Ford's Focus ST hot hatch is back, with a styling update, improvements to the chassis and the option of a diesel model. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The Focus ST was already one of our favourites. Making it better to drive, improving the looks and the perceived quality, adding a diesel engine and fettling the efficiency a bit has done it no harm at all. If you were about to choose a Golf GTI/GTD, here's one alternative that's going to be worth serious consideration.
It took Ford quite a long time to hit the sweet spot with its Focus ST line. The first stab, the ST170, handled brilliantly but was hobbled by an engine that seemed to have less torque than a salad spinner. Its replacement certainly rectified that, its anvil-like five-cylinder turbo engine offering buckets of torque and character but it also came with a terrifying fuel thirst. Third time round proved the charm, with the Focus getting a modern 2.0-litre turbo engine that was lighter and more efficient.
That third generation Focus ST has been given a good working over in order to keep it looking fresh. The styling's been updated, efficiency has been improved still further with the addition of Auto-Start-Stop, cabin quality improves and there's also a diesel version on offer. Don't worry, Ford hasn't badged it an STD.
So, about those engines. The 250PS 2.0-litre Ecoboost remains the mainstay of the range, getting the ST to 62mph in 6.5 seconds. Peak power is available at 5,500 rpm, 360 Nm of torque is available from 2,000-4,500 rpm, and maximum speed is 154 mph. The diesel is an interesting addition. This takes the existing 2.0 TDCi seen in 150PS guise elsewhere in the Focus range and beefs power up to 185PS, achieved by electronic calibration, a revised air intake system and a sports exhaust. Peak power is developed at 3,500 rpm and there is 400 Nm of torque available from 2,000-2,750 rpm. The car gets to 62 in 8.1 seconds and runs on to a top speed of 135 mph.
Both engines use a six-speed manual transmission with a performance-oriented, short-throw shift. The gear ratios - exclusive to ST and matched individually to each engine - are designed to deliver rapid acceleration in lower gears and comfortable cruising at speed. Other refinements include a Torque Steer Compensation (TSC) system to take the wriggle out of the steering under hard acceleration. There's also a three mode stability control system that can be switched all the way off should you want to acquaint yourself with mid-corner yaw gain on track. Reworked power steering, a torque vectoring system and more focused springs, shock absorbers and bushings complete the dynamic overhaul.
Design and Build
One area where the third generation Focus ST clearly regressed was stance. Ask any petrolhead and they'll tell you that the way a car sits on its wheels is a pretty fundamental part of its visual appeal. Some cars look squat, muscular and purposeful. The third generation ST never really managed that. There was just too much air under its wheel arches and the front end looked high and gawky. Remedial work has very much been conducted with this latest model. The bodykit gives it a lower, wider stance, the bonnet is more aggressively sculpted, there are slimmer headlamps and beady rectangular fog lamps. Other details include twin-hexagonal centre tailpipes, black lamp bezels, ST badging and there's the option of 19-inch ST Design alloy wheels. A dark grey exterior paint colour called Stealth is introduced exclusively to the ST that's part of a colour palette that also includes Deep Impact Blue, Frozen White, Panther Black, Race Red and signature colour Tangerine Scream.
The cabin is well trimmed with a great set of Recaro sports seats with cushion tilt and length adjustment. The dash is now more intuitive, with significantly fewer buttons in the cabin. An ST perennial is the bank of three gauges for boost pressure, oil temperature and oil pressure mounted atop the instrument binnacle. You'll also get a flat-base leather-trimmed sports steering wheel, ST pedals and a satin chrome-topped gear lever. This satin finish carries across to the door grab handles, plus there are illuminated aluminium scuff plates on the door sills.
Market and Model
Prices start at just over £22,000 and there's a choice of either five-door hatch or estate bodystyles with either the 250PS EcoBoost petrol unit or the 185PS TDCi diesel. The ST is still offered in three trim levels, ST1, ST2 and ST3. While precise details of feature availability for each trim option will vary by market, ST1 offers seats trimmed in grey/charcoal/anthracite black fabric while the ST2 adds partial leather with base and side bolsters available in four colours (Tangerine Scream; Performance Blue; Smoke Storm or Race Red). The ST3 seats have a full charcoal black leather finish.
There are a number of technology options that might tempt you to spend a little more than the opening price of around £22,000. There's the Ford SYNC 2 connectivity system which offers access to audio, navigation, climate control and mobile phones using voice control and an 8-inch colour touchscreen. Adaptive Front Lighting adjusts the intensity and angle of the Bi-Xenon HID headlamp beams according to vehicle speed, steering angle and distance to objects to provide optimal illumination. Cross Traffic Alert also is a new addition for Focus ST, and warns drivers reversing from parking spaces if other vehicles are about to cross their path. Then there's Active City Stop collision avoidance system - now operative at speeds of up to 50 km/h (31 mph) - which will ready and apply the brakes if necessary. Finally there's a Lane Keeping Aid which applies a small amount of corrective steering to guide the Focus ST back in to lane if drifting is detected.
Cost of Ownership
If the last Focus ST you drove was the 2.5-litre five-cylinder car, the economy and emissions of the latest model will be a revelation. The petrol-engined version sees economy improve to 41.5mpg on the combined cycle with emissions of 154g/km. Go diesel and you're getting the most fuel efficient and cleanest Ford performance car ever, achieving 67.3mpg on the combined cycle and emitting a modest 114g/km of carbon dioxide. Both models offer Auto-Start-Stop for the first time that improves the EcoBoost version's fuel efficiency by 6 per cent and help make it the most fuel-efficient petrol Focus ST to date.
While fuel bills have been trimmed, you'll still have to consider shopping around for the best insurance quote as you'll probably be looking at pricing commensurate with insurance groups 34 to 36 for the petrol-powered Focus ST. One plus point is the fact that improving efficiency also boosts residual values; one reason why the old 2.5-litre Focus ST can be picked up for virtually clunker money these days.
This is much more than the usual grille, lights and bumpers refresh. The latest Ford Focus ST is better finished and, yes, it looks a whole lot meaner. The addition of a diesel engine is the big news, but don't overlook the changes to the steering and suspension that go to improve what was already an excellent car.
It's worth reminding ourselves how successful the Focus ST has been. Since 2002, it has sold more than 140,000 ST models in 40 countries worldwide. This is no mere halo model designed to showcase what the Focus is capable of. It's a serious contributor to the bottom line of the Focus range and therefore Ford couldn't afford to get it wrong. First impressions suggest they've aced it.