Ford has a lot riding on the success of the new Focus ST. Billed as the company's first global performance car, the ST has the unenviable task of appealing to British and European petrol-heads, whilst also convincing our American, Japanese and even Chinese counterparts that it is the best choice for them in what is a hugely competitive marketplace. Is it the perfect compromise of practicality and performance or is this souped up Focus destined to disappoint?
The Focus is often a challenging thing to look at thanks to its fussy front and rear light clusters and busy, over-styled bodywork, but the duckling becomes something of a swan in ST guise. The primary air intake is now enormous and gives the car the look of a possessed basking shark intent of swallowing anything stupid enough not to move over. The rear gets a sportier treatment, too, thanks to a slick centre-mounted twin exhaust and a large roof spoiler. The 18-inch wheels make a bold statement, but none so bold as the garish, but oddly appealing tangerine scream signature paint finish.
Unlike the previous model, the new ST is only available as a five door (though an estate model will follow shortly). This makes it eminently more practical than any performance Ford hatchback that came before it. There is plenty of space in the rear, so long as those in front aren't freakishly tall or freakishly selfish with their seat positioning and there is enough headroom for all but the most outrageously beehived of travellers. The boot is capacious enough, offering 316 litres of room with the seats up and 1,101 litres with the rear pews folded down. There is a considerable lip at the entrance to the boot, which makes sliding awkward or heavy loads slightly more difficult than it should be, but experienced Ikea go-ers will learn to live with this.
At the front of the cabin, all versions of the Focus ST come with Recaro racing seats. They're incredibly supportive, with side bolsters that won't let you move an inch during even vigorous driving, but they hold your hips so tightly you'll feel slightly violated after every journey. Those with particularly large backsides or broad hips may find it difficult to get comfortable, so you may need to hit the gym before you slide your body onto these pews. A Recaro 3-seater bench is available for rear passengers on ST2 and ST3 trim levels, with ST3 versions benefiting from a leather finish.
All versions get good stowage space in the cabin courtesy of decent-sized the door bins and a bucket-style cubby below the centre armrest. You'll struggle to fit much in the glove box, which is annoyingly small.
Performance & Handling
The Focus ST potters about town in subdued fashion. Its throttle response is relatively forgiving, so there are no sudden forward lunges. The power delivery is linear and comes on in predictable fashion. Its clutch has a nice weight to it and gear changes via the short-throw six-speed shifter won't leave you with an abnormally buff left bicep. Around town, the only clues to this car's performance orientation is the slightly firm suspension -- the rear suspension in particular is stiffer than the previous ST's -- and the more direct steering. The steering wheel on the standard Focus requires 2.6 turns lock to lock but here, the ST is more go-kart-like, requiring just 1.8 turns of the wheel to reach extreme left or right lock.
Push on enthusiastically and the Focus ST switches from sedate to near satanic. Its 2-litre direct injected 4-cylinder engine may be less impressive, on paper at least, than the 2.5-litre 5-cylinder lump in the last Focus ST (indeed, it produces 247bhp as opposed to the previous car's 222bhp) but acceleration is just as brutal. It'll slaughter 0-60mph in the same 6.5 seconds with the steering tugging in your hands slightly in the way all front-wheel-drive performance Fords should. The company has taken measures to reduce this torque steer, primarily through the use of software in the ESP system, but the fact the car fights you slightly as the front wheels struggle to deliver simultaneous power and control is oddly rewarding.
It's not shy of a few bends, either. There is some body roll but it serves only to communicate the fact the car's suspension has loaded up fully in the depths of the bend, giving you the signal to finesse the steering wheel towards the apex or unwind it as you prod the accelerator for yet another burst of power. The whole thing sounds great, too, Ford's sound symposer system piping the engine note directly in the cabin for your enjoyment. If we had one gripe, it'd be the almost complete lack of feel in the electrically-assisted steering. At speed the wheel communicates so little about what the front wheels are doing it can feel like performing keyhole surgery with a dead arm -- we assume.
Equipment & Value
Three trim levels are available. The entry-level Focus ST will set you back £21,995 and comes with 18-inch alloys, Recaro seats shod in cloth, manual air conditioning, keyless push-button start, DAB radio, aux and USB connectivity and -- for the first time on UK Ford cars -- the Sync voice control system. ST2 adds part-leather Recaro sports seats, a Sony-branded stereo with a 4.3-inch screen, dual-zone automatic temperature control, heated windscreen, automatic lights, auto-dimming rear view mirror and ST floor mats front and rear. ST3 gets you the all of this plus full-leather, heated Recaro seats at the front, a 3-person Recaro rear bench lot shod in leather.
There are plenty of options to customise your ST2 or ST3. The ST style pack is one for those who like to show off. This £275 upgrade consists of 18-inch wheels finished in Rado Grey, red front and rear disc brake calipers and illuminated scuff plates. A Sony-branded stereo system will set you back £750 but this includes a rear view camera, navigation, 9 speakers, and a five inch colour screen. The driver assistance pack, which includes lane departure warning, driver fatigue alert, blind spot information system and active city stop goes for £850.
Tangerine scream paintwork is a £745 option.
Economy & Environment
The switch from a 2.5-litre engine to an aluminium 2-litre model makes this ST a much more frugal and efficient proposition than the last. Carbon dioxide emissions of 169g/km place the car in the £185 per year band H, but combined fuel economy of 39.2mpg means it's one of the few performance cars you can just about afford to keep on the road. Around town, Ford says the car will return 28.5mpg, which seems just about realistic if you resist the temptation to floor it (you won't). We achieved 20mpg with a mixture of city, motorway and track driving -- an impressive overall figure given how hard we pushed.
The standard Ford Focus received an excellent safety rating from Euro NCAP, so it's safe to assume this variant won't fold too badly in a prang. It chalked up an overall five-star score with adult and child occupant protection of 92 per cent and 82 per cent respectively. Its 72 per cent pedestrian protection score isn't to be scoffed at, either. This is one of a new breed of cars that will actively detect jaywalkers and apply the brakes to a standstill if you fail to notice or react in time. The ST will also warn you when you're drifting out of your lane (and actively steer you back into the centre) has a blind spot warning system and will warn the driver if it thinks he is suffering from fatigue.
The Focus ST is, in a word, brilliant. It combines all the best aspects of the standard car, namely excellent ride and handling, practicality and a wealth of new technology, with an engine that delivers the goods when you press on. It's fast, holds the road beautifully and is without question one of the finest hot hatchbacks money can buy. Many will argue it's not quite as good as a Golf GTI, but Volkswagen's offering is a different proposition, more expensive, more powerful. The ST manages to hold its own against such esteemed competition, though -- and is a more than adequate stopgap until its big brother, the Focus RS arrives.
Model tested: Ford Focus ST-1
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo
Acceleration: 0-62 in 6.5 seconds
Top speed: 154mph
Emissions: 169g/km CO2