The Fast Ford formula is alive and well in the Focus ST: everyday usability meets serious performance at an affordable price. Replacing the notoriously thirsty five-cylinder 2.5-litre turbo motor of its predecessor with a smaller 2.0-litre, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine hasn’t just improved economy and emissions (on paper, at least) but given performance a useful shot in the arm as well. And in this facelifted car, those strengths still remain.
There's an entertaining chassis beneath the ST, with eager steering and good balance. But it's also a car that some may quickly tire of, with no LSD to tame the 247bhp the ST puts to its front wheels, and a nose that seems to react to every camber and rut in the road. Driving the ST quickly then can be hard work on bumpy UK roads, not helped by a very firm ride.
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However, it's hard to ignore the ST's value, with more than enough performance to take the fight to the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Vauxhall Astra VXR, the appealing option of an estate version (something denied to most other hot hatchback buyers) and an amusingly throaty induction note thanks to Ford's clever acoustics work. If you can put up with the torque steer and the slightly ropey cabin design, it's a compelling performance option.
Ford Focus ST in detail
> Engine and gearbox - The new 2-litre turbocharged engine develops 247bhp at 5500rpm. That’s complemented by a healthy 265lb ft of torque at just 2000rpm. Read more about the Focus ST's engine and gearbox here.
> Ride and handling - The facelifted Focus car gets electric power-steering to sharpen its responses. It's let down by an unyielding ride and significant torque steer and tramlining. Read more about the Focus ST's ride and handling here.
> MPG and running costs - Expect 25-30mpg in the real world from the petrol model, and 45-50mpg from the ST TDCi. Read more about the Focus ST's MPG and running costs here.
> Interior and tech - The interior is brazenly sporting, with Recaro seats and carbonfibre trim. Ford offers a Driver Assistance pack that adds collision avoidance and lane keep assist. Read more about the Focus ST's interior here.
Price, specs and rivals
Diesel power represents the cheapest avenue into Ford Focus ST ownership, at a tad under £26k, although the petrol model is only slightly more expensive.
Despite the Focus ST’s competitive price tag, it isn’t found wanting in terms of standard kit. Dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights and wipers and racy Recaros comprise the entry-level ST-2 trim. Upgrade to ST-3 specification and the seats are both heated and adjustable and you’ll also gain bi-xenon headlights and Ford's SYNC3 infotainment system.
The estate version creates an extra 160 litres worth of cargo space and adds £1100 to the price. Pitching the ST estate against the Volkswagen GTD equivalent turned out unsurprising results. Neither were free of flaws, but the ST traded the VW’s refinement for a more involved and tactile experience. We chose the ST, but the conservative styling and comparatively premium feel of the German load-lugger will appeal to plenty of people who are cross-shopping the pair. The Golf’s premium position informs its higher price, almost £29k, about £1k more than the top spec ST-3 Focus ST estate.
The Skoda Octavia vRS provides another competitor out of the VW group stable offering both diesel and petrol. Unlike the Golf GTD, with which it shares its diesel engine in TDI form, all-wheel drive is available (exclusively mated to the automatic transmission). It’s our hot diesel estate pick.
There’s plenty of petrol-powered hot hatchback to rival the ST. Peugeot’s 308 GTi 270 by Peugeot Sport has a sweet, zingy turbo-four lending it true appeal and, of course, the Volkswagen GTi still remains the segment yardstick, although quite pricey with the basic car starting near £28k.
The Hyundai i30 N is arguably the biggest threat to the ST. We’ve been nothing short of astounded by it. Prices start just below £25k for the lower-powered version – pushing out the same 247bhp as the ST – with the i30 N Performance carrying a £3k premium matching the Focus ST-3 (hatch) price. Benefiting from more power, sticker rubber and an electronic limited-slip differential the i30 N Performance is not only more compelling on paper but better to drive, too.