Ford Focus ST170: Spotted

Looking back, Ford didn't do the ST170 many favours. It was clear to everyone at the time that the exceptionally nice-to-drive first generation of Focus was deserving of a performance variant, and still its maker insisted on waiting four years to deliver one. Then, when it eventually came in 2002, it neglected to give it a fighting chance; the car doomed from the start by the always-fatal combination of too little power and too much weight.

It was also hamstrung in good part because Ford had already endeavoured to make a much better job of it elsewhere. The RS model followed the ST170 into production in the same calendar year, and immediately entered the running for the title of best front-drive hot hatch ever. It too had its foibles - torque steer notoriously among them - but it was festooned with trick components as well, alongside the 212hp which had been liberated from the now turbocharged 2.0-litre engine.

So the RS went - and more importantly, cornered - like a Thomson's gazelle, and the ST170 didn't, and that was rather it for its reputation in the long run. Today, you can expect even a high-mileage example of the RS to set you back more than £10k; the ST170, meanwhile, has found itself a featured Shed on more than one occasion.

Is that entirely fair? Probably not. The model was (and is) inferior to its more famous sibling, but it was priced that way, too - and while it may have ultimately condemned its breathed-on 2.0-litre Zetec engine to ignominy via a turgid six-speed Getrag manual 'box - there was something to be said at least for the ST170's way of doing things.

For a start, it did rather look the part. Easy now to forget the impact crater created by the Focus's New Edge styling language, but, at the time, it was unquestionably Lily Collins to the Escort's Phil and it's not unreasonable to think that the ST170 - rather than the RS - represented the Mk1 at its eye-pleasing peak. Certainly it was nicer (or at least, more subtle) inside where you got an understated half-leather colour scheme instead of the garish blue on black.

It was obviously toned down in the driving, too, but not to the detriment of the Focus's free-flowing chassis, which did a fine job of harnessing its Control Blade suspension to full effect. The sophisticated quality of its damping dovetailed nicely with the feedback-happy steering, ensuring that the car delivered an oily sort of satisfaction to the driver even with the stodgy gearchange.

It was enough at any rate to furnish the ST170 with a respectable fanbase, and in 2005 howmanyleft reckons there was more than 12,500 registered in the UK. Now there's a lot less than half that, which goes someway to explaining how the asking price of today's Spotted has crept up to an optimistic £4,250. Low mileage, three doors and the best colour help to fill out the dealer's thinking, although it's worth pointing out that the same budget buys you an equally well looked after - and much quicker - EP3 Civic Type R. Which, of course, was high among the ST170's issues the first time around...


Engine: 1,988cc, 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 172@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 145@5,500rpm
MPG: 39
CO2: 218g/km
Year registered: 2004
Recorded mileage: 54,000
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £4,250

See the orginal advert here.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (82) Join the discussion on the forum

  • andy97 31 Jan 2019

    These don't seem to have much love, and I am sure that they are not best of the breed, or even best of the "warm hatch backs", but they are cheap to buy (the one here seems very optimistically priced), cheap to run, have a good chassis and every scrap yard in the country will probably have Focus parts available if needed.

    For £1-2k, I would have thought that they would be a good very used buy.

  • DBSnappa 31 Jan 2019

    I have one of these, it’s my work car. I’m a cabinet maker, so it gets worked hard and cosmetically it’s quite tatty now.
    It’s pretty reliable. It’s had one MOT advisory in the last ten years and that was for a gash in a tyre sidewall.
    It’s fuel economy is pretty bad around town. It isn’t quick. The clutch is pretty heavy (I live in London) and the ride is pretty firm. The gearbox isn’t that bad. I still think the mk1 Focus is a very elegant looking car.
    I’ve driven a straight 2.0l and to be frank, it felt as fast and nicer to drive without the bigger wheels, heavy clutch, industrial gearbox and hard ride. In my opinion the ST is not a great car and never was. It kinda ruins a great car.
    The dealer is really taking the urine with that price.

  • lee_erm 31 Jan 2019

    A better chassis than the Type R though.

  • Roon205 31 Jan 2019

    I’ve driven one of these a fair bit due to a friend owning one. Engine is a odd one it really has to be revved to get any sort of performance out of it unless your ready at 5k and happy to hang on till 7k it in every gear most less powered diesels will catch you out.

    But smash it through the box like a teenager and it feels great think as a track car it would come into its own.

    Chassis well it’s a Ford Focus was ace! But that gearbox wtf did they do I’ll never know. Has zero redeeming qualities and ruins the drive tbh.

    A flawed car indeed.

  • s m 31 Jan 2019

    Isn't the gearbox the same as on the facelift R53 Mini Cooper S ( some minor changes ).

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