What is it? Latest version of the Ford Focus ST hot hatch
Key features: Diesel engine option, hatch or estate body
Our view: For those who want a car that is exhilarating to drive yet well-behaved and comfortable, the Focus ST ticks a lot of boxes.
With the Focus ST and Golf GTI, Ford and Volkswagen take half of the performance hatch market between them – other rivals, such as the Renaultsport Megane, are mere observers to the battle between the two prime contenders.
Volkswagen launched an all-new GTI last year, evolved from the seventh-generation Golf. And now that the new Ford Focus has gone on sale, the ST version has followed close behind.
Some 13 years on from the first Ford Focus ST 170 of 2002, the fourth-generation car offers plenty of headlines. For starters, despite a smaller four cylinder 2.0-litre turbo engine displacing the previous model’s 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit, with 247bhp – 22 horses more than its predecessor – the petrol-engined car is the most powerful ST yet.
It will only be the most potent Focus for a while, however, as a new variant of the even more musclebound Focus RS is on the way, with more than 350bhp…
The downsizing of the petrol engine is in the search for more efficiency, and the 41.5mpg official combined cycle fuel economy and 159g/km CO2 emissions are efficient to a degree unheard of in such cars not so many years ago.
However there is now an even more efficient ST – the latest model can for the first time be specified with a 2.0-litre diesel engine, which when combined with the estate body shell available alonngside the hatch, puts the car for the first time on the radar of user-chooser fleet buyers.
Yet while the diesel boasts very un-performance car fuel economy figures of 67.3mpg and CO2 emissions of a mere 110g/km, it also has only 182bhp, a lot less than its petrol sibling. From rest the diesel hatch reaches 62mph in 8.1 seconds, a full 1.6 seconds slower than the petrol version, which will then go on to 154mph long after the diesel has topped out at 135mph. Surely a typical ST fan would be seriously disappointed by the diesel?
In a word, no. During the launch event, on very challenging roads around Barcelona in Spain, The Executivecondominium made the test as tough as possible by driving the diesel variant after the petrol, and in estate form, which is even slower, but it surprised with its effectiveness.
The clue is possibly in the torque, the pulling power, which in diesel form is 29lbft better than in the petrol. While acceleration and maximum speed figures make the deadlines, the most enjoyment from such a car comes from its cornering ability, and few can match the Focus in this respect.
At the wheel of the diesel through bends of ever-varying severity with plentiful hairpins thrown in, it was easy to forget that this was an estate, and difficult to seriously mark it down compared to the petrol version driven the day before.
Of course the entire Focus line has always been renowned for the quality of its chassis and in the ST, these qualities take a further step up, the addition of a raft of new chassis tech leading the car’s creators to describe it as “the most advanced ST yet”.
Chief amongst the tech is the ‘Enhanced Transitional Stability’ (ETS) system, an industry first according to Ford. Incorporated into the Electronic Stability Control, ETS monitors the car’s stability and the driving style to predict when a loss of control or skid might occur. It then intervenes to try and prevent such dramas by braking individual wheels – even in dramatic direction changes at speed such as suddenly going from one motorway lane to another.
The suspension is retuned with new springs and damper settings, the ESC has three settings (including one which turns most of it, and the ETS, off), and a host of other upgrades make this one of the most complex chassis setups Ford has yet produced.
The important aspect, however, is that it works, very well indeed. The Focus is a delight to drive with enthusiasm. Alongside the inch-perfect cornering and plentiful grip, the Torque Vectoring system provides all the traction needed, just when it is wanted.
Looks are important in this class and the ST will not be confused with a stock Focus – even if the in-your-face ‘Tangerine Scream’ paintwork is not selected (this very bright orange the least popular of the exterior shades, most owners choosing blue).
On the outside the ST gains a new and dominant mesh grille, bespoke bumpers and rear diffuser, rear spoiler and side skirts, and of course specific 19-inch alloy wheels with red brake callipers.
Inside there are Recaro seats, the flat-topped steering wheel with leather, chrome and aluminium liberally applied, and an evocative little additional instrument panel with turbo boost, oil pressure and oil temperature gauges atop the centre console. And all this is applied to the latest Focus instrument layout, much improved over its predecessor with fewer buttons.
It all goes together very well, but perhaps the one major area where the Ford Focus ST will surely score is in its price. At £22,195 (petrol or diesel, there being no price premium for the oil burner), the base model undercuts even a three-door Golf GTI by more than £4,000, and offers more power. The RenaultSport Megane has 15 horsepower over the Focus but again a less practical three doors, and costs £3,700 more.
The out-and-out performance fans will keep patient for now, and await the Focus RS. But for those who want a car that is exhilarating to drive, particularly through a challenging series of bends, yet which is also as well behaved and comfortable to run as a daily driver, the Ford Focus ST ticks a lot of boxes.
Ford Focus ST – key specifications
Model tested: Focus ST 2.0 EcoBoost hatch, 2.0 TDCi wagon
On sale: Jan 2015
Range price: £22,195-£27,095
Insurance group: TBC
Engines: Petrol 2.0. Diesel 2.0
Power (bhp): 246. 182
Torque (lb/ft): 266. 295
0-62mph (sec): 6.5. 8.1 (wagon 0.2 slower)
Top speed (mph): 154. 135
Fuel economy (combined, mpg)*: 41.5. 67.3
CO2 emissions (g/km)*: 159. 110
Key rivals: Volkswagen Golf GTI, Renaultsport Megane 265
Test Date: January 2015
* = with auto start-stop