The big difference between the ST and lesser versions of the Focus is variable ratio electric power steering, intended to give keener responses. This facelifted car recieves fine tuning to sharpen steering further. The car also sits 10mm closer to the ground than the standard car, with even firmer springs and dampers – but none of the increasingly variable driving modes for things like engine mapping and dampers.
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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.
As all electric systems go, it’s actually 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.
The ST does without a limited-slip differential and instead relies on its torque vectoring system to aid traction. The system’s influence can feel unnatural at first, but does allow you to be more aggressive with the throttle while simply pointing the wheel where you want to go.
Having said that, it still doesn’t offer the bite of a proper LSD, rather simply working in tandem with ESP to reduce understeer-inducing wheelspin. Even so, torque steer becomes a familiar characteristic of the ST after just a couple of corners. On less grippy surfaces the car’s traction control really begins to struggle juggling that 247bhp between the front wheels. It never gets ‘fire you into a hedge’ out of control, but does frustratingly require you to ease back on power. It confirms that you really do need a proper diff with this much power up front.
The Ford Focus ST is a remarkably capable long distance cruiser, thanks to its quiet cabin and hugely supportive and comfortable Recaro seats. If we’re nit picking, the ride at low speed might be a tad too firm for some tastes.
Despite lugging around an extra 24kg and 201mm of body around, the estate is almost entirely indistinguishable from the hatch. Despite its lengthier body, the estate flaunts the same adjustable rear end and feels every bit as fast in a straight line.
The variable-ratio electric steering actually delivers more interactivity and feedback than you might expect and the car has a real sense of sweetness to its reactions.
It's far from perfect though. The extra weight towards the back of the car means the rear end can be surprisingly mobile in certain situations, but it also seems to adjust the front-to-rear balance enough that the estate doesn't grip as keenly as the hatch, and is even more affected by torque steer and tramlining. It's less of a problem in the less potent diesel model, but can cause significant wrenching of the wheel in the petrol, a problem exacerbated on damp or greasy roads.
Here the traction control can do only so much, and rampant wheelspin is never far away. It's a disappointing blot on the copybook of a car that otherwise feels eager to turn, nicely balanced and amusingly quick.
‘Ford has pulled off something of a masterstroke with its latest Focus ST. There are faster, sharper-handling rivals. Others, perhaps most notably the Golf GTI, have a high quality look and feel that eludes the Ford. But it’s the way the ST manages the fundamentals – performance, entertainment, everyday practicality and price – that makes it such an appealing proposition.’ David Vivian, Contributing Road Tester, evo