The Focus ST wastes no time in laying its dynamic character on the table. From the moment you wind on even a degree of steering lock, its hyper-quick 11.6:1 ratio – quicker, even, than that fitted to a Ferrari 488 GTB – not only prompts an almost instantaneous response from the front end, but it also lets you know you’re in one of the most agile, fleet-footed hot hatches in the class.

Admittedly, it might not quite be on the same level as a Civic Type R for outright handling stability and pace, but those additional chassis tweaks along with the fitment of an eLSD and sticky Pilot Sport 4S tyres endow it with impressive levels of mid-corner grip and composure. The suspension does well to contain and control roll and pitch through faster bends – even when the dampers are completely slackened off – and the tyres provide an impressively secure, confidence-inspiring footing that encourages you to increasingly explore the car’s limits.

Quick steering promotes a sense of athletic agility and the tyres are tenaciously grippy but the ST doesn’t have the outright sharpness or stability of a hardcore hot hatch

Track mode is undoubtedly the best setting for such endeavours. Turn-in is even more immediate and the ST’s enthusiasm for sniffing out apexes is significantly heightened. What’s more impressive, though, is that Ford has managed to engineer in such vivacious handling attitude without taking it too close to the extreme. There’s still good resistance to bump steer and surface-generated interference, and the differential is highly effective without being overly aggressive. It doesn’t get your synapses firing quite as frantically as in a hardcore car like the Renault Mégane RS Trophy, but the pay-off is that it doesn’t leave you feeling quite as drained when you calm it all down.

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Autocar’s testing schedule necessitated a visit to Millbrook proving ground and the famous Hill Route rather than to MIRA, where we’re able to time cars on the Dunlop handling circuit. Had we been able to fix our telemetry equipment, how would the Focus ST have fared against the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S?

In truth, it’s doubtful the Ford would have been quicker than either, although such is the car’s torque output and traction at Millbrook that there wouldn’t have been much daylight between the times. The Focus ST’s high-speed body control isn’t quite tight enough to mitigate the effects of a heavy engine in its nose. Despite the pin-sharp steering response and considerable capability of the electronic limited-slip diff in the front axle, the Focus doesn’t turn in, or seem as agile or balanced, at the limit of grip as it does at road speeds. Still, this is a prodigiously quick and agile hot hatch.

However, for all the Focus ST’s apparent dynamic ability, there’s an artificial element to its handling character that some of our testers took issue with. The steering is the main culprit here. Although it undoubtedly furnishes the Focus with almost class-leading agility, this hyper-reactivity can, at times, seem too contrived and put on. Perhaps more in the way of genuine feel would go some way to remedying this.

COMFORT AND ISOLATION

It may not be quite as well rounded and polished as a Golf GTI, but the Focus ST still strikes a commendable balance between exciting handling and respectable everyday usability – even if that balance does err slightly towards the former.

The ride is unsurprisingly on the firmer side, but not to the point where it lacks the pliancy to confidently deal with undulations at open-road speeds, or to make it become overly animated and fidgety on scarred sections of asphalt. Admittedly, it’s not quite as sophisticated in dealing with such surfaces around town, but it’s far more comfortable than a Mégane RS Trophy would be.

Cabin isolation, meanwhile, is fine without being outstanding. At motorway speeds, it’s tyre roar that most upsets the serenity of the cabin and it’s backed up by a moderately less intrusive engine noise support act. At 70mph, our microphone recorded a 70dB reading, versus a figure of 67dB for the Golf R we road tested in 2014.

Elsewhere, the support and adjustability provided by the Recaro sports seats are fantastic, while the driving position itself is decent enough, too. Some might find they still sit a little bent-legged at the pedals, but for the most part, the cabin is ergonomically sound.

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