Automotive

Review: Ford's Focus ST is a fun, fast performance bargain

The Ford Focus ST strikes a fine balance between stiffness and everyday comfort
The Ford Focus ST strikes a fine balance between stiffness and everyday comfort
View 20 Images
The Ford Focus ST strikes a fine balance between stiffness and everyday comfort
1/20
The Ford Focus ST strikes a fine balance between stiffness and everyday comfort
Unlike in some cars, when you turn off ESP in the Focus it won't come back until you switch it on again - no matter how crazy your driving gets
2/20
Unlike in some cars, when you turn off ESP in the Focus it won't come back until you switch it on again - no matter how crazy your driving gets
The redesigned rear end on the Focus is a hige improvement over its predecessor's fussy design
3/20
The redesigned rear end on the Focus is a hige improvement over its predecessor's fussy design
There are definite touches of the boy-racer about the Focus' design, but we're big fans of the way it looks – even the flat "Stealth Grey" finish looks good
4/20
There are definite touches of the boy-racer about the Focus' design, but we're big fans of the way it looks – even the flat "Stealth Grey" finish looks good
Ford has built a formidable reputation for the ST badge thanks to cars like the fantastic little Fiesta ST
5/20
Ford has built a formidable reputation for the ST badge thanks to cars like the fantastic little Fiesta ST
There's plenty of fun to be had from here thanks to the Focus' playful handling balance
6/20
There's plenty of fun to be had from here thanks to the Focus' playful handling balance
The 2.0-liter EcoBoost is a punchy little engine, with enough torque to leave it a gear higher than you normally would
7/20
The 2.0-liter EcoBoost is a punchy little engine, with enough torque to leave it a gear higher than you normally would
Like everything out of the Recaro factory, the Focus' seats hold you tight
8/20
Like everything out of the Recaro factory, the Focus' seats hold you tight
The interior is finished to a higher standard than the Renault Megane we drove last year, but there's still lots of racy touches around the cabin
9/20
The interior is finished to a higher standard than the Renault Megane we drove last year, but there's still lots of racy touches around the cabin
There's a range of displays available on the binnacle screen, but the big speedo is the most useful for anyone who values the points on their license
10/20
There's a range of displays available on the binnacle screen, but the big speedo is the most useful for anyone who values the points on their license
The little boost gauge is another childish touch that makes the cabin feel that little bit more special
11/20
The little boost gauge is another childish touch that makes the cabin feel that little bit more special
There's no automatic option, with Ford's slick-shifting six speeder the only option. Thankfully it's a beautiful gearbox, and well matched to the light clutch pedal
12/20
There's no automatic option, with Ford's slick-shifting six speeder the only option. Thankfully it's a beautiful gearbox, and well matched to the light clutch pedal
There was a bit of debate in the office about the ST's styling, but for the most part people liked the upgraded styling
13/20
There was a bit of debate in the office about the ST's styling, but for the most part people liked the upgraded styling
We're not sure if there's any real downforce created by the rear wing, but it fits in with the car's slight boy racer bent
14/20
We're not sure if there's any real downforce created by the rear wing, but it fits in with the car's slight boy racer bent
Thanks to 340 Nm of torque, the ST will make the steering wheel writhe about in your hands under power
15/20
Thanks to 340 Nm of torque, the ST will make the steering wheel writhe about in your hands under power
The car turns in nicely and grips well, but you can bring the back end into play with just a slight lift off the throttle
16/20
The car turns in nicely and grips well, but you can bring the back end into play with just a slight lift off the throttle
The funky-shaped exhaust is real, not just a fake for styling purposes
17/20
The funky-shaped exhaust is real, not just a fake for styling purposes
Ford hasn't changed the design of its snowflake alloy wheels all that much since the last generation ST, but they still look fantastic
18/20
Ford hasn't changed the design of its snowflake alloy wheels all that much since the last generation ST, but they still look fantastic
There are definite touches of the boy-racer about the Focus' design, but we're big fans of the way it looks
19/20
There are definite touches of the boy-racer about the Focus' design, but we're big fans of the way it looks
The special ST lighting on the door sills is a small touch, but looks fantastic at night
20/20
The special ST lighting on the door sills is a small touch, but looks fantastic at night

Here at Gizmag, we love the combination of pace and practicality offered up by the best hot hatches. So you can imagine our excitement at the prospect of spending a week behind the wheel of Ford's Focus ST, a hot hatch that proves just at home on the daily grind as it is on the open road.

The Focus ST is up against some stiff competition in the hot hatch game, because almost every niche in the market has been plugged. The Golf GTi has established itself as the hatch of choice for anyone who prioritizes everyday comfort over trackday performance, while the RenaultSport Megane is rough and ready racer that will show cars two, or even three times the price a clean set of heels on your favourite twisty road.

The redesigned rear end on the Focus is a hige improvement over its predecessor's fussy design
The redesigned rear end on the Focus is a hige improvement over its predecessor's fussy design

Throw the Peugeot 308 GTi, Alfa Romeo Gulietta QV and Vauxhall Astra VXR into play, and you can see Ford doesn't exactly have things easy.

Thankfully, anything with an ST badge on the back has pedigree. From the Escort Cosworth to the fantastic little Fiesta ST, Ford seems to have a way of taking ordinary cars and making them special, without breaking the bank. So, does the Focus ST live up to its impressive lineage?

From the outside the new generation ST edges away from the over-the-top boy racer looks of its predecessor, swapping them for a neater, more grown up style. That said, there's still enough tinsel to keep the kids among us excited. There's 18 inch snowflake alloys, a funky center-mounted exhaust, a roof spoiler, and a front splitter that juts out like a spoiled child's bottom lip.

Compared to the Golf GTi's austere exterior, it looks purposeful and racy, even if it can't match the two-door Megane for visual drama.

The funky-shaped exhaust is real, not just a fake for styling purposes
The funky-shaped exhaust is real, not just a fake for styling purposes

Stepping into the cabin reveals another huge improvement. Gone is the fussy center stack and ugly steering wheel, replaced by Ford's SYNC 2 touchscreen and a beautiful new leather-wrapped three-spoke wheel. There's also a set of Recaro buckets that, like everything else that makes its way out of the Recaro factory, are absolutely fantastic. They're supportive and grab your ribcage like a teddybear with abandonment issues, although they could do with a bit more under thigh support for taller drivers.

Thankfully, the racy Recaros aren't writing checks the car's chassis can't cash. Ford has taken the criticism leveled at the last generation of the ST to heart and fitted the car with new front springs and engine mounts, as well as tweaking the steering and torque vectoring to make sure it delivers a slightly more mature driving experience than its unruly predecessor.

The interior is finished to a higher standard than the Renault Megane we drove last year, but there's still lots of racy touches around the cabin
The interior is finished to a higher standard than the Renault Megane we drove last year, but there's still lots of racy touches around the cabin

There's plenty of grip to be had from the front tires, and the car turns in sharply. If you're so inclined you can bring the back end into play by throwing it into a corner under power and then lifting off, but it never feels like it's going to try and send you flying backwards and screaming out of a corner. You've got to be really pushing things to make it understeer, and it's not fast Audi-style front-end push: instead, the car just gently lets you know that you're pushing the edge of what it can do.

The damping strikes a good balance between the full on, boy racer stiffness you need on the track and the compliance you need for everyday driving around town. It's not exactly a featherbed, but that's a small tradeoff to make when the car feels so composed when you start throwing it around.

You'll never be left wanting for more performance, either. Of course, there's 184 kW (247 hp) on tap from 5,000 rpm if you want to row the slick-shifting gearbox, but lazy drivers can just leave the car in third gear and surf the 345 Nm (254 ft-lb) that's available from just 2,000 rpm.

So the handling hits the sweet spot between fun and controlled, but most drivers won't spend their time exploring the Focus' handling balance. They're likely to be commuting, and running errands, and putting their kids' things in the boot. How does the Focus tackle the daily grind?

The 2.0-liter EcoBoost is a punchy little engine, with enough torque to leave it a gear higher than you normally would
The 2.0-liter EcoBoost is a punchy little engine, with enough torque to leave it a gear higher than you normally would

Around town it feels reasonably grown up, which is absolutely crucial if Ford is to poach members of the Golf club. The ride has been made stiffer than it was in the last ST, but it's still far softer than the Megane R.S we drove last year. Visibility is good, the clutch is light and the EcoBoost motor's 345 Nm of torque means you can leave it in third gear and just lean on the throttle to get around.

It's so flexible we actually found ourselves leaving it in third when you'd usually need second, and you can leave it in sixth gear on the freeway without worrying your left leg when it comes time to overtake.

Dropping it down a few gears gives you a wave of extra performance, but also introduces rampant torque steer into the mix. Punching the throttle in any of the first three gears sets the wheel wriggling and shaking about in your hands. Compared to the five-cylinder ST that came before it's positively refined and relaxed, but it will still catch you out if you're not paying attention.

There's no automatic option, with Ford's slick-shifting six speeder the only option. Thankfully it's a beautiful gearbox, and well matched to the light clutch pedal
There's no automatic option, with Ford's slick-shifting six speeder the only option. Thankfully it's a beautiful gearbox, and well matched to the light clutch pedal

To be honest, it's not the sort of thing we'd worry too much about. After all, in a world where enthusiasts are constantly complaining about the lack of involvement offered up by modern cars, it seems a bit hypocritical to whinge about a wheel that wriggles around in your hands under power.

The only real blight on the ST's around town credentials is its turning circle, which would be familiar to bus drivers and cruise ship captains. Because the Focus is, at its core, a city car, its wheelarches are only designed to hold skinny eco tires. Ford has fitted 235-section front tires to the ST, which are neither skinny, nor eco-minded.

Ford hasn't changed the design of its snowflake alloy wheels all that much since the last generation ST, but they still look fantastic
Ford hasn't changed the design of its snowflake alloy wheels all that much since the last generation ST, but they still look fantastic

It's not a huge issue if you live on a wide suburban street, but for people who live in cities or have to park in tight laneway garages it could be a huge turn off. It may be something you wouldn't notice on the test drive, but we'd love to have a camera on the happy new owner's face as they realize they're going to have to make a three point turn every night to get into the garage.

Those wide tires also create a fair bit of road noise on Australia's (admittedly often rubbish) roads. It might not be an issue on the billiard-table smooth roads around Ford Performance HQ in Belgium, but on the coarse chip highways around the back of Angelsea where we took the car it was a noticeable blight on the ST's newfound refinement.

These small black marks in the refinement shrink further when you consider the car's price. Sitting at AUD$42,000 (US$24,500) the ST undercuts the Golf GTi by at least AUD$4,000 (US$2,800) – and that's before you start ticking boxes on the VW's option list. It might not be quite as quiet as the VW, but it's punching well above its price point when it comes to performance, handling and standard equipment.

At that price, the Focus ST is a performance bargain. A good looking, sharp handling bargain that can take it up to the best in class.

Product page: Ford

5 comments
Hugh Lokey
The current generation Golf GTI with Performance Package is a much better can than the Focus ST - on paper the Focus has more HP and torque but on the race track the GTI will beat it every time due to the fact that the GTI can get all its power to the pavement with zero torque steer. The GTI is also a much nicer car when it comes to the interior and overall fit and finish. The DSG transmission in the GTI is outstanding and Ford does not offer anything but a manual in the ST and RS while VW gives you a choice in both the GTI and Golf R.
frogola
go ford.
bergamot69
I have to say this Focus doesn't impress me with it's styling- really, all those plastic 'cod-piece' extrusions and ugly alloys (must all fast Fords come with hideous alloys?), and red brake calipers, etc- this one is for men who still wear their baseball hats backwards, and can afford a car like this because they still live at home with their parents. Great for hanging round with the other rally driver wannabees outside McDonald's. Now, the Golf GTi doesn't have particularly pretty wheels either, but it looks a good deal less plasticky, less 'shouty', and a good deal more grown-up. It's something the Golf has always done really well, even when in certain previous generations it was too lard-arsed to really shine as a true hot-hatch. Especially when relatively humble versions of the Mk1 Focus showed what a well-developed chassis could do down a British B road. Nowadays the Golf is the car to have.
MotorcruzeAdmin
Those scorpion alloys and cool looking exhaust pipes give the Ford Focus ST the much need attraction.
Michael Wilson
The Focus ST is about 4-5 grand cheaper than the Golf GTI. That being said though, the GTI is a nicer drive. The shifter is buttery smooth in the golf and it can also be had in DSG. The Focus ST is a more entertaining drive though. If i had to choose between the two, the GTI would be the daily driver, and I would pick a focus ST, with cobb tuning for a weekend mobile.