- Available from £9,500
- 2.0-litre petrol four, turbocharged
- Good mix of pace and handling
- Well liked by press and punters alike
- Interesting Golf GTI alternative
Back in May we did a Buyer's Guide on the 2016-18 Ford Focus RS Mk3. Taking a view on that story and on the forum comments that followed it, you might conclude that the Mk3 RS was a talented car that didn't quite fulfil the market's expectations or its own potential.
In February there was a Buyer's Guide on the Mk2 ST, the softer but highly characterful five-cylinder Focus that was on sale from 2005 to 2011. These days, used Mk 2 STs can be picked up for as little as £2,500.
Today we're going to look at the Mk3 Focus ST, available from 2012 to 2018, and notable for being Ford's first global performance car. Our objective, as ever, is to pick through its good and not so good points, and in the process hopefully also discovering whether the Mk3 ST represents some kind of happy medium between the much loved Mk2 ST and the considerably faster, more efficient but perhaps harder to love 350hp Mk3 RS.
In its bid to become the Cinderella of sporting Foci, the Mk3 ST starts off with what many Mk2 ST owners might consider to be a disadvantage: its engine. If you did a survey asking Mk2 ST owners what they liked most about their cars, it's a pretty safe bet that the majority of them would point to the characterful 2.5 five-cylinder turbo engine that Ford borrowed from the Volvo S40 T5. In the 1,360kg five-door version of the Mk2 ST, that T5 motor provided 225hp at 6,100rpm and 236lb ft from 1,600-4,000rpm, enough for a 0-62mph time in the mid-6s and a top speed of 152mph.
The Mk3 ST ditched the tuneful but juicy five in favour of a 2.0 EcoBoost turbo four which had a bit more power (around 25hp, taking it to 250hp, with a new torque peak of 251lb ft from 1,750-4,500rpm) but also a bit less character. Although the weights of the Mk2 and Mk3 five-doors were practically identical there was no real advance in the Mk3's performance - but its official combined fuel consumption was markedly better at 39.2mpg versus the five's 30.4mpg. That economy boost (to coin a phrase) might not have seemed all that relevant for owners but it was very important for Ford's global image.
Mk3 buyers worried that they might be losing out on performance, or at least not gaining any, were visually reassured by the new car's more aggressive exterior design featuring a bigger rear wing, an intake-heavy front bumper, central-exit exhaust and a few more instruments in an interior with more carbon-u-like trim. The three-door was dropped and an estate version was added, while the three trim options - ST1, ST2 and ST3 - were the same as the Mk2 ST's.
A Mk3.5 refresh model was announced in late 2014, followed shortly after by the release of a selection of performance hikes by independent specialist Graham Goode Racing. Well respected (and warranty-preserving) tuners Mountune caught up later that same year with a factory-approved Mountune 271hp hop-up kit, which they've since augmented with a bunch of other stuff like front-mounted intercoolers, crossover pipes and so on.
A 185hp 2.0 TDCi was added to the ST range in 2015. The diesel started off with a six-speed manual gearbox, but a year later a PowerShift dual-clutch gearbox became available. The TDCi was understandably a fair bit slower than the petrol ST (8.1sec for the 0-62 and a top speed of 135mph) but equally understandably it was a lot cheaper to fuel. We'll be concentrating on the petrol STs here.
SPECIFICATION - FORD FOCUS ST MK3
Engine: 1,999cc, inline four, turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 250@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 251@1,750-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 6.5 secs
Top speed: 154mph
MPG (official combined): 39.2 (41.5 on post-2015 3.5 refresh cars)
CO2: 169g/km (159 on post-2015 3.5 refresh cars)
On sale: 2012 - 2018
Price new: £21,995 (hatch), £23,095 (estate)
Price now: from £9,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The Mk 3's engine lends itself more readily to 'safe' tuning than the Mk2's, with a vast array of parts and tuning options available. An induction kit, new intercooler and remap will take power up to around 300hp. On certain sections of the internet you might see something about 2.0 EcoBoosts blowing up if drivers called for too much boost when the car wasn't quite ready to deliver it, either through insufficient temperature or too high a gear.
The standard ST's noise was nowhere near as boring as Ford detractors might like to claim. Pre-facelift Mk3s ducted sound into the cabin via a tube from the engine bay to the back of the dashboard as the Mk2 did, but we're pretty sure that the 3.5 had a symposer to put synthesised noise through the speakers. Decatted exhaust systems from the likes of Dreamscience or Akrapovic sound amazing.
Some early cars were recalled - in the US at least - to fix a fault on the ignition loom (wrong gauge/poor splicing leading to rubbing on the gearbox) that could intermittently cause bad idling, the revs heaving up and down between 400rpm and 1,300rpm and the engine sometimes cutting out entirely when the clutch was dipped. Stuttering could manifest itself when turning right too as the cable insulation wore away and the bare wire created a short circuit on the gearbox casing, so it's worth checking to see if any remedial work has been done. It's not certain that UK dealers were quite as ready to sort this out as their litigation-fearing US counterparts. The pipe between the intercooler and turbo has been known to split, but that work was usually done under warranty.
When you're sat in the car with the engine on, look at the interior light (switching it on first, ye nit). If it flickers when you put the headlights or heated screen on, suspect the impending arrival of a failed alternator.
The six-speed manual works well and the clutch is light, but switching to a Mountune short-shifter will make an appreciable difference to lever travel. Sadly, a limited slip differential wasn't standard fit, the ST relying on electronics to rein in any unruliness. For enthusiastic drivers, getting clean traction out of a bend was a messier operation in an ST than it would have been in, for example, a Mk5 Golf GTI. That was especially true if you're carrying a big load in the back.
Annual/12,500-mile servicing costs are very reasonable, one owner reporting paying under £250 for a service which included not only new spark plugs but also the cost of the MOT. Even the dearest three-yearly major service is under £370. Some say the cambelt needs changing every 10 years or 125,000 miles and the job will cost around £340. Other reckon it's every 87,500 miles. Most sensible folk will probably replace it before either of those figures comes up.
If things go wrong, Ford Assist's breakdown cover through the AA gets good reports.
When the Mk3 ST came out, the Focus was still the best-handling car in its class, so it's no surprise to find that the warmed-up version drives really nicely. Anyone coming straight from a Mk2 ST to a Mk3 ST would be pleasantly surprised by the more neutral balance of the later car, with none of the Mk2's nose-heavy feel. The Renaultsport Megane 265 is still well ahead on handling purity, thanks in no small measure to its mechanical LSD. If you're coming from a standard Focus or a Golf be prepared for a certain degree of nobbliness as the ST's suspension is firmer and less plush than either, with uprated dampers and anti-roll bars and a 10mm lower ride height than the straight Focus. In isolation however it's still excellent, with flat cornering and tight body control over crests.
Another thing the ST didn't have besides a 'real' LSD was RevoKnuckle suspension, so wheel-hop under acceleration can be a problem. It's a near-250hp front-driver at the end of the day, so it's only fair to expect that. Pressing the traction control button once to put the car into Sport mode helps, and the 3.5s had new measures put in place to reduce the torque steer. It's all relative and nothing unmanageable, but if you try hard enough you'll still find it even on a 3.5. Installing a Mountune rear motor mount (about £150) is a very worthwhile and easy way not only to tone down the scrabbling but also to tighten up the gearchange quality and the feel of the car generally. Better still, it's a job that can be done on your drive with the car up on jacks. You may feel a tiny bit more vibration through the wheel or the floor at idle, but it's more than worth it for the benefits.
The steering is very high geared at two turns lock to lock, responses quickening as lock is applied. The turning circle isn't the greatest, to put it mildly. You'll be gritting your teeth as kids point and laugh at your pathetic attempts to negotiate the Ikea car park, especially if your car doesn't have rear parking sensors. It's hard to know where the back of the car ends unless you are a confirmed practitioner of the 'touch then back off' method. If while you're wrestling with the wheel you think you might be hearing a clonk or ping on full lock, it could be that one of the front coil springs is broken. Some early cars did have issues with steering racks which could suddenly become very heavy at motorway speeds. It wasn't an EPAS failure but a problem with the gearing arrangement that was specific to STs. These difficulties were rectified under warranty as dealer fixes when people complained, rather than under a full recall.
Goodyear Eagle F1s were original fitment tyres but many owners prefer Michelin Pilot Sport 3s. Aftermarket brake parts abound, but some of them aren't very good. Out-of-true discs will generate an unsettling rumbling and juddering. Noises from the back that sound like they might be wheel bearing related are sometimes actually tyre related. STs are not that tolerant of budget rubber. 19in ST Design alloy wheels became an option on the 3.5s.
This type of car does tend to get driven more enthusiastically than, say, a Perodua Nippy, and accidents do happen, so check hard for signs of repair work around the lights, wonky bonnet fits and panel gaps generally. Anything less than perfect should jump out at you because this type of thing is very good on uncrashed STs.
Door seals can go off over time and non-opening air flaps in the front grille have been reported. Water can get in the boot either around the wheel arch or in the spare wheel well, and into the non-sealed headlamps and the high-level brake light too. Ford dealers were sent a bulletin on how to put vents into the headlights which improved matters without totally curing it. At least one dealer allegedly fobbed owners off with a nonsensical 'LEDs generate heat and it's normal condensation mate' line.
Flickering daytime running lights were another pain in the bottom, but this is a known thing and software fixes are available now (although they don't always fully resolve the issue).
Although there weren't that many differences between the regular Focus interior and that of the ST, the most obvious one being the somewhat stuck-on looking turbo gauge dials atop the dash, the sporty model did have the big bonus of super-comfy Recaro sports seats - although not everyone 'fits' in them. They didn't come with bolster or lumbar support adjustability either but the ones in the ST3 were full rather than half leather and had 8-way power adjustment. Another plus point with the Mk3 compared to the Mk2 was the lower mounting of the seats which did away with much of the latter cars' 'sitting on rather than in' feeling.
Things could feel a bit claustrophobic in the back thanks to the high window line, and the A-pillar restricts forwards visibility a little too much, but most agreed that the Mk3's cabin environment was superior to that of the Mk2, with more toys and better quality materials (though they still weren't quite up to German levels). There again, when it was new the ST was getting on for £3,000 less than a Golf GTI.
All STs are well equipped. The 3.5's updated version of the Sync infotainment system is a noticeable improvement on the previous car's crash-prone one, where pulling the fuse could sometimes be the only way you'd get your phone to connect, but it can still struggle especially with Apple products.
The vast array of options across the three trim levels means that you'd have to spend a fair bit of time looking for two absolutely identical STs. Here's a quick guide as to what you get as standard with each level. ST-1s have 18in alloys, air-con, keyless go, DAB radio and Bluetooth. Moving up to ST-2 adds part-leather seats, automatic lights and wipers, heated windscreen, auto-dim rear-view mirror and upgraded Sony hi-fi. ST-3s have full leather, rear parking sensors, heated front seats, bi-xenon headlamps, powered mirrors, Rock metallic alloys and LED daytime running lights.
If the car you're looking at has 'Sony' on the tweeter units by the door mirrors, that means it has the optional premium audio setup. The downside of the premium system (apart from fiddly controls) is that it puts a subwoofer on top of the spare wheel, robbing the boot of depth and space it can ill afford to lose. There's 363 litres with the rear seats up, but that's with a tyre repair kit instead of a full-size spare. One of those in place will knock the space back to 277 litres. A space-saver takes it up to 316 litres. The equivalent litreages with the back seats folded flat (which they do do, despite some testers' failure to manage it) are 1,148, 1,062 and 1,101. The estate is obviously the answer if you have a family to shift about, offering around 480 or 1,500 litres (seats up and down) with a repair kit.
Option packs like Style (red brake calipers and illuminated scuff plates) and Driver Assistance (AEB, blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning) could be added to ST-2s and ST-3s from new. The bulbs go with depressing regularity on those Style scuff plates, so spend your inspection time looking for better options like a reversing camera (which was a £750 add-on new) and the excellent heated steering wheel.
Security was a big problem for owners of keyless Focus STs. Robbers would copy the keyless signal from a distance and then nick your car whenever it suited them. Metal-lined 'Faraday pouches' will solve that problem for under a tenner.
GPS antennae can fail and creaking windscreens are common to the Mk 3 Focus range. There was a recall in September 2017 for non-deploying side- and knee-airbags.
The Mk3 ST has won more than one 'best hot hatch' award from the press, and it only takes one spirited drive on a good mix of roads to work out why. It's not a Megane or an Astra VXR, or even an especially epic trackday car, but none of that is meant as a criticism. Think of it more as a fine, useable alternative to the Golf GTI, Octavia vRS or Leon Cupra. It's not a lot slower than the Focus RS on real-life roads, and with Mk3 STs starting at around £9,000 it's a lot more affordable than the cheapest RS, which will you'll rarely find for less than £20,000.