Driven: Ford Focus ST

Fast Fords have been part of this country's motoring DNA for half a century now. So should we feel proud that the new Focus ST is now considered Ford's first global performance car? Or worried that in trying to be all things to all men it's a designed-by-committee dilution of all we hold dear.

Shy and retiring option not pictured...
Shy and retiring option not pictured...
In some respects it's business as usual, new Tangerine Scream paintwork picking up where the old car's Electric Orange left off.

And though, with a straight face, we're told the exhaust is inspired by Imperial Star Destroyer thrusters it looks more like some Essex lads were sent off to Sant'Agata in a Transit to pick up some Aventador off-cuts from out the back of the Lamborghini factory. It is, by some margin, about the most outrageous thing you've ever seen poking out from the bumper of a mainstream car.

A signature lairy paintscheme isn't the only thing carried over from the previous, big-selling ST either. Despite losing a cylinder and half a litre much effort has gone into making sure that signature ST sound - a major character feature in the five-cylinder car - survives.

The Aventador wants its exhaust back now
The Aventador wants its exhaust back now
Can you hear me now?
As is the way these days it involves ducting noise from the inlet manifold through a 'sound symposer' and into the cabin. It has to be said, Ford's effort is more successful than most - McLaren could definitely learn something from it - and from the first few yards the hollow, induction-led bark is your first clue at the Focus's potential.

Without this artificially enhanced soundtrack project chief Matthias Tonn assures us the new Ecoboost engine is almost silent and, fake or not, it certainly makes the Focus sound 250hp's worth. Typically new-school, the Ecoboost engine is all forced induction from sub-2,000rpm, punchy through the mid-range and then peters out at a disappointingly low 6,500rpm and into a soft, cushy rev limiter that the sound symposer tricks you into thinking should be at least another 1,000rpm away. Which can be a problem if it happens mid-overtake.

Estate option for the more practically minded
Estate option for the more practically minded
It feels strong before that point though, the fact even the sub-RS model now gets 250hp a sign of how far things have come. Does it leave any headroom for an RS? Officially not.

That'll likely be a yes then.

Which would also explain why Ford is relaxed about pitching the ST as a Megane Renaultsport or Astra VXR chaser though, to be fair, the lack of a three-door Focus would appear to limit that potential. Whatever the reality, the ST remains one notch below hardcore and instead carves itself a niche as the usable performance car of choice. Hence the return of the ST estate, a sales failure first time it was tried but, it's hoped, more of a stand-out model this time round.

Chassis gives you lots of options
Chassis gives you lots of options
Many flavours
Mechanically identical, bar a slightly different rear axle to avoid intrusion into the load area, the estate is just as potent and, er, focused as the five-door and, in spirit, perhaps the modern reincarnation of the old Impreza wagon formula. No complaints there and, whether you opt for a Tangerine Scream hatch or more discreetly coloured estate, another example of the breadth of the ST's reach.

Clearly Ford hasn't forgotten how to engineer a great chassis either, fears designing one car for global consumption might dilute classic B-road ability thankfully unfounded. There's real class here with a low-speed plushness the likes of the Golf GTI could only dream of twinned with a playful, adjustable nature that presents you with plenty of options and reacts predictably and quickly to lifts and tucks. This is more than just a 10mm chassis drop and firmer set of springs though, an RS-inspired rear axle that attaches a thicker anti-roll bar directly to ST specific knuckles rather than to the subframe like regular Focuses maintaining roll stiffness without the need for rock-hard springs.

It'll do this all day and much more besides
It'll do this all day and much more besides
The front is closer to the regular car but there are lots of interesting things regulating how that 250hp gets to the tarmac, not least Torque Steer Compensation that actually nips the steering straight via the EPAS if it detects the front wheels deflecting independently of steering input. Equivalents of the torque vectoring you get on your fancy new 911 and 'brake-steer' from the McLaren MP4-12C show how quickly supercar tech now filters down to everyman hot hatches, a variable-rate steering rack adding to the technological hocus pocus.

Electronic intervention
Despite protestations that "we do it the old school way" and it's about mechanical feel rather than electronics this all means there's a lot going on through the front tyres and steering wheel. There's a bit of artificially weighted mush around the dead ahead and then drop-off in resistance as you apply lock that, thanks to the variable rack, actually corresponds to a rapid increase in steering angle. It lacks the predictable, linear bite of a Golf GTI or lightning responses of a Megane and contributes to a heftiness that can feel a little stodgy on tighter roads. As things open out it gets better though and you learn to trust the combination of front-end grip, artificially enhanced or otherwise, playful rear axle, boosty power delivery and crisp pedal responses.

Grey 18s and red calipers for optional ST pack
Grey 18s and red calipers for optional ST pack
It's more of a 9/10ths car than some of the more hardcore rivals but, frankly, that's the ST's comfort zone and it's very easy to slip into a very pleasing rhythm and cover ground extremely briskly. It's relaxed, easy going and the kind of car you could potter about in on the commute or family errands and then indulge yourself a little on those occasions when you find yourself on your own and on a suitable bit of road.

So it's appealing before you factor in some very aggressive pricing - a further benefit of the economies of scale global ambitions bring. That £22K will get you all of the above is pretty astounding, the more generously equipped ST-2 and -3 trim levels costing, respectively, £23,495 and £25,495 in five-door form and the estate adding a further £1,100.

Homogenous and all things to all markets the Focus ST may be. But it's good to know that at its heart it's still a proper fast Ford and a very, very impressive answer to pretty much every motoring need you could throw at it.

2,000cc 4-cyl direct injection turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 250@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 250@1,750rpm
0-62mph: 6.5 sec
Top speed: 154mph
Weight: 1,362kg
MPG: 39.2mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 169g/km
Price: £21,995 (ST-2 £23,495, ST-3 £25,495, estate +£1,100 on all)





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Comments (135) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Andy JB 10 Dec 2012

    My brother has the ST3 Estate in elec blue (like Ford RS Blue) for past 2-3 months - I'm not a Ford fan these days but IMO it does look quite nice in the flesh in estate form & colour suits it, interior better but still lacking quality of the Germans.

    Dynamically better than previous incarnations although a lot more bloated but 1300 kg isn't too bad these days & combined with 250 hp & 40mpg should be a realistic daily hack compared to 5 pot.

    Lets hope its better than my previous mk 1 ST Focus which was complete pants in every dept, I may even be tempted back to the fold with this latest effort.

  • blackcossiestu 03 Aug 2012

    I drove one today (Im a tech at my local Ford dealer), and actually I quite liked it. The seats were comfy and firm, I found no issues with cabin space (Im 6'2") and visibility was also very good. Induction noise is very much engineered, but its a sound I enjoyed and wasnt too in your face. Performance wise it feels strong given the size, and a little more edgy than the very linear RS. The exterior looked good in the white one I was driving, but Im not a fan of how the ginger ones look (if the old orange was asbo, the new one has to be ginger lol).

  • toppstuff 25 Jul 2012

    I dont understand why so many people prefer the looks of the old Focus over the new one.

    The new one looks good.

    The old one always looked like a bland Korean economy box. I don't get it...

  • oobster 25 Jul 2012

    For anyone on this thread that has a new ST on order the cars are starting to come into the UK -there are pictures on the ST owners forum of cars on the back of transporters and there is one person who has his car already (a blue ST-3 hatchback with privacy glass and style pack). Looks nice.

  • ucb 20 Jul 2012

    Dont forget that local state taxes in the US will apply, so the difference is never quite as big as advertised

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