The previous Focus ST’s handling was compromised by a lack of traction. That issue has been solved in the latest ST, and the result is not just an easier car to drive, but one that’s more entertaining than before too.
One aspect Ford has maintained is the old model’s agility, building upon a chassis that’s already better in basic form than the third-generation Focus. It feels of the same ilk as the cars of Ford’s handling renaissance in the 1990s, with a stiff structure minimally impacted by cornering loads, good responses, excellent body control and gymnastic agility.
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It also develops more than enough grip for a car in this class, but isn’t beyond some playful handling behaviour either, particularly on a track with more room to exploit it. Make use of the quick steering and weight transfer and the Focus is happy to wag its tail, always easily controlled thanks to the rapid responses of its steering rack. On the road where naturally you’ll tone things down a little, it’s still a biddable, enjoyable chassis.
Not a perfect one, though. For a start, that quick steering: it’s actually probably a little too sharp for our tastes, at only two turns lock-to-lock and lacking the more natural weighting and consistency of say, a Golf GTI’s or Renault Sport Mégane’s. The car seems to move unnaturally quickly off-centre, as if most of the car’s steering input happens in the first few degrees, and a springy, synthetic self-centring feel masks any initial feedback.
The ride quality on the standard adaptive dampers is a better effort, though the firm set-up can be felt on certain surfaces in a way that’s better masked by some rivals. Those rivals are simply more natural cars to drive down a twisty road than the slightly hyperactive Focus, which perhaps majors more on instant appeal than depth of talent.
We suspect few owners will mind though, in part because the ST is undoubtedly an improvement over the old car, and in part because a slightly combative attitude is all part of the appeal of a fast Ford.