SOTW: Ford Focus ST170

Fun is notoriously hard to quantify, but denizens of Shedland may be sure that the up-to-£28k hot hatches tested by Chris Harris this week cannot possibly provide 28 times as much fun as the £1k options hiding shyly in the classifieds.

Five minutes was all it took to unearth nine-year-old Shed 'equivalents' of the Harris trio, starting with this Ford Focus ST170, this Renault Megane 2.0 VVTand this Vauxhall Astra SRi.

Decent performance is available in all three: 0-62mph in 8.2seconds for both the 2.2 Astra and the 2.0 Focus, and a whisker over 8 seconds in the (in this case slightly battle-scarred) 2.0 Megane.

In the moderns, Chris came down in favour of the Focus ST, and after setting the controls of our time machine back to 2003 we're going to make the same choice.

Brag about your Cosworth-developed engine
Brag about your Cosworth-developed engine
I'll never forget a big photoshoot we did in 1997 with a pre-launch Focus 1.6 at Renault's test facility just north of Paris. Driving it for the first time was a real Eureka moment. The dynamics (masterminded by Ford's chassis genius Richard Parry-Jones) were so far ahead of what had gone before, not just for the small family class but for one or even two classes above it. It really was that good – and it looked great too.

The dynamic and visual purity of that first Focus has since been eroded away by our caring insect overlords in Brussels and elsewhere. The ST170 is a refreshing reminder of the first and (many would say) best Focus.

The ST170 paint palette was sober, featuring colours like Deep Navy or Magnum Grey, but this 139,000 miler looks bright in Stardust Silver with the half leather interior, aircon and CD in a practical 5-door body that makes it a clever choice for the PHer-turned-family man.

There's a dent in the back of it which we can't see, but you wouldn't be able to see it when you were driving it either, and as far as true Shedmen are concerned, not seeing something is the same as not having it. As long as it's not taken a really hefty biff up the back end of course.

Rear dent out of sight, out of mind
Rear dent out of sight, out of mind
In simple performance terms, if we're being brutally honest, the ST170 flatters to deceive. With a new high-flow head, bigger valves, higher-comp forged pistons, lumpier cams, a bigger-bore exhaust system and a less restrictive cat, the Duratec 2.0-litre engine was Cosworth-developed to boost power from 130hp to 173hp.

Something went wrong somewhere. You'd have to be a sadist to find that new power peak because it didn't arrive until 7000rpm and the long-stroke engine really didn't like higher revs. You'd expect one upside of an undersquare design to be decent torque, but the motor's peak figure of 195Nm at 2500rpm was puzzlingly weedy.

The fact that the ST delivered more or less the same 8.2-second 0-62 time as the 145hp Astra does make you wonder if all of those 170-plus Ford nags turned up for their oats. Weight was a factor – this '03 5-door tips the scales at 1314kg, about 100kg more than the Vaux – and the trucklike Getrag 6-speed 'box didn't help. You wouldn't buy an ST to save money on fuel either.

You would buy it for smooth handling though, courtesy of the Control Blade multi-link rear suspension. With luck, you'd also be getting good used car value, but remember that Foci are not the world's best made cars. My local grease boy hates them with a passion. "Bloody rust buckets," he says whenever he sees one. Mind you, he says that about Kas as well. And Pumas.

What the interior should look like
What the interior should look like
ST170-specific stuff? Electrical and particularly sensor problems are common. This particular car has wibbly windows and a duff coolant temperature sensor, where the multi-function warning light will come on and initiate a failsafe cooling mode that's designed to get you home by cutting fuelling to alternate cylinders. The fix could be nothing more than a replacement sensor, however. It sits in the top of the thermostat housing and costs under a tenner from eBay.

A vibey or sticky throttle can be either a worn cable or dirty throttle bodies. One light you won't want to see is the engine management bulb: that could be a failed lambda sensor or a stuck-open (or closed) Inlet Manifold Runner Control. This cable-operated butterfly-valve gizmo was designed to boost torque at low revs but in reality it wasn't one of Henry's better moments.

Ford dealers may attempt to sell you a new IMRC at £300 or so. Quite often there's nowt actually wrong with it, it's just a wonky sensor again, but Ford component quality is not always NASA-standard.

Manifold or cat heatshield brackets will work loose or break, usually signified by a rattle under the car at around 2000rpm. Again, a Ford dealer may try and flog you a whole new exhaust, but as with the IMRC thing you can tap into much cheaper fixes/bodges online from Ford and ST170 help forums, of which there are a raft – which is either good or bad, depending on your outlook on life.

Here's the original Focus ad:

FORD FOCUS ST170 2003  (£950)
Ford Focus ST170 on 03 plate in silver with half blue leather, 5 door, MOT till march 13, superb runner, recent new clutch which cost £500, CD player power steering, alloys, A/C good overall condition.....small dent in boot, electric window switch intermittant, requires temp sensor easily fixed to make great car... this is the cheapest ST170 you will 07840782724

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (194) Join the discussion on the forum

  • nick-elise 23 Nov 2012

    Not owned an ST, despite the lack of performance I can imagine they are a good drive. I had a MK1 Focus 1.8 and really enjoyed it, just a shame it was rusting to bits!

  • TallTom 23 Nov 2012

    Hmmmmm No

  • StuttgartJem 23 Nov 2012

    It started off so promising, sadly with a 'bump' we cant see, 139k on the clock and a couple of other issues I'd run a mile. The Focus was great but the ST was never really all that in my opinion.

  • Beefmeister 23 Nov 2012

    Forgotten bargains, these. I had an '04 3dr and it must have been one of the good ones, as i felt every one of the 170 horses when driving it. It was a very brisk machine and the handling was a revelation.

    Clean, crisp steering and damping that modern hatches can only dream of. I really did love that car. It was an ex-Dunton managment car though, so unsurprising that it was a good one.

  • big_boz 23 Nov 2012

    To counter the add i have just found 2 for sale that don't have and problems listed, and are cheaper.....

    Also a couple of hundred quid extra bags you one from a dealer with low miles, so at least you have got some SOGA come back.

    Did someone at PH forget to find a SOTW this week and throw this in at the last minute?

    School report style "Must try Harder" I am afraid lads.

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