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.
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.
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.