Ford's Focus ST hot hatch is back, with a mission. Jonathan Crouch takes a drive in the revised version.
Ten Second Review
The improved version of Ford's fourth generation Focus ST is now smarter - and more sophisticated inside. In hatch or estate guise, with manual or paddleshift automatic transmission, it's a car that's easy to get the most from. And a machine you can enjoy to the full on your favourite road without afterwards having to pay for it with the kind of over-firm ride you simply don't want in everyday traffic. Ultimately, so many quick cars can feel.... well, rather irrelevant. Here's one that's anything but....
'ST' is a badge that, when it comes to Ford, stands for 'quick but not concussive', a performance level that sits just above the company's fast-but-family-friendly 'ST-Line' models. A badge applied to the kind of car a red-blooded racer could afford, enjoy and use every day. A car like this - the improved version of the fourth generation Focus ST.
The Focus ST is the kind of car that's always democratised performance, giving you something of the speed of a supercar within the body - and the budget - of something much more ordinary. Other brands promise this kind of thing but in reality, often do little more than bolt a set of spoilers and a turbo onto something more mundane. Ford though, has a different approach, the Blue Oval brand boasting a long history of developing proper performance versions of its mainstream models, designed by enthusiasts to be driven by enthusiasts. That's certainly seems to be what's been delivered with this improved MK4 Focus ST. Let's take a look.
Ford now only offers one engine to Focus ST customers, but it's the one you probably wanted anyway, the 280PS 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol unit. The 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel option has been dropped. Buyers choose between a 6-speed manual gearbox or a quick-shifting 7-speed auto transmission with steering wheel paddleshifters. Selectable Drive Mode technology enables drivers to adjust the car's character to suit the kind of drive experience they want. The various settings tweak steering feel, throttle response and stability control thresholds - plus suspension response too, courtesy of the 'CCD' 'Continuously Controlled Damping' system that further improves the sophisticated 'SLA' multi-link suspension set-up. CCD monitors steering, braking, suspension and body inputs 500 times a second to adjust damping responses to deliver optimal ride comfort and cornering control.
You also get an 'e-LSD' Electronic Limited Slip Differential. The system uses hydraulically activated clutches to limit the engine torque delivered to a wheel that has reduced traction on the road surface, and redistributes up to 100 per cent of available torque to the wheel with more traction to counteract wheel spin that can hamper acceleration through, and out of, corners. You'll want to know how fast it is; well, plenty quick enough. This car offers 420Nm of torque and uses the most free-revving Focus ST engine ever, sprinting to 62mph in less than six seconds.
Design and Build
After a third generation Focus ST that didn't really look dynamic enough, Ford styled the original version of this fourth generation model to have a bit more pavement presence - and that evolution continues with this facelifted design, available as before in hatch and estate forms. It features a bold exterior design with details that include honeycomb upper and lower front grilles, large side vents, side skirts and aerodynamically-optimised spoilers on the lower fascia and rear roof. A smarter design of 18-inch alloy wheel is standard, with optional 19-inch wheels also available. As with other models in the revised Focus range, this updated ST has smarter LED headlamps with built-in foglights. plus the brand badge has been moved from the bonnet to the front grille. And the darker rear tail lamps have a smarter 'loop light' illuminating signature.
Inside, the big (and rather disappointing) new is that Ford no longer offers grippy Recaro front seats to ST customers. The brand reckons that the replacement 'Performance seats' are better - you be the judge. These seats have been given the seal of approval from the leading spinal health organisation Aktion Gesunder Rücken e.V. (AGR) (the Campaign for Healthier Backs). Fourteen-way power seat adjustment, including four-way adjustable lumbar support, helps drivers reach their ideal driving position, while standard seat heating contributes to high levels of comfort.
As with other upper-spec Focus, the improved cabin now features a larger 13.2-inch 'SYNC 4' central touchscreen. In a controversial move, Ford has decided that this monitor should now incorporate the ventilation controls, giving the dashboard a cleaner, less cluttered look. Luggage space still isn't particularly noteworthy either; there's 341-litres of capacity if you load to window level - or 375-litres with a tyre repair kit fitted. A typically-specified Estate model fitted with a mini-spare offers up to 575-litres.
Market and Model
Focus ST pricing starts at around £30,000, so it's no longer the bargain it once was, though Ford points out that this is explained to some extent by the fact that stripped-out entry-level trim packages are no longer offered. There's just a single spec this time round, though you do get the choice of either five-door hatch or Estate body styles, the latter requiring an £1,100 premium. Either way, there's the choice of either a 190PS 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engine or, for around £2,500 more, the 280PS 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol unit that most will want. If you think that premium sounds quite high, bear in mind that it gets you not only a more powerful engine but also adaptive 'CCD' damping and an 'e-LSD' Electronic Limited Slip Differential.
All variants come well equipped with 19-inch 5x2-spoke alloy wheels, Adaptive LED headlamps, LED tail lights and a full body kit including a large rear spoiler, plus there's unique ST Sport suspension. Inside, you'll find part-leather Recaro seats, a 675-watt 10-speaker B&O audio system, alloy pedals, polished stainless steel scuff plates, a heated steering wheel, keyless entry and adaptive cruise control.
Cost of Ownership
The EcoBoost powerplant uses a low-inertia twin-scroll turbocharger, which scavenges exhaust gas energy more effectively using separated channels to minimise interference between gas pulses. An electronically actuated waste-gate allows closer control of boost pressures for optimised engine performance. In addition, a unique exhaust system that reduces back pressure, bespoke air intake system and optimised intercooler further improve breathing.
Let's get to the figures; up to 35.3mpg on the combined cycle and up to 183g/km of CO2 (it's 35.8mpg and 182g/km for the auto).
What else? Well we'll tell you about servicing. Two pre-paid servicing plans are available and maintenance bookings can be done online through the 'My Ford' portal. This is part of the 'Ford BlueService' scheme that wraps up all of the care and maintenance of your car into one bundle that includes a free 30-point 'eCheck' of vital parts and highlights any work required with a red, amber and green traffic light warning to rank items that need attention in order of importance.
Ford hasn't set out to make the fastest hot hatch in the Golf GTI segment here. Or the most wild-looking. Or the most track-ready. If, in buying a car of this kind, your over-riding priorities lie in any of these three areas, there are other rivals we'd point you towards. But if what you'd really like is a car that can combine all those virtues in one very complete package, we'd absolutely direct you to include a Focus ST high up on your wish list.
There's a difference between a mere hot hatch and a properly developed performance car and if you want to know exactly what that is, we'd recommend that you try this Focus, then go and drive one of its rivals. Some may be faster. Others may feel more up-market. But few, if any, are so enjoyable to drive quickly.
This Focus ST is arguably the very definition of what a car of this kind should be, a guilt-free fast hatch with near-supercar performance and technology that's relatively affordable and perfectly practical. You get a class-leading ride and handling balance, plus estate versatility if you want it. All in a car that deserves to be remembered fondly in a fine tradition of fast Fords.