To some, the future of fast Fords probably looks a tad perilous. There won't be another Focus RS, the V8 Mustang must be on borrowed time, and the most significant launch for Ford Performance this year is a 2.5-tonne electric SUV. The recently announced $11bn investment in electric vehicle factories is the perfect indicator of where things are headed, just in case there was any doubt.
The genre will evolve, of course - and the Mach E is an auspicious start, it should be said - but the change is unsettling to us raised on decades of fast Fords with petrol engines, manual gearboxes and vivacious characters. The traits of the best Blue Oval hot hatches look tremendously hard to replicate with batteries. While we all wrangle with that prospect, however, there's cause to be optimistic. Because if your idea of a fast Ford is blue, front-wheel drive, manual only and riotously good fun, you're going to love the Focus ST Edition.
The raft of upgrades for this new Focus are identical to those implemented for the Fiesta ST equivalent. There's the Azura Blue paint, most obviously, as well as the lighter flow-formed wheels (in the same design) which sit in front of manually adjustable KW coilovers. The latter is especially significant for the Focus, ditching as it does the standard car's Continuously Controlled Damping. The Edition gets no more power than standard, again like the Fiesta, so it's the same 280hp/310lb ft 2.3 Ecoboost, and there are no further option ticks required to get the best from it. Pay £35,785 and this is the Edition offered in return, without the need to spend a penny more.
Unsurprisingly, similar upgrades to the Fiesta ST Edition have affected similar improvements. The Focus looks better, for starters, which is important for a car that's always seemed a bit staid. The colour contributes something to the additional sense of occasion, but the ride height drop (10mm lower as standard, but with a further 20mm available) really helps give the ST a purposeful stance to more accurately reflect what it's capable of. Even painted black, the wheels are a more appealing design than the regular model. There's now the sort of intent a Ford hot hatch with almost 300hp should have, without going completely over the top.
With the interior largely unchanged - there's some blue stitching and part-leather Recaros - more attention can be paid to how the ST Edition drives. A word of warning, first off: don't test drive it in urban areas. Nobody should do that for any hot hatch given the open-road remit, but it really won't suit the Edition; with spring rates up 50 per cent over standard, the firmness is inescapable, even with the car delivered "somewhere in the middle" of its compression and rebound settings. It rides tensely at low speed, brusque and unapologetic in the way movement is controlled. But then what did you expect from a Focus ST with KW coilovers? Just as importantly, the lighter-wheeled Edition is never crashy or leaden; it's always composed, and the ride never becomes an issue. The fact that the initial abruptness fades from memory after 15 minutes shows the quality of the upgrade - it's certainly more accommodating than the old RS. Just don't say you weren't warned.
Certainly this firmer, friskier Focus feels more prone to torque steer on bumpier roads, requiring a bit more guidance than normal. But on anything a tad smoother the Edition is just fantastic, as capable and compelling as you might hope for a great hot hatch fitted with better suspension. Traction from the same Michelin Pilot Sport 4S is improved, as is grip, though never entirely at the expense of the ST's scallywag nature, the Edition as happy the act the fool as its driver.
A track would surely show off the improvements best, though there's a good idea of what the ST is capable of on road as well. It's more poised than standard, which is some achievement given how good that car is, and is less likely to flounder or struggle over a challenging bit of road. The uprated suspension ensures better control of every movement, giving the driver more confidence to get the best from the car. The new coilovers even make better sense of the Focus's spookily sharp steering, as the chassis' is now even keener to keep up. It can make for a frantic drive on occasion, but a properly thrilling one when the road suits.
Furthermore, without the adjustability in the suspension - at least on the move, that is - there's less drive mode anxiety than in the regular ST. With Track introducing too much weight to the steering and Normal doing away with quite a lot of the grumbly, gratifying soundtrack, you need never deviate from Sport. And it's superb: pointy, naughty, agile hot hatch fun, with a burly and engaging turbo engine alongside and - praise be - a manual gearbox on top.
That makes it a tremendously hard car to find significant fault with, and much like the Fiesta, is awfully easy to like - particularly as it feels like time is running out for rowdy hot hatches with motorsport suspension slung beneath. It's more desirable and more capable than a standard ST (yet not a great deal more expensive), more acceptable to most people than a Civic Type R (and just as good to drive), fun in a way nothing from VW could hope to be and, crucially, not in limited production like the 600-unit Fiesta ST Edition was. Get one while a hot hatch like this remains viable - it's absolutely brilliant.
SPECIFICATION | 2021 FORD FOCUS ST EDITION
Engine: 2,261cc, turbocharged four-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 280@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@3,000-4,000rpm
0-62mph: 5.7 secs
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,534kg (lightest kerbweight with 75kg driver, full fluids and 90 per cent fuel)
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