The Focus ST is the long awaited successor to Ford’s cheap performance car mantle, and given the success of its predecessors, has a lot to live up to. The Lotus Cortina’s of the sixties and the Cosworth enhanced Escorts from the seventies and nineties are unforgettable, not to mention the turbo all-wheel drive Laser TX3s from the crazy 80’s. The Focus ST is essentially Ford’s formula for cheap thrills in a compact sporty package that still manages to remain surprisingly practical.
Sign up for our Daily
Get daily news, spy shots and more!
Seeing the bright orange paintwork for the first time and hearing the low rumble from the motor told me that the ensuing week with the Ford Focus ST would entail some exciting moments. The fun begins right from the start. Turning the ignition key sees the engine wind up quickly to 2000rpm before settling back to idle, reminding you that there’s something special under the hood. The standout feature of the Focus ST is its mechanical raw sound, which comes from the combination of the Volvo-sourced inline five-cylinder engine and its turbocharged induction system. I’ve got no idea why Ford decided to supply a stereo system with this car. With the windows down, you’ll find that no music can compare to the flurry of its valves and the sweet note from its twin exhaust system.
Shifting through the six-speed transmission is a joy with gear changes coming quickly and smoothly. Strong torque from across the rev-range makes stop-start city driving more livable, with the engine holding its maximum torque of 320Nm from a start of 1600rpm and maintaining this peak until 4000rpm. This translates to strong pull from the Focus ST from most speeds and in any gear, with the engine singing all the way to its 7000rpm redline. A conservative 0.65bar of turbo pressure provides 225hp (166kW) of power, which is enough to propel the car’s 1437kg curb weight plus driver to 100km/h from rest in roughly 7 seconds, all the way to a top speed of 241km/h. Interestingly, this power figure is very close to the now legendary Escort RS Cosworth, but that car was able to put the power down through all four wheels while the Focus ST has to rely on only the front two.
The ride is surprisingly comfortable given the large 18in wheels and firmer chassis. Engineers have placed a more direct steering set-up as well as a cross-member to stiffen the front suspension mounting points. Front and rear springs are now 30% stiffer than the standard Focus, and a new rear anti-roll bar, which is 5% thicker than the original, improves road holding further. The electro-hydraulic power steering system responds faster than the standard Focus, and you have the option of selecting between three different levels of assistance, including comfort, normal and sporty.
Out in the real-world, I quickly found that the Focus ST is more at home on smooth bitumen where it handles with great accuracy and with plenty of grip from its standard 245mm tires. The ST understeers a little going around corners, but giving it some throttle late into the turn brings in the rear end nicely. The Focus ST holds its own on rough surfaces too, tramlining only where the potholes started getting into off-road territory. Slippery surfaces are a different matter because of torque steer causing the front wheels to get unsettled even at relatively low RPMs, making the ST a little skittish to drive in poor weather. Security features such as ABS and ESP work well, with the latter intervening quite late and very discretely. The stoppers are strong, with 320mm ventilated discs up front and 280mm in the back combined with upgraded calipers that work together to slow the ST quickly.
To spruce up the interior, Ford has accentuated the cabin with brushed aluminum highlights, black roof-lining, Recaro bucket seats and a chunky sports steering wheel. On top of the substantially equipped standard model, our test car came with a leather lined interior, xenon headlights and a premium audio system with MP3 playback. The seats are both comfortable and supportive but the rest of the interior is let down by the lackluster dash, which feels down market; a consequence of its budget donor genes.
For the exterior, the Focus ST lays it on much more thickly than other sport hatches. The aggressive front air dam with integrated fog-lights, sporty side skirts and a new tail apron with double exhaust pipes allude to the car’s true potential and aid on-road aerodynamics. However, the garish 18in wheels and plastic rear wing cloud my original impressions of quality, but I’m sure they’ll still have plenty of fans.
The price performance ratio is in-line with its GTI rivals from Volkswagen and the Astra VXR, and the driving is also fun. However, the front-wheel-drive chassis struggles with copious amounts of torque coming from the engine and the ride could be a little more refined, but you’ll forget all this when you roll down your windows and hear the rumble from the engine bay. VeeDub’s GTI still remains the car to beat when it comes to handling, but the Focus ST is quicker in the straights and cheaper to boot.
- Thomas Raleigh
Review: Ford Focus ST