door petrol hatch, complete with a stick and three pedals.