Ford claims this car is quicker through the mid-range than the outgoing Focus RS. Given the same turbocharged 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine develops some 70bhp more in the RS model than it does in the new ST, that’s quite a claim. But it’s comprehensively vindicated by our timing gear.
For the metric we use to assess performance of this variety (30-70mph in fourth gear), the ST’s time of 7.1sec is more than half a second quicker than that of the RS we tested when it was a new and exciting prospect in 2016. This is significant progress, but don’t get too carried away: it’s a time matched to the tenth by the current Civic Type R, which on a track with damp patches also managed to shave 0.4sec from our 6.1sec 0-60mph time in the Focus ST.
By 100mph, the ST is still ahead of the old RS but is 1.6sec adrift of the Honda. Admittedly, the 316bhp Civic makes rather a lot more power than the 276bhp of Ford’s bigger-capacity four and the impact of that is felt especially keenly at the top of the rev range.
The relevance of launch control on public roads is dubious at best, but Ford nevertheless fits such a system to the new Focus ST. It doesn’t take long to realise that releasing the clutch pedal from the 3000rpm point at which the engine is held results in unadulterated wheelspin as the torque floods in, even on warm Tarmac. Our best time was achieved by feeding in around 2300rpm, then massaging in the clutch as quickly as we dared. The best acceleration times then depended on short-shifting into second and supervising the front axle’s continued enthusiasm for wheelspin. Once on your way, the eLSD keeps things impressively tidy, restricting torque steer to a twitch or two on the steering wheel.
The engine will spin out to 6500rpm with more character than many in this class, but not in comparison to the over-square 2.0-litre in the Honda, which piles on revs with astonishing greed and maintains a naturally aspirated feel that the Ford can’t match.
And yet despite its big-boned, throaty, aurally enhanced personality, the pick-up of this engine is still sharper than you might expect and this gives the Focus ST driver both their cake and the opportunity to eat it with rip-snorting muscularity but sensitivity enough to properly influence the chassis. Were only the gearshift action better defined, this would be a standout powertrain in this class. As it is, the main sensations are of a fun-loving and effective but synthetic variety.