The new Ford Focus ST gets more power and plenty of tech to deliver a driver-focused experienceVerdict4The Ford Focus ST is a talented addition to the current crop of hot hatchbacks. But this kind of car is expected to do so much for so many, so price is a big factor and this ultimately holds it back. Otherwise, this new fast Focus packs the level of aggression, tech and tuning know-how from Ford Performance to mix with – but not quite beat – the best in the class.
Fast Fords have always majored on affordable fun – the current Fiesta ST proves as much – so it’s quite a surprise that this new 276bhp 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo Focus ST costs £31,995 in five-door hatchback form. That’s quite pricey.
However, this is meant to be the purest model in the Focus line-up, so let’s park that price for a moment and assess the new ST on ability, because there’s plenty of new tech in the C2 platform on which it’s based.
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That includes a clever anti-lag system that keeps the turbo spinning to improve throttle response. There are also adaptive dampers, an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, standard-fit launch control and a multi-link rear axle, plus a flat-shifter and downshift rev-matching for the shorter-throw six-speed manual gearbox. Special Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres add to the performance tweaks.
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The chassis has been tuned as well, with 15 per cent faster steering than the regular Focus, which is already pretty quick. This is teamed with bespoke steering-knuckle geometry and a different motor for the electric power steering. The ride height has been lowered by 10mm, while the dampers are 20 per cent stiffer at the front and 13 per cent firmer at the rear. All of this means that it has a sense of the smaller Fiesta ST’s nimbleness – but with a little bit more maturity and sophistication.
Make no mistake, the Focus is still firm, though. Our initial drive was limited to Ford’s smooth but corkscrewing test track at its Lommel proving ground in Belgium. But a short bit of bumpy surface showed that, while there’s control and quality to the damping, it’s certainly focused on performance – just as a fast Ford should be.
The quicker steering means the Focus feels very pointy, and there’s lots of grip to back this up. The diff works well, too, as long as you’re not overly optimistic with your corner speed on the way in. It’ll hook round the turn with a hint of torque steer as you apply the power, but that’s something the engineering team left in to give the car more character, according to head of Ford Performance Europe, Leo Roeks.
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This complements the chassis, too. It feels sophisticated and changes direction with as much aggression as pretty much any hot hatch currently on sale, with the dampers keeping the car flat and composed.
The engine isn’t as engaging as the chassis, but thankfully, neither is it a real issue. The 2.3-litre unit is an evolution of the previous Focus RS’s motor, detuned a little to produce 276bhp. Yet despite that, it still has the most torque of any car in the class, at 420Nm. This is where the majority of the performance comes from; on full throttle above 1,800rpm, the boost is solid (helped by that anti-lag tech when you’re coming on and off the gas), the ST stomping forward with a flat blare from the exhaust.
We’d have liked a little more high-rev theatrics, but with 0-62mph coming up in 5.7 seconds, performance is sound. The ST doesn’t have the outright firepower of a Honda Civic Type R, but it really comes alive in Track mode. That’s one of four settings that alter parameters for the engine and, if the Performance pack is fitted, the adaptive dampers, too; on non-Performance cars the different drive modes only alter the pre-set damping parameters. The settings also adjust the electronic sound enhancement. It’s a little artificial from the inside, but the exhaust pops like a true hot hatch in Track mode. You can quieten it down, which is useful, because a car like this has to be usable every day, too.
The ST’s cabin uses many of the regular Focus hatchback’s parts, with some lovely Recaro sports seats that give a great driving position. There’s lots of equipment too; an eight-inch screen with sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is included, along with 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive LED headlights, a rear-view camera, adaptive cruise, a B&O stereo, heated seats and a heated steering wheel, keyless operation, and loads of safety kit. Autonomous emergency braking, lane assist, park assist and evasive steering assist all feature.
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At 375 litres, the boot is adequate but not massive, and there’s as much rear legroom as in the regular Focus, despite the chunky front seats. Those after even more space should look to the Focus ST Estate, which, like the standard hatch offers a much larger load bay than before, whether the rear seats are up or down.
Claimed economy of 35.8mpg and 179g/km of CO2 for the manual hatch means the ST should even be reasonably frugal when you’re not working the engine hard.
So the ST has performance, an engaging and capable chassis, plenty of equipment and acceptable practicality. But for all this ability the ST can’t shake what looks like a relatively high price. A similarly powerful Hyundai i30 N Performance – which also comes with tech such as an e-diff and adaptive dampers – is £2,500 cheaper.
- Model: Ford Focus ST 2.3 EcoBoost 280PS
- Price: £31,995
- Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
- Power/torque: 276bhp/420Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- 0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
- Top speed: 155mph
- Economy/CO2: 35.8mpg/179g/km
- On sale : Now
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