What is it?
The new 2012 Ford Focus ST, which loses its predecessor’s turbocharged five-cylinder engine in place of a new Ecoboost four-cylinder turbo that offers both more power and – as tends to be the way these days – better fuel economy. The headline figures are 247bhp, 39mpg and a 6.5-sec 0-62mph time.
UK sales start later this year, with the range kicking off for just £21,995 for the entry-level ‘ST1’ – significantly less than any of the ST’s key rivals.
The new 2-litre engine is a developed version of the existing Ecoboost motor that powers petrol-fired Focuses and Mondeos. Peak power comes in at a relatively low 5500rpm, but it’s backed up by a meaty 265lb ft of torque that’s available from 1750rpm through to 4500rpm.
The big difference between the ST and lesser versions of the Focus is variable ratio electric power steering, intended to give keener responses. The car sits 10mm closer to the ground than the standard car, with firmer springs and dampers – but none of the increasingly variable driving modes for things like engine mapping and shock absorbers.
Unlike the previous generation Focus RS, the ST does without Ford’s innovative ‘Revo Knuckle’ moveable hub – which was designed to eliminate torque steer. Ford claims it can produce the same effect by using the electric steering system to cancel out unwanted torque inputs.
How does it drive?
The new engine always feels turbocharged, with boosty performance that makes it a challenge to modulate the throttle pedal at a constant speed. But it certainly delivers raw performance – the official maximum is 154mph and we saw an indicated 162mph on the Autobahn. The engine isn’t a natural revver, although its willing enough to explore the upper reaches of the tachometer it’s the storming mid-range that’s most effective, and progress is accompanied by an pleasingly rorty exhaust note.
The electric power steering system is very impressive – delivering feedback and responsiveness that really stand out for an electric system, with quick reactions in corners and yet solid stability at speed. There is some torque steer – a surprising amount on dry surfaces – but it’s easy to drive around and adds to the character of the car.
Handling balance is pretty much spot-on, too – with the back axle getting properly involved in cornering, helping out with both some mild passive steering and – on a lifted throttle – a neat, instinctive tuck-in. The suspension settings feel relatively soft by hot hatch standards, but exemplary body control helps the ST to flow down a demanding road at an impressive rate. Unlike more expensive cars like the Astra VXR, the ST doesn’t have a limited slip differential – but it takes handles extreme abuse on tight corners well enough to suggest it doesn’t need one.
How does it compare?
Extremely well. The basic ST1 does without much in the way of equipment, but it’s £3500 cheaper than the less powerful Golf GTI and £5000 less than the new Vauxhall Astra VXR.
Even the most expensive ST3 – which brings all the toys – costs £25,495, making it a relative bargain compared to its rivals.
Anything else I need to know?
The ‘performance blue’ paint familiar from previous fast Fords is definitely the colour to go for. The cabin doesn’t feel very special – it is just a Focus after all – and we’d say the optional satnav is worth avoiding with its tiny screen and old-school fonts.
You’ll have to drive extremely gently to get near the claimed 39mpg. Under what we have to admit was fairly extreme testing we managed – ahem – 15mpg according to the trip computer.