First Drive: Ford Focus ST

The recently refreshed Ford Focus has been going down quite well, with the car striking an excellent balance between refined ride quality and engaging handling.

It’s less clear-cut when looking at the performance end of the range; the ST has always been the effervescent option when compared to more refined and relaxed Volkswagen Golf GTi.

The new Focus ST continues in that vein, especially in the Ecoboost variant, eschewing the comfort and civilisation offered elsewhere for tyre smoking entertainment.

The first clue that this is something to frighten the neighbours comes with the body kit that includes a large rear spoiler, an upper and lower diffuser, centrally mounted exhausts, new front bumper and grille and side skirts.

Combined with some bold colours, notably Race Red, Deep Impact Blue and the now traditional Tangerine Scream, it all ensures that the ST isn’t for shrinking violets keen to remain unnoticed.

On the inside there are a few changes to remind you that you’re in the sporty model, including Recaro seats and a bank of extra dials placed on top of the dashboard. A flat-bottomed steering wheel and ST specific dials, pedals and gear lever finish off the effect, but it not quite as bold as the exterior.

Everywhere else it remains a conventional Ford Focus, which means you get reasonable but not class-leading space in the rear seats and boot. It’s the front seats where all the fun happens though.

When you fire up the engine, things get – if you’ll excuse the pun – more focussed. The 2.0-litre engine pumps out an impressive 250PS, but combines that with a strong torque figure of 360Nm, so the car rockets off the line.

The ubiquitous 0-62mph dash is completed in just 6.5 seconds, but it’s the in-gear acceleration that stands out, making the car feel significantly quicker than the raw figures suggest.

Plant your foot down in first, second or even third gear and the torque vectoring system and transitional stability computers have to work hard to keep things contained. Pulling away from junctions frequently ends up being a noisy affair as rubber is laid down on to the tarmac before the car steps in and calms things down.

Once it’s all gathered up, it builds speed rather more quickly than you might be expecting, with third gear being enough to reach very illegal speeds.

Throw it in to some corners and the stiff suspension, custom designed Michelin tyres and fast steering make hitting the apex an almost telepathic process. It’s intuitive, with few corrections needed once you’ve chosen your course – look down the road at where you want to go, make the run, then hit the power.

At that point, the torque hits and the wheels scrabble for grip again. It’s a hugely entertaining car to drive, with the kind of positive instability that makes the car feel buzzy, agile and alive. It’s a breeze to dart from point to point, although some short shifting is required to keep a bit of that torque away from the front wheels.

The aural feedback from the engine is artificially augmented, but the meaty tone in the cabin sounds great. The illusion is shattered when the revs rise and you can hear the real thing over the simulated noise though, and you’ll be left disappointed in a tunnel. For pedestrians, the noise outside is barely distinguishable from a 1.6 Zetec. Aftermarket exhausts it is, then…

So far, so good. However, once you reach the motorway you’ll find the Focus’ uncompromising outlook on driving entertainment lets the side down. What was beautifully damped suspension on the twisty roads becomes an irritation as the long undulations of the highway make themselves felt every single time. The ST never fully settles, making long journeys a tiring affair, and encouraging you to pull off the three-lane and take to the country lanes.

And that’s where it rewards you, encouraging you to push faster, push harder at every turn, holding you tightly in place in those Recaro seats, giving you the confidence to behave really quite badly before looking after you if you get things slightly wrong.

For everyday use, you might look longingly at the Golf GTI with its comfortable seats and long motorway gearing. Likewise, you might baulk at the £180 annual car tax or claimed 41.5mpg.

However, for all its flaws, the Focus ST will be the one you want to take out at the weekend. The car that leaves you sweating, but smiling.

And that’s what makes a hot hatch.

Model Tested: Ford Focus ST-2 2.0 EcoBoost
Price: £23,995
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Top speed: 154 mph
0-62 mph: 6.5 seconds
Power: 250 PS (247 bhp)
Torque: 360 Nm (266 ft-lb)
Combined fuel economy: 41.5 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 159 g/km
VED Band: G / £180 per year
Car insurance group: 36A
Kerb weight: 1,437 kg

Phil Huff

Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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