Owning a fine hot hatch at affordable money is a dream for many. In the Focus ST, Ford succeeded in turning that dream into reality. Some might say that the first Focus ST was the ST170, but a somewhat larger number would say that the first ST to really capture the public's imagination was the Mk2 (C307) Focus-based version that came out in 2005. In place of the 170's uninspiring four-pot, which carried the extra burden of an unsatisfying gearbox with poor ratios, the Mk2 ST had a much more characterful 222hp 2.5-litre 20-valve five-cylinder KKK-Warner turbocharged unit borrowed from Volvo's S40 T5 (Volvo being owned by Ford at the time).
The Mk2 ST's successor, the 2011-on Mk3, reverted to a 2.0 four-cylinder engine. That gave it a 20hp advantage over the five but a big disadvantage when it came to character. The Mk 3 failed to generate anything like the same cult following as the Mk 2, so it's the five-pot Mk 2 we're going to concentrate on here.
Some of the Mk2 ST's kerb appeal was undoubtedly down to the styling and the Electric Orange paint that many of them were ordered in, but the main advance over the Mk1-based 170 was under the skin. Ford's marketing machine did a good job of putting across the message that the new ST had been developed by 'Team RS'. That talismanic attribution was well supported by the car's performance on both road and track.
Performance numbers for the front-wheel drive 1360kg hatch were 6.5sec or thereabouts for the 0-62mph and a top speed of 152mph. Although the ST's peak power wasn't delivered until 6100rpm, its peak torque of 236lb ft was available from 1600rpm to 4000rpm, effectively giving an owner two ways of driving it: flat out on the power, or schmoozing around on the torque. Either way you would reach your destination quickly and, courtesy of the secure handling and that rousing five-cylinder bark, with a big grin on your face.
A quick word about ST models. The ST-2 and ST-3 designations somehow make them sound like they should be later cars, but in fact the ascending numbers simply denoted higher spec versions of the non-xenon-headlit, non-numbered, base model ST. Not many of those 'straight' STs were sold. If you were in the market for an ST, you wanted it to shout about it, not whisper. The most obvious differentiator between the straight ST and the 2 and 3, from the front at least, was the ST's lack of headlight washers. All Mk 2 STs had air conditioning, an ST-unique bodykit and boot spoiler, Recaro seats in the front (cloth or leather, depending on model), fog lamps and a twin-exit exhaust.
A 'kinetic design' range-tightening facelift version of the ST went on sale in the UK in February 2008. For some, the new lights and wings meant the facelift wasn't quite as distinctive as the first car, but the facelift's newly-bumpered and diffuser-equipped back end ticked plenty of boxes and it didn't take long for the new ST's superior kit and fresher interior to endear it to fans, even if the 'carbon fibre' dash was actually plastic.
To see the old pre-facelifter off, Ford announced a limited edition ST500 in November 2007. Slightly annoyingly, that 500 referred to the number of cars they were going to make rather than the horsepower, which was unchanged at 222hp. It was a good looking car though in Panther Black with a silver bonnet and silver side, roof and boot stripes evoking Ford's Le Mans livery from 1969. Inside were red leather Recaros, a numbered plaque and a very full spec including a solar reflect windscreen and the Focus's Visibility Pack (auto lights and wipers and an auto-dimming rear view mirror). The 2008-only ST500 was £20,495 new. ST500s now go for between £6,500 and £9,000.
In late 2008 you could get a factory-approved Mountune Racing power upgrade kit consisting of a remap, bigger intercooler and K&N panel filter. That lifted power up to 256hp and torque to 295lb ft, bridging the gap between the regular ST and the then upcoming 300hp RevoKnuckle Mk2 RS of 2009. The Mountune kit cost £1120 in parts plus a couple of hours of labour and turned the ST into a cracking thing. A Mountune MP260 ST would be well worth hunting down if you can find one at the right price. We dug up a 73,000 5-door with the top ST-3 spec and an end-of-line 2011 3-door (also ST-3 spec) with 132,000 miles. The '11 car was £5,695, the earlier lower-mileage one £8,450. There was actually a 286hp Mountune MR290 too, with revised mapping, a full exhaust system and an inlet plenum, but we're fairly sure that one wasn't Ford-approved.
- Bodywork & Interior
Although quite a few STs will have been put to hard use in sometimes unsavoury surroundings - Clarkson called that first ST the Focus ASBO - it's also true that 200,000-mile STs do exist, and that they can still look good at that mileage in just about any colour: the Electric Orange that they're best known for, Diamond White (later replaced by Frozen White and a pearlescent Ice White), Colorado Red, Sea Grey, Panther Black, Moodust Silver, and Ford's classic Performance Blue.
That's heartening, but there's no getting away from the fact that the earliest STs are now fifteen years old, and any fifteen-year-old Focus will be vulnerable to rust. Weak points on the ST are the points where the rear arches meet the bumper. A misaligned bumper (which was a thing on these) will eventually rub away the paint and allow corrosion in. Equally eventually, Ford acknowledged the problem by fitting plastic pads/tape between the panel and bumper, as they did on the boot lid bump stops and on the rubber boot seal by the washer tube, both of which had similar paint-rubbing issues.
Water can get into the boot through the tailgate hinge seam or via a leaky washer bottle. Dodgy looking paint or suspiciously fresh-looking panel attachment bolts should arouse your curiosity about the possibility of bodged crash repair work. The side skirts can become loose, but sorting that isn't hard.
Inside, every ST had Recaro seats. The key thing to remember about the ST-3 is that its sculptured rear bench turned the Focus into a four- rather than a five-seater, so if carrying folk is important to you, aim for an ST-2. The standard seats on the basic ST and the ST-2 were cloth with colour-coded side bolsters. A heating option was available on these fabric seats, as was the sculpted rear bench, but neither were commonly taken up.
The straight ST had a Ford single-disc SCD player, upgraded on the ST-2 to a Sony Audio Single CD/MP3 player. The ST-2 also had an aux input in the glovebox, two extra speakers, bi-xenon headlights with washers and auto-levelling, LED rear lights and a Quickclear heated windscreen. Step-ups from there to the ST-3 were a Sony Audio 6CD unit (with MP3 compatibility from 2007 on), plus full leather seating with 10-way manual adjustment, adjustable lumbar support and heating for both of the fronts.
Creaking seats means that the Recaro bases are living up to their reputation for cracking. On cloth-seated cars in particular it's tough to keep those pronounced side bolsters looking smart. In 2010, a year before the demise oST-3 was spruced up by the addition of a Sony DAB radio, dual-zone climate control, privacy glass and keyless entry.
- Engine & Transmission
The five-cylinder motor will spin sweetly up to its 6100rpm power peak, but once you're past 5000rpm it's more about noise than significantly enhanced progress. It's good noise mind, boosted in a not too artificial way by a sound symposer, but the high-torque characteristics of this engine do favour surfing over straining.
Although the Volvo-derived engine is tough and reliable, some early STs have had issues with splitting cylinder liners, evidenced by mayo around the oil filler, a misfire or white smoke. These liners can be shimmed, but by the time you've added a new timing belt and a new water pump you will be looking at an £800 bill. Ford reputedly revised the blocks on post-'08 facelift cars.
Split oil filter housing diaphragms can also hurt the ST. A whistling at idle that goes away when the dipstick is removed almost certainly means you have this issue. Again it's believed that Ford addressed this some time in 2008, but for owners of earlier cars it's not a cheap one to sort.
Failed boost solenoids will cut your power. If the needle on your ST's boost gauge won't haul itself round to the 0.6 bar halfway point (or the 0.9 bar three-quarter point on a mapped car), or if the needle seems to be dancing around like your mad uncle at a wedding, suspect the solenoid.
MAF sensors go too. Fritzing alternators on earlier cars will make themselves known by flickering headlights and/or a battery warning light. The official timing belt replacement schedule for this engine is 10 years/125,000 miles, but sensible owners won't take a chance on such long intervals.
Once you're happy with the basic integrity of your motor, you can think about tuning. That's a fun thing to do on these. A simple remap can add 25-50hp and a handy extra wodge of torque. A stage 2 tune to getting on for 300hp can be taken on with the standard internals, and even stage 3 (300-320hp) is possible with the standard block and turbo, but after that you'll be needing a new or hybrid turbo and maybe an RS block with beefed-up internals. Figures of up to 500hp have been bandied around.
Which brings us to ST clutches, driveshafts and driveshaft boots. These aren't the strongest examples of their ilk, and any weakness in this area will be quickly exposed by tuned cars. The five-pot's ability to pick up smoothly from basement rpm in the high gears is genuinely impressive.
Handily, it is also a great way to find out if your car has clutch slip. Boot it hard at low speed in top gear. Increased engine noise with no obvious increase in speed means you need to replace the clutch, ideally with an RS unit complete with the dual mass flywheel slave cylinder and thrust bearing. That's if you're planning on keeping the car for a while anyway, and you have around £1000 for the work.
Although ESP stability control was standard on the ST-2 and 3 from the off, it was only an option on the base ST until the facelift arrived in 2008. Interestingly, cruise control was an option on the ordinary Focus but it was never offered on any STs.
- Suspension & steering
Compared to the standard Focus, the ST's springs were 30 percent stiffer front and rear. The rear anti-roll bar was 5 percent stiffer, the dampers were recalibrated and the ride height was 15mm lower. Despite all that, the ride was still acceptably supple, so quite a few ST owners have taken the opportunity to fit one of the Ford-approved Eibach kits which lower the height a little more.
- Wheels, Tyres & Brakes
Although this is by no means a foolproof guide, you can tell something about a used car's life by the quality of its tyres. Not just by the state they're in, but by the writing on the sidewall. If an ST you're looking at has Lingalonga Ditchfinder or similar written on its tyres, that might give you pause for thought about the general level of maintenance and care that might have been (not) put in by the previous owner.
All STs came with 18in alloy wheels. These are easily kerbed, but £200 should cover the cost of a refurb for all four. Big brake kits are very popular. You can get 8-pot calipers in there if you want.
There's something very appealing about a Mk 2 Focus ST. It won't necessarily be the running costs: road tax is £325 a year and your realistic mpg figures will be in the low 20s, with low 30s achievable on steady motorway runs. The front tyres will do well to last for more than 10,000 miles.
But the price of entry to the ST club is temptingly low. £2500 will get you in, albeit for a very high mileage (160-180,000) example. Scruffy year-one cars that have clicked over into six figures start at £3000+. That's not so much for a sporting, practical, distinctive and (if rust hasn't struck) robust 225hp hatch that's had more than a cursory wipe from the RS department's oily cloth.
There's no shortage of eligible cars to choose from, with no big price difference between 3- and 5-door cars. We turned up an '06 89,000-miler in blue with a 292hp remap and a good batch of upgrades to the clutch, intercooler, intake and exhaust for a few quid over £4,000. The dearest Mk 2 ST in the PH Classifieds at the time of writing was a 73,000-mile '08 ST-2 at a rather hopeful £8,795. Slightly more realistic was a full leather 2010 ST-3 with 84,000 miles at £8,499, or a cloth ST-2 in Performance Blue with 62,000 miles for £7,995. All cheap compared to the £30k price tag you might see on a pre-owned 2019-model ST.
Choosing one of the less lairy paint schemes that Ford thoughtfully added to the ST palette would certainly help to de-chav the image a bit. Along with a nice set of tyres you'd ideally want a fully-stamped service book, but at the very least spend a bit of time and money on making sure that you're not laying out cash for a write-off.
There are one or two specialist ST sellers around, perhaps the best known and most respected of which is ST-Focus.com in Crawley, run by Steve Bennett. Steve is a long-term Ford nut and he really rates the Mk2 STs for their strength and tunability. Good firms like this will be happy to chat with and give useful advice to first-time ST buyers.