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Long term tests

Ford Focus ST Estate Fast Fleet test – 15,000 miles in the 276bhp wagon

After 12 months and nearly 15,000 miles on our fleet, the ST’s time of reckoning had come

Evo rating

The Focus ST is not a car to win group tests and appears to be caught in a strange hinterland. It’s not as hardcore as most rivals, nor as powerful in many cases, but it still commands a high price. However, specify the ST as an estate (and hence automatically without the hatch-only Performance Pack that includes adaptive dampers, a Track driving mode, launch control and rev-matching for the six-speed manual gearbox) and there’s a subtle change to what this car is all about. Suddenly, the mighty Civic Type R and entertaining i30 N don’t really figure. And perhaps the rather handsome, relatively understated and refreshingly simple formula could be a winning combination once the loan period extends from a mere week on dreamy, challenging roads to a full year in daily service. 

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Well, maybe. But let’s not let the ST off the hook too quickly. In 2021-form, it’s still a 2.3-litre turbocharged Focus with 276bhp, 310lb ft, three pedals, a stick and a limited-slip differential, and so it should be dynamically right on the money. Our car was £35,860 as tested. So, for me, the ST estate’s task was to effortlessly suck up all the drudgery of school runs and airport trips but still feel special when I was alone in the car and hoping for a bit of excitement, precision and straightforward fun. In many ways, this is the hardest brief in the business, which is why a great hot hatch can genuinely feel like the answer to every question you’ve ever asked.

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The Focus ST never quite got there. However, there’s no doubt that the longer I spent in its company the more I appreciated the sheer utility. The Focus estate is a truly fantastic family car and as an ST it rips along at a fair old pace when it’s empty of cargo and kids, too. It’s fluid and accurate, the enhanced engine sound has more five-cylinder thrum than the Audi RS3 (despite it being a humble four) and I really enjoyed having a manual gearbox in my life on every journey. I’m lucky enough to never need to commute and even the school run takes place largely over country lanes, so gridlock isn’t a part of my routine. And on the rare occasion I found myself able to travel and on route to Heathrow, the ST’s anti-stall took what pain there could be out of inch-by-inch travel.

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Weirdly, the ST also made me feel good every time I parked it up and took a glance back. The estate is a really handsome shape, the optional Ford Performance Blue paint (£800) is gorgeous and somehow I found myself thinking a mid-sized estate car wearing the blue oval was rather exotic looking. In a sea of crossovers and premium-badged but extremely generic shapes a humdrum estate car really stands out. Mad, but true. The Recaro seats are excellent, too. They are the highlight of an otherwise pretty ordinary interior, though. Everything works, everything is logical and the infotainment is pretty easy to operate, but the Focus does lack some sparkle aside from superbly supportive seats. 

Dynamically the ST is a little flat, too. It’s actually really nicely balanced and very progressive at the limit, but this calmness in absolute terms isn’t matched in all the details on the journey to get there. For example, the front end is highly susceptible to torque-steer and always feels like it’s struggling to cope with the engine’s strong low- and mid-range performance. The fact that the rack is very quick exacerbates the situation and creates an impression that the car is never fully settled. The passive dampers work well up to a point but also feel stretched as you begin to indulge in the available performance. Suddenly, the Focus feels darty and distracted at the front end but rather soft-edged in terms of control and precision. The result is a slightly disconnected feeling. You’re making good progress but only by managing all of these conflicting dynamic traits. 

So, whilst I will remember the ST fondly, it’s more for individual element or moments than as an overall experience. It looks great. Nothing broke (although the screen would very occasionally go blank until reset). The family and all their many, many inexplicable things fitted inside with ease. The flat-shift capability of the six-speed ’box was fun and having a manual was refreshing and satisfying in equal measure. However, the ST just lacks that last ten per cent of excitement, bite, aggression or simply character. It’s nice to have a brilliantly versatile family car that happens to go pretty quickly when necessary. But it would be even better to have an enthralling performance car that happens to be extremely practical, too.

Date acquiredFebruary 2021
Duration of test12 months
Total test mileage14,585
Overall mpg31.2
Costs£0
Purchase price£35,860
Value todayc£24,000

This story was first featured in evo issue 298.

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