By Jonathan Crouch
The much improved third generation Focus ST that Ford launched in 2015 was smarter, classier and more dynamically adept. In hatch or estate guise, with petrol or diesel power, it proved to be a car that was easier to get the most from. And a machine that buyers could enjoy to the full on their favourite roads without afterwards having to pay for it with the kind of over-firm ride that they simply wouldn't want in everyday traffic. Ultimately, so many quick cars can feel.. well, rather irrelevant. Here's one that's anything but. Let's check it out as a used buy.
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 'Zetec-S' models. But just below their track-spec RS derivatives. A badge applied to the kind of car a red-blooded racer could afford, enjoy and use every day. A car like this - the much improved third generation Focus ST that sold between 2015 and 2018.
It's the kind of car that's always democratised performance, giving you 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 ordinary. 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 was a perfect definition for the very first properly quick ST Focus, the MK2 model of 2005. That car was rapid, both in speed and in the way that its 225PS 2.5-litre turbo engine drained its fuel tank in next to no time. Hence the need for this third generation version, a design first launched in 2012 and a model in which Blue Oval motorsport DNA had to be matched with manageable running costs. Ultimately, it was a car that had to be as adept at cruising to Silverstone as it would be when lapping it.
In principle, this sounded suspiciously like a recipe for compromise - the kind of thing indeed you'd expect might have been necessary from what was the company's very first global performance model, a car developed in one spec for over forty worldwide markets. In fact though, the original version of this ST turned out to be a very likeable family hot hatch indeed. Its EcoBoost turbo petrol powerplant was efficient, pricing was very affordable and the car was blessed with a class-leading ride and handling combination. It wasn't perfect mind you. There were prettier contenders to be found in the Focus-sized shopping rocket segment - and certainly plenty with much higher quality interiors. Plus drivers wanting to use this Focus's full 250PS in anything but a straight line often had to cope with a bit of torquesteer and general waywardness.
Fortunately, Ford had a package of improvements in mind and has delivered them with the improved facelifted MK3 model we're going to look at here as a used buy, a car first brought to market early in 2015. It was certainly much smarter and with this version, ST buyers got the option of diesel power for the first time, available alongside a more sonorous and slightly more efficient version of the same EcoBoost petrol unit the car had before. Either way, the engineers reckoned that handling modifications would enable owners to transmit torque to tarmac a little more easily than had been possible before. While inside, the company claimed to have provided a much nicer cabin that would narrow the quality gap to this car's much pricier Golf GTI arch-rival. This improved MK3 Focus ST sold until 2018, when an all-new Focus range was launched.
What You Get
Ford has learnt sporting subtlety in recent years - to the point where you might even find this Focus ST's aesthetics a little on the modest side, especially if you opt for the practical estate bodystyle that's offered as an alternative to the five-door hatch. There was no rakish three-door option, but the stylists did their best to spice up the two more practical body shapes that were on offer with careful detailing that offered a more muscular take on the kinetic design of the standard model.
And inside? Well, take a seat and at first glance, things are much as with the original version of this third generation design, the cockpit marked out from that of humbler Focus models primarily by two 'ST'-model hallmarks. First up, most will love the grippy Recaro sports seats, chairs that might be a little tight for those over-familiar with the offerings of Colonel Sanders. The other key ST distinguishing feature can be found on top of the dash with a bank of three extra gauges that deal with turbo boost pressure, oil temperature and oil pressure and are there to serve as a nice visual throwback to legendary fast Fords of the past like the Escort Mexico. The sports pedals and satin chrome-topped gearknob are bespoke-fit items, as is the steering wheel, a flat-bottomed multi-function item with soft-feel leather trim.
For those familiar with the pre-facelifted version of this model, the main improvement will be the cleaner, classier look of the dash. Go for a version of this car with Ford's SYNC 2 infotainment system and many of the functions that would have previously been dealt with by fascia controls are accessible via menus in the 8-inch colour touchscreen.
As for rear seat space, well fears that the curved rear roofline will severely compromise headroom turn out to be groundless, though the wedgy side profile does hem you in with a slightly higher window line. You sit high-ishly positioned for a good view of the road ahead and both head and legroom are adequate, even for a couple of six-footers. As usual with cars in this class, three adults will be rather squashed here, but a trip of kids should find the space provided quite sufficient.
And out back? Well, when evaluating boot space, you have to take into account that this Focus uses the kind of sophisticated multi-link rear suspension set-up that many rivals make you do without. This is bulkier than a cruder set-up, which is why when you lift the rear hatch, you'll find slightly less cargo room than rival models will offer. In this estate version, for example, there's 476-litres on offer - and you only get that if you find a car whose original owner chose to do without the optional space-saver spare wheel. In comparison, a SEAT Leon ST Cupra Estate would give you 587-litres, while a Volkswagen Golf GTD Estate would give you 605-litres. Most Focus ST buyers will be opting for the hatch model which offers 316-litres without any kind of spare wheel - again, some way behind the class norm.
Will that be an issue for potential Focus ST customers? Well, it didn't seem to be with the original version of this car. Plus of course you can push the 60/40 split folding rear bench forward, though you do have to flip the seat bases up first, which is a bit fiddly. Still, once that process is completed, you get a completely flat load area and as much as 1,502-litres can be freed up in this estate model - or 1,101-litres in the hatch.
What to Look For
We found lots of satisfied MK3 Focus ST customers but inevitably, our survey revealed quite a few issues too. In one instance, a gearshift gaiter came way. In another, the Ford badges started to fade. Rattly interiors are quite common, so check on your test drive and re-negotiate if necessary. Another typical faulty is a DAB tuner that doesn't work. Often iPod/phone connectivity ports/systems stop working too, so connect up and try these. Check for kerbing damage to the wheels which not only looks awful but could also be a sign that there may be suspension damage or that the steering geometry is out of alignment. If the tyres have been worn out due to the driving style, then it's worth also checking the suspension and steering components for wear.
If the engine bay has been steam cleaned ask why. It's not normal practice to do this when selling a car, unless something is trying to be hidden. Check underneath the engine for any drips or leaks. If you are at the private seller's address, ask where they usually park the car and look for signs of leaks on the ground. Check all fluid levels before starting the car and it's best to view the car when the engine is cold. This way you get to hear the engine as it would sound when you start it up every morning. You don't want a noisy engine. If the engine is warm as you arrive to view, it could be hiding a cold start issue or a rattle/noise. Either feel the bonnet for warmth or check the temperature gauge on the instrument cluster.
Check in the engine bay for any signs of crash damage. Check that all the front end pieces are secure and not loose; the grilles, bumper, front panel, headlights etc. It is also worth getting an HPI report to see if there are records of the vehicle being damaged or written off. For a small fee it is well worth it, as the seller could be hiding something about the car and it's just not worth taking the risk of not checking. If the car has been written off or accident repaired, the front page of the V5-log book will show this at the bottom of the page. This means that the vehicle is recorded as such and will forever be on file for the car. This decreases the value of the car and you are best off going to find a non-damaged car, as there are plenty out there.
And overall? Well if there are issues, then weigh up the hassle of rectifying them. If that's prohibitive, walk away. There are plenty of other examples of this model there. Good websites you could try for information include focusstoc.com (owners forum), profile-automotive.co.uk (a helpful specialist) and mountuneperformance.co.uk (if you want a power boost).
(approx based on a 2015 Focus ST 2.0 EcoBoost 250PS - Ex Vat) An air filter for a petrol Focus ST will set you back between £11 and £24; and an oil filter will be between £5 and £8. Front brake pads will be in the £31-£46 bracket. Rear brake pads will be in the £18-£38 bracket, though you could pay up to around £63 for pricier brands. Front brake discs will be around £102. Rear brake discs will be in the £37-£66 bracket. Front brake callipers are around £168. Wiper blades cost around £10. An ignition coil is around £45. A radiator is around £147.
* On The Road
On the Road
On the move, this ST gets its torque to the tarmac with a little more decorum in improved MK3 form thanks to a stiffer front-end body structure, revised front springs and sportier tuning for the shock absorbers. Plus there are clever Electronic Torque Vectoring Control and Torque Steer Compensation systems, creating a hot hatch you can more readily enjoy at speed either on track or on your favourite twisting road. Real enthusiasts will want the 250PS 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol version, which makes 62mph in just 6.5s on the way to 154mph flat out. There's also though, the option of a 2.0-litre TDCi diesel variant too. Here, ultimate power output falls to 185PS but torque actually increases from 360Nm to 400Nm. Either way, the engine note sounds great thanks to the way that it's enhanced through the cabin speakers.
The significant dynamic improvement here was one that Ford managed to deliver without affecting the most impressive thing about the original version of this car - its ride and handling balance. Whether the lap you're completing is of Silverstone or your local one-way system, this Ford'll be fine with it. Not that this is intended as a trackday tearaway. If that's what you want, then a harder-edged hot hatch like a Megane Renaultsport will suit you better. This Focus ST isn't really that sort of car: think of it as more like a Golf GTI with a bit of added extra bite and you'll be closer to the mark.
Let's be clear: the original version of this MK3 model Focus ST was a very good car indeed. But it wasn't as involving and rewarding as its little Fiesta ST stablemate. It wasn't the car it could have been: in this revised form though, all that changed. 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 from the 2015-2018 era. Some may be faster. Others may feel more up-market. But none are so enjoyable to drive quickly.
This revised third generation Focus ST design feels far more comfortable transmitting its torque to the tarmac and, almost as importantly, Ford made the whole process sound more exciting too. Put everything together and the result is the only everyday-usable contender in this class from this era that we'd also want to take on track. On top of that, the smarter looks represented a decent improvement and the classier cabin a big step forward, if still not quite a match for the best that rivals could offer.
This apart though, there's little else to criticise here. This Focus ST is, after all, 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, estate versatility if you want it and the option of low diesel running costs if that's needed. All without compromise in a car that deserves to be remembered fondly in a fine tradition of fast Fords.