By Andy Enright
Buying a used hot hatch can be fraught with all sorts of pitfalls. Many are thrashed and crashed, some have spent more time on a circuit than on the road and there are others that promise much but fail to deliver. That's certainly not the case with Ford's third generation Focus ST. The first ST, the ST170, was lightweight and a lacking in torque. The second generation model fixed the torque but developed a savage thirst. Third time was the charm, with the ST getting a winning blend of pace and efficiency. Here's what to look for when buying one used.
It's rare for a company with the resources of Ford to find itself caught on the back foot. Yet that's exactly what happened with the 2006-era 2.5-litre Focus ST. The Blue Oval brand reckoned this family hot hatch would sell in bucketloads when it launched the car, but within a year the financial crisis had taken its toll and people no longer wanted thirsty five-cylinder 2.5-litre shopping rockets. All of a sudden, efficiency was the watchword and by 2010, this model was dead. In fact, it wasn't until 2012 that Ford was able to re-launch the Focus ST, this time a car based on the third-generation Focus body and far more of its time, if lacking a little of its predecessor's charisma.
The 2012-era model's EcoBoost 2.0-litre turbo four engine was a good deal less thirsty than its predecessor - and it was quicker to boot. Less weight in the nose made it handle better as well. Ford was rewarded with the Focus ST rapidly ascending to become Europe's top selling sports hatch. In July 2013, Ford gave approval to the Mountune upgrade pack which lifted power to 275PS without affecting warranties. The ST stayed in this form until 2014 when it got a refresh.
What You Get
The Focus ST continues a tradition with 18-inch Y-spoked alloys, in this case wrapped in 235/40R18 Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2 tyres, developed after rigorous testing on all kind of road surfaces and conditions, including the N??rburgring Nordschleife in Germany.
Four colours were initially offered. The signature paint finish is Tangerine Scream but you could also choose Performance Blue, Race Red and White if orange wasn't your thing. The cabin is well trimmed with a great set of Recaro sports seats with cushion tilt and length adjustment. It's good to see that Ford poured resource into all the parts you touch, with custom ST steering wheel, gear lever and pedal set. Space inside is up to the usual Focus standards with access to the rear eased by those hideaway rear doors.
This ST was offered with three distinct trim options, 'ST', 'ST2' and 'ST3', which should be a trim structure familiar to existing ST owners. The 'ST' is the standard model, offering features like cloth Recaro seats, keyless start, front door scuff plates with ST logo and standard ST rear bench with centre armrest. Step up to the Focus 'ST2' and you'll find part leather Recaro seats and dual zone Electronic Automatic Temperature Control (EATC). This level also offered unique ST floor mats, automatic headlamp control, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and automatic wipers. The top spec Focus 'ST3' buillt on this with heated leather Recaro seats with 8-way adjustability and a pull out cushion, plus a Recaro rear bench. 'ST3' customers also benefitted from Bi-Xenon headlamps. A genuinely exciting alternative is the Focus ST estate because, let's face it, estates are just that little bit cooler.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
This Focus has forged an excellent reputation for reliability with only the odd glitch preventing it from reaching top honours. Test clutches to make sure they're not at the end of their travel and ensure that all belt servicing has been performed on the nose. Certainly, given its hot hatch status, any ST will require a bit more of a once over. Check for cremated front tyres, accident damage and performance modifications that could invalidate the warranty.
(approx prices based on a 2012 Focus ST 2.0-litre) An exchange starter motor retails at around £225 while a windscreen will set you back around £320. Expect to pay £400 for an exchange alternator while front brake pads cost £125. An entire headlamp pod will relieve you of £400.
On the Road
The headline figure is that peak power has been raised from the old ST's 222bhp figure to a rather beefier 247bhp. You'll probably expect the torque from a 2.0-litre turbo four to be inferior to that of a 2.5-litre turbo five but where the old car made 320Nm, the EcoBoost engine can muster 360Nm. Less weight, more power and better aerodynamics inevitably translate into better performance and the 2012-era ST will launch to 62mph in 6.5 seconds. What's perhaps more interesting than the raw figures is the work that's gone into making this four-cylinder engine sound just as exciting as the old five pot lump.
A significant part of this process is the reworking of the sound symposer - an amplifier that pipes engine sounds into the cabin - first found on the previous 2.5-litre Focus ST and subsequently employed to devastating effect on the previous generation European Focus RS models. The exhaust system, with centre exit tailpipes, has been tuned to deliver a racy tone when you're pressing on but reverts back to an unobtrusive burble at cruising revs. A six-speed manual gearbox is the only transmission choice.
The Focus ST's Electronic Power Assisted Steering is mated to a Torque Steer Compensation (TSC) system - which will come as a relief to anybody whose last memory of a fast Focus was an early RS. More aggressive tuning of the TSC allows Focus ST drivers to accelerate at full throttle and yet still find grip on roads with uneven surfaces or uneven levels of grip. Further enhancements have also been made to the Focus ST's Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), with emphasis put on driver enjoyment. Drivers will have three modes of ESP to choose from. These can be selected according to weather and road conditions or simply to match the driver's desire for help from additional driving aids. And yes, you can switch it all the way off.
The Mountune kit is well worth looking out for, increasing power from 250 to 275PS and torque from 360Nm to 400Nm. That's due to a bigger intercooler, an alloy air inlet duct, an uprated K&N air filter and an ECU remap. It cost around £1,200 new and offered plenty of extra low-end response, helping to trim the sprint to 62mph down to an even six seconds.
The Ford Focus ST is a class act and still feels fresh and perky. There's little to choose between the cars on offer but the Mountune models are well worth tracking down, offering even more power. Those willing to throw money at a Mountune upgrade are usually willing to invest in their car's oil, tyres and general upkeep. Avoid examples that have had too much in the way of non-factory customisation and check carefully for crash damage or evidence of misaligned tyre wear. The engine and transmissions are tough units, making the ST is one of the better hot hatches to buy used.