Ford Focus ST Edition 2022 review – will newfound focus make this ST worry a Civic Type R and i30 N?
The new Focus ST Edition runs things closer to its very talented competition, but it’s still no cigar
It’s not uncommon for cars at this level of the hot hatchback hierarchy to end up as so-called ‘almost cars’ – packages that have all the right hardware, but lack that last ten per cent of whatever it might be to be a real superstar. The new Mk8 Golf GTI Clubsport is one such example, as we know all the right ingredients are there, but the execution has been left wanting. The new Ford Focus ST Edition has quite the opposite problem.
The standard Focus ST left us underwhelmed when it was launched in 2018, so to try to sharpen it up Ford Performance has given it a similar treatment to that bestowed on the Fiesta ST Edition. In the Focus’s case the changes are near identical, with a similar application of those all-important coilover springs and dampers at each corner that replace adaptive units on ST’s fitted with the Performance Pack. There’s also a similar flow-formed wheel design to the Fiesta – 19-inches in the case of the Focus in contrast to the Fiesta’s 18s – plus some bright Azure Blue paintwork and a contrast gloss black roof.
The effect as you walk up to it in a car park is certainly arresting, as compared to the standard Focus ST’s rather demure visuals, the bright pop of paint, motorsport-esque wheels and dropped stance do wonders for its visual presence.
The Focus ST’s powertrain remains unchanged, utilising Ford’s turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder that’s used in all sorts of models globally – an important point we’ll get into more about later. Power is average for the class at 276bhp, but the four-pot is dominated by its torque, peaking at 310lb ft between 3000 and 4000rpm. Only a six-speed manual ’box is available on the Edition in lieu of the standard car’s optional eight-speed auto, while power is sent to an electronically controlled limited-slip differential on the front axle.
Getting technical for a moment, those new coilovers are the keystone distinction of the Edition model. Sourced from KW Automotive, they’re mechanically adjustable in contrast to the adaptive units found on STs fitted with the Performance Pack. Spring rates are up by 50 per cent all-round, and the dampers are adjustable to the tune of 12 settings for compression and another 16 for rebound. From the factory they’re set up to sit the Edition 10mm lower than a standard ST, but there’s a further 20mm of drop that can be dialled in for a proper boy-racer stance. The flow-formed wheels are lighter than the standard 19s too, giving the suspension less unsprung weight to deal with, and while you’ll rarely see them, the housings for the dampers themselves are painted bright blue for ultimate phone-torch-in-the-pub-car-park bragging rights.
How does this feel on the road? Well, the Focus ST’s unremittingly firm, but the superbly controlled primary and secondary ride feels just as well resolved as the Fiesta ST Edition. The bumps can certainly be felt, but body control is absolute, making the Focus hunker down on its springs in a much more confident fashion than the less sophisticated Performance Pack car. Even over some very evil off-camber bumps and uneven depressions the dampers just soak it all up and get on with it, without even thinking about throwing you off-line.
Up the pace and you can much more confidently use weight and inertia to augment the car’s balance, giving you confidence to go into corners hard on the brakes and let the tail go loose to aid the nose on turn-in. Not that the ST Edition needs any help in that department as it has brilliant front-end grip, with the suspension geometry making the most of the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S rubber. Yet this is where things start going wrong for the ST, and the sheer class and competency of the chassis and suspension calibration only goes to highlight the same fundamental flaws the Edition shares with lesser Focus STs.
This begins with the steering, which still lacks the fine connection on turn-in to give you real confidence in faster corners. Ford’s instilled plenty of weight into the rack, and there’s good feedback to tell you how happy or not the front differential is under hard acceleration, but at high speed it can feel imprecise on initial turn-in, often leading you to take a couple of stabs at corner entry. It’s not that the car’s lacking front-end grip, far from it in fact, but the steering’s lack of clarity is a bit of a wet blanket over the whole experience. It is marginally improved compared to standard STs, but still lags behind the Hyundai i30 N and especially the Honda Civic Type R for feel and accuracy.
Problem two is the engine, as while it’s effective it just doesn’t sing in the top third of its operating window. The engine begins to strain once above its torque peak of 4000rpm, and really starts to lose momentum once power drops off above 5500rpm. The 2.3-litre EcoBoost’s quest for torque in its other applications like the Ford Bronco and Ranger has compromised its use in the ST – it’s a weightlifter of an engine, not the gymnast that the best hot hatchbacks use to greater effect. The transmission’s throw is short, accurate and in my hands feels a little bit more precise than the one found in an i30 N, but is largely forgettable compared to the synaptic action of a Civic Type R’s shift. The brakes are strong and pedal feel is well resolved, but they, too, lack the class of the ST’s strongest rivals.
You really can drive the ST Edition with extreme pace, and when you do the chassis will now take the heat, but on account of the truck-like (or is that truck-lite) engine and ham-fisted steering it’s not a joyful experience. Instead, it feels like you're operating a piece of machinery at the very peak of its capability. It genuinely feels like Ford Performance has wrung every bit of talent and speed out of a package that inherently is held back by these two very central elements that aren’t just a recalibration away from being fixed. If a Focus ST is a must-buy, the Edition is an absolutely crucial upgrade, just don’t go expecting to outplay a Civic Type R or i30 N by doing so.
Price and rivals
Focus ST Edition models are available in a single specification at £35,785 – only £2500 more than a standard 276bhp ST hatchback, or £1700 more than one equipped with the Performance Pack. Standard kit is strong, with a B&O stereo, heated seats and a head-up display headlining the equipment list, but brilliant seats aside the interior is a little underwhelming, especially considering a new and much more tech-forward update is on its way. The new ST’s entirely digital dial pack is also a step backwards, with a laggy and not entirely clear layout that in no measurable way is an improvement on the simple analogue dials that came before.
What the Edition does is raise the STs stock against most rivals, now having the lead on the BMW 128ti, Cupra Leon 300 and Volkswagen GTI Clubsport, but it’s still a big chunk behind current class champion the Hyundai i30 N, and it's nowhere near the Civic Type R (which has become something of a poltergeist to actually get hold of). Instead, the ST Edition now sits level with mid-table rivals such as the Renault Mégane RS 300, a car with its own foibles but enough good stock in the chassis to lift it above class mediocrity.