The Ford Focus ST story has its peaks and troughs. The first-generation car was based on the excellent Mk1 Ford Focus, but its naturally aspirated power plant perhaps didn’t exploit such a sparkling chassis. The next Focus ST had character in spades thanks to a 2.5-litre turbocharged in-line five, but was a softer, heavier car than many rivals.
The third Focus ST didn’t quite hit the spot for us though. Its engine lacked the character of the five-pot and its chassis was corrupted by an unruly front axle. Fun in small doses, but frustrating when the class standard was so high.
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So it falls to the fourth-generation car to rectify things, and our early impressions suggest Ford might finally have got there. Sure, it’s not as attractive as the first-gen car, nor does it sound as good as the second ST, but it’s measurably better than the third Focus ST and now stands comparison with cars such as the Hyundai i30 N, Renault Sport Mégane and Golf GTI TCR, something the old model struggled to do.
The latest Focus ST remains an imperfect car, lacking the attitude of some rivals and the impressive B-road flow of others, but with an entertaining chassis and punchy (yet controllable) power delivery, it’s become a much easier car to recommend.
Make/model: in detail
- Engine, gearbox and technical specs – 2.3 petrol and 2-litre diesel options. Petrol’s power down on the best but more torque than most, with plenty of electronic tech to assist the driver
- Performance and 0-60 time – Acceleration is comfortably on a par with that of rivals, and the engine feels strong, with good response and more control than before
- Ride and handling – Ultra-quick steering might not be to all tastes, but otherwise the ST is agile, fairly engaging and quick point-to-point
- MPG and running costs – Petrol and diesel economy figures are about what you’d expect, and the standard Michelin tyres are widely available
- Interior and tech – Quality and refinement have improved, and in-car tech is better too, if still not quite up with the best
- Design – Surprisingly subtle exterior styling, in more subdued colours at least. Not the most attractive hatch, but there’s not much to offend
Prices, specs and rivals
If you’re expecting a temptingly low entry point like the last Focus ST offered (under £23,000 at launch), then you might be in for a bit of a shock, as the latest ST is at minimum a £31,995 car in petrol guise.
Prices have gone up with size and power in this class, naturally, but that’s quite a step for a car that is still a notch back from the best in terms of driving experience. A Honda Civic Type R, to pick our favourite hot hatch as an example, starts at £31,870, while a basic Renault Mégane RS currently starts at £28,295 and a Hyundai i30 N Performance is £29,495.
You do get plenty of kit for your money (various electronic safety systems, adaptive LED headlights, Recaro seats, torque vectoring), but consider too that a few desirable additions are behind various different option packs – £250 for the Performance Pack with launch control, rev matching and track mode, or £400 for a head-up display for example.
And while we like the Focus, the rivals already mentioned all beat it for driving appeal. The Civic matches engagement with astonishing ability, the basic Mégane (without the Cup chassis) makes light work of a country road with agility and pliancy, and an i30 N pairs a rowdy drivetrain with excellent control.
We should probably mention the enemy within too, which also beat the Focus ST on a recent evo group test: Ford’s own Fiesta ST Performance Edition, while expensive itself at £26,495, is the best hot hatch Ford makes if you don’t need the space of the Focus.