What is it?
The new Ford Focus ST. The second generation hot hatchback launched in 2012, and has lost 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, 39.2mpg and a 6.5sec 0-62mph time. The top speed is 154mph.
The range starts from just £21,995 for the entry-level ‘ST1’ – significantly less than any of the ST’s key rivals – with the plushest ST3 version costing £25,495, including leather seats and climate control. Unlike any of its rivals, there’s an estate version too, which commands an extra £1100. Ford Focus ST estate review here.
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 a stretch of derestricted Autobahn in Germany. The engine isn’t a natural revver, and although it’s 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 a 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 vivacious 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 Vauxhall Astra VXR and Renault Megane 265 Cup, the Ford Focus ST doesn’t have a limited slip differential – but it handles extreme abuse in tight corners well enough to suggest it doesn’t need one.
How does it compare?
The basic Ford Focus ST1 does without much in the way of equipment, but it’s £4500 cheaper than the 30bhp less powerful mk7 VW Golf GTI and £5000 less than the new Vauxhall Astra VXR. The Renault Megane 265 Cup, our hot hatch of choice at the moment, is more enthralling to drive but at £25,545, a basic car costs £100 more than a fully kitted out Focus ST3. Much like the smaller Fiesta ST, which has a price tag of just £16,995, Ford has mastered value for money in the hot hatchback sector.
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. In regular mixed though enthusiastic driving, around 25mpg is probably a good bet.
The new Ford Focus ST performs well, with brisk acceleration and a decent soundtrack which does a good impression of something with more than four cylinders, ensuring the character of the old 2.5-litre five-cylinder isn’t completely lost. If, though, that’s all not quite enough, official Ford tuner Mountune has waved its magic wand to give the ST a healthy boost.
The Focus ST Mountune gets a cast alloy inlet duct, high-flow air filter, larger alloy intercooler and an ECU recalibration which takes its power and torque to 271bhp and 295lb ft, respectively. These tweaks allow it to complete 0-60 in 5.7sec. The package costs £1225, and takes 90 minutes to be fitted. It also – thanks to Mountune’s official tuner status – doesn’t affect the standard ST’s warranty.
Ford Focus ST vs Vauxhall Astra VXR video: