Ford Focus ST First: Drive review
What is it?
This is the third generation of the ST, Ford's hot Focus, and probably the sportiest version we are going to see (an RS version currently looks unlikely, alas).
This version gets the most powerful ST engine so far – 247 bhp, providing a top speed of 154 mph and a 0-62 mph time of 6.5 seconds. However, it is by no means the biggest at 2.0 litres and four cylinders, rather than the 2.5 litres and five cylinders of the previous generation. This one is more powerful and way more economical (CO2 output goes down from 225 g/km to 169 g/km, for a big tax saving), but enthusiasts may worry that it has lost the fabulous five-cylinder warble along with the dipsomaniac thirst.
The rest of the ST looks pretty much as you would expect. Nice big 18 inch alloys, a mild bodykit, sports seats and the now-traditional ST pack of three extra instruments on top of the dashboard (for oil pressure, oil temperature and turbo boost). However, the big news is that there will be an ST estate, as a kind of junior Audi RS4 Avant. When the second generation ST appeared, we asked Ford if they would make an ST estate, but they reckoned there was no market for it. Seven years later, Ford has decided that the market is now ready for a hot estate that does not wear a German premium badge.
Is it any good?
Yes, it's very good. As soon as you start the engine, you know this is no standard Focus. The engineers have done such an amazing job of making the four-cylinder engine sound like a more refined version of the old five-cylinder, that you might be tempted to look for an "engine sounds" disk in the CD player. However, the sound is only present under acceleration – as soon as you get to cruising speed, the engine is all but silent. There is something called a "noise symposer" that generates a slightly offbeat pulse in the intake manifold, which is then piped into the cabin, via a flap that stays closed at cruising speeds.
The ride is another triumph. "Firm but well-damped" is the classic cliché for sports suspension, but on this occasion the simplest description would be "perfect". It is compliant over broken surfaces, but exerts iron control over body movements. In one tight S-bend, my passenger actually started laughing in delight as we flicked left-right. He could not believe that there was no lurch as the car changed direction.
The final piece of the dynamic jigsaw is the steering. The standard Focus has been widely criticised for its electric power steering which is light and just a little numb. The ST is a big improvement. It is much heavier and now feels quite meaty. It is also very fluid, and has a variable ratio rack, that means the steering gets quicker as you apply more lock. The idea is that you don't have to move your hands on the steering wheel in all but the tightest corners
Should I give it garage space?
We would. With a very competitive starting price of £21,995, the Focus ST provides the best solution for anyone who wants a family car for 90% of the time and a hot hatch for those occasions when the conditions are right. It is not a full-on performance car in the mould of some of the RenaultSport offerings, but it offers a vastly wider range of abilities.
Our choice would be the ST estate. It is more practical, arguably better looking and offers a whiff of prestige. Lots of companies make hot hatches, but hot estates are a bit more exclusive. The only word of warning is that the low entry-level price does not provide a lot of toys (e.g. it only has manual air conditioning). For a decently-equipped ST estate you are looking at £25K plus. That is still very decent value, but not quite the all-out bargain the list price might suggest.