From testing garden versions of the new Focus, we already know the lightweight C2 platform provides a basis for the some pretty stellar handling traits. The ST sits 10mm closer to the ground with unique steering knuckles, firmer bushes and new spring and damper units some 20% stiffer at the front and 13% at the rear, which uses Ford’s unequal length double-wishbone architecture. With no changes needed for the body-in-white, thicker anti-roll bars, and bigger brakes with electromechanical actuation, round off the major mechanical revisions.
Ford has made no secret of its intention to imbue the Focus ST with the character and dynamite drivability of its little sibling. As a marketing exercise, what an excellent way that is to set yourself up for a very public fall, but the same engineers who worked on the Fiesta ST evidently know what they’re doing.
Many hundreds of columns will be written about this new car over the coming months, but to cut to the chase, during our short test drive, it proves immensely good fun, with a pretty compelling blend of everyday manners and mischievous handling. Possibly a class-leading one.
Initial thoughts? The engine wants to be the centre of attention. It’s a bit ordinary in the Mustang but exerts its full personality in a humble Focus, spinning with an offbeat heave that can make it seem like there are five cylinders under the bonnet rather than four. With no active exhaust, there’s a generous degree of sound ‘enhancement’ for the cabin, but much as this will irk the purists, it’s well judged.
As now seems to be the norm with European fast Fords, there is also quite a bit of flywheel effect when you lift off the accelerator, but response is otherwise conspicuously good for such a large unit, and after hitting like a sledgehammer between 2500rpm and 4500rpm, it revs freely to the redline. The powertrain gets a big tick.
The next element to vie for your attention is the steering, which is quick. With a ratio of 11.3:1, it’s quicker than that of the Ferrari 488 GTB, in fact, and takes a moment or two of acclimatisation for its off-centre response to feel less nervously joystick-like and just clinically direct. In terms of feel, it’s not quite got the grit of a Renault Sport Mégane or the gloriously natural heft of Honda’s Civic Type R but has a clean and linear elasticity that’s similarly involving.
The accuracy of the rack then allows you to explore the Focus ST’s handling, which you’ll want to do often. Track mode untethers a playful side but disable the stability control and the ST becomes as wildly flamboyant as you can handle.
It’s recognisably Fiesta ST in this regard, with the grip generated by the front Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres providing the foundation for controllable lift-off oversteer. On a trailing throttle, you might get some rivals – notably the Hyundai i30 N and the RS Mégane – to behave in this way, but none does it so neatly or with such a basic and natural enthusiasm.
The positives continue. Mid-corner stability is very good, if not quite a match for some of the more hardcore hot hatches, and body movements are nicely controlled. Through quick direction changes, it can seem as though incipient pitch and roll motions – and, it must be said, the Focus can at times feel a touch too nose-heavy – will develop into something quite substantial. It rarely gets that far, the suspension acting forcefully but deftly, and you’re left with a car that fluidly communicates any remaining reserves of grip and balance through its stance but rarely becomes too much of a slave to the physics. In short, it’s good, quick, confidence-inspiring fun, and while the new electronic differential is effective, never is it overbearing.