DRIVEN: FORD FOCUS ST
Ford's first 'global performance car' takes the fast Ford concept we know and love to the wider world
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
FORD FOCUS ST
Engine: 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
MPG: 39.2mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £21,995 (ST-2 £23,495, ST-3 £25,495, estate +£1,100 on all)