As sure as we were that the Focus ST was a great hot hatch in standard form, it clearly had more to give. Powered by the 2.3-litre, four-cylinder Ecoboost that had also seen service in the Mustang and previous Focus RS - with up to 350hp - the Mk4 ST wasn't going to remain with just the 280hp for long. And with Ford having vetoed the plan for a fourth-generation RS, it's been down to the aftermarket to get the most from it.
Mountune has already dabbled with the Focus, so now it's time to ramp things up. Just revealed at Ford Fair 2021 (but driven by PH a couple of weeks ago) is the Focus ST m365. So, yes, that's 365hp - more than those four-cylinder Mustangs, more even than the old RS. In a front-wheel-drive car.
That really is a huge amount of power. It's what the first A45 AMG launched with (and that came with standard four-wheel drive and a dual-clutch), it's more than a Porsche Cayman S, it more than a Lotus Emira and it's not far behind a BMW M340i. It's a healthy 80hp more than standard, and the torque gain is even more substantial - 400lb ft is another 90lb ft over a showroom-spec ST. An evolution of the m330 software, the m365 now boasts new hardware as well, including a three-inch exhaust with sports cat (which keeps the GPF).
Which, in truth, all sounds like a disaster - doesn't it? Not so long ago it seemed that 250hp and about the same in pound foot was the limit for front-wheel drive; RevoKnuckles, PerfoHubs and very good limited-slip differentials showed that 300hp was realistic with just the front wheels driven, but another third more power? And the torque of an M2 CS? Surely not...
Well, pleasingly, the m360 Focus ST is not the torque-steering, undrivable lout you might be expecting. If Mountune's Puma ST felt a step too far, it would be difficult to switch back into a standard Focus after this one, such is the cohesion and sheer fun of the upgrade. It doesn't feel like a standard car, of course, but such is the quality of both the base product and Mountune's work that the ST carries its newfound potency exceptionally well.
Now, obviously, hoof it in second gear and the wheels are going to spin. Especially when it's greasy. That much should be obvious, because you could do that in a FWD hatch with half this power and torque and achieve the same result. But it speaks to the effectiveness of both the Focus's traction control and LSD that the wheelspin doesn't feel completely gratuitous, the car still charging forward enthusiastically and soon regaining purchase.
Third gear is really where it's at. Throttle can be measured out in second and strong acceleration maintained, but it's once the next gear is selected and the throttle fully open that you'll really feel what's been achieved. Third in this Focus is rampant, a cascade of acceleration as the turbo gets into its stride, lusty and insatiable from 2,000rpm all the way to (almost) the limiter. The Focus has always traded on a bountiful mid-range, the additional swept capacity over rivals giving it really burly performance once the lag has been overcome and before peak power; that's been enhanced here to dramatic, relentless, hilarious effect.
Fourth is almost as good, as is fifth - the Focus just pulls and pulls, winched towards the horizon at a ferocious rate. That exhaust brings some drama when your conscience calls time, too, popping and banging in Sport mode as if Chinese New Year was on 5th November. It's great engine work, amplifying standard characteristics while adding excitement as well; an inevitable focus (sorry) on torque means real world relevance as well - this doesn't need to be at 6,500rpm to feel like a much, much more potent ST.
This Mountune demonstrator also benefitted from new wheels and lowering springs. Though the reduced ride height makes Sport and Track simply too stiff, the benefits most certainly outweigh that drawback. Normal mode is now the setting for every occasion, the ST alert yet accommodating enough for all driving - no more mode anxiety, frantically switching between them for the optimum setting. That said, it highlights the lack of an individual mode even more starkly, because sometimes you want the exhaust's silliness without the punishing ride of Sport, but that's not possible.
Sitting lower to the ground benefits the hyperactive nature of the Focus's steering. With just two turns lock to lock it's always flitted from the centre, which eventually becomes natural in the standard car. Here it makes sense almost straightaway, the agility from being lowered complemented by the steering. It still isn't the most natural feel in the world, but it is better than standard. Finally, and entirely subjectively, it's worth noting what some fresh wheels and new springs do for the ST's look; what was once subtle to the point of meek is much more assertive and much more appropriate for its billing and performance.
That all this has been added to the ST package for no more severe a penalty than a slightly harsher ride (and presumably a little more fuel) makes the m365 hard to fault. It hasn't lost its fun side in the pursuit of performance, though neither has that sense of humour compromised its ability to make use of the addictive, absorbing speed. Prices will be confirmed at Ford Fair today, and it's hard to imagine an experience like this being bad value if it comes in at £35k or so. No doubt a lot of this m365 feel will be in the m330, though it would be hard to accept anything less than this after one run through third gear. Nobody should buy a hot hatch without considering the Focus ST first; anyone with the keys already would be doing their car a disservice not to pay Mountune a visit.
SPECIFICATION | FORD FOCUS ST MOUNTUNE M365
Engine: 2,261cc, turbocharged four-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 365@N/A rpm
Torque (lb ft): 400@N/A rpm
Top speed: 155mph (standard car)
Weight: 1,508kg (lightest kerbweight with 75kg driver, full fluids and 90 per cent fuel)
MPG: 35.7 (standard car)
CO2: 179g/km (standard car)
Image credit | Harry Rudd
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