| First Drive | Buxted, East Sussex | Ford Focus ST |
Even in standard guise the Focus
is a hugely entertaining drive. That gave Ford's TeamRS the perfect basis for a sporting flagship and when the ST arrived back in 2005
it quickly gained the reputation as the hot hatch to beat. Things have changed a bit since then; Renault's Mégane
has been continually improved, there's a bonkers-power Mazda3 MPS
on offer and Honda's Civic Type R
offers high-rev antics for purists. The ST has remained among the top players though, certainly when talking about power outputs, and with the Focus getting a mid-life refresh the ST's been getting a few enhancements of its own.
In the Metal
After the original Focus the second-generation car
failed to excite the eye, it rather slab-sided and heavy in its detailing. With the facelift, Ford has addressed this, changing every bit of sheet metal except for the roof. There are bolder feature lines on the flanks, as well as new headlamps and grille topped off by a new bonnet. A reshaped bootlid features around the back, along with revised tail lights. The changes are effective on the standard Focus range, but when the additional sporting kit is added to create the ST, the sharper lines are even more obvious.
The styling changes give the ST a lighter, more athletic look - though we'd probably avoid the retina-straining orange of our test car. While the visual updates are rather extensive, Ford has sensibly left much of the rest of the car well alone. So it's still powered by the same turbocharged 2.5-litre, five-cylinder Volvo-sourced engine, driving through the same six-speed manual transmission and riding on unaltered suspension. With Ford introducing a twin-clutch auto into the range don't be surprised if a paddle-shifter option makes its way onto the ST's spec sheets in time, to take on VW's Golf GTI DSG
What you get for your Money
Here is a Focus that's capable of lapping the Nordschleife in 8 minutes and 35 seconds. Aside from the new look there's little different to the ST. The interior gets the revisions from the whole range, so slightly improved materials feature, as does mildly revised instrumentation. There's now a power button to start it - rather than a key - and every ST comes with ESP and traction control as standard. There's also an 'Easyfuel' capless refuelling system that debuted on the Mondeo
to stop you from filling it up with the wrong fuel. Frankly, if you're daft enough to fill up an ST with diesel then you don't deserve it.
With no chassis changes, nor any boost in power for the 222bhp engine, it is clear Ford's TeamRS reckoned they'd got the ST right the first time. They had good reason to be confident, as despite having been around for nearly three years now the Focus remains one of the most entertaining hot hatches you can buy. The steering is weighty and offers decent levels of information at the chunky rim, with input faithfully translated into apex-hunting response. The suspension manages that tricky act of returning decent ride comfort, fine body control and responsiveness, the ST throwing up very few compromises as a result of its sporting ability.
The brakes take all the abuse you can give them, and the engine's linear power delivery gives it any-gear flexibility - 62mph arriving in just 6.8 seconds. That makes it a remarkably comfortable day-to-day proposition, though when you want to raise a smile and explore the ST's limits then it's always willing, always able. Only the gearshift lets it down slightly: it's not as precise as it could be. If Ford's engineers could give the ST the sort of precision and brilliantly mechanical action of the shift in the Honda Civic Type R then the ST would be even better. Use the engine's performance and you'll pay at the pumps though, the official combined consumption figure of 30.3mpg very optimistic indeed.
There's more than one ST, Ford continuing to offer its sporting hatchback in a number of trim levels. Three exist: ST, ST-2 and ST-3, in either three or five-door guises. Opt for ST-3 and you get the full leather experience, plus a six-speed CD changer, but you really should be listening more to the enjoyable off-beat rumble from the five-cylinder under the bonnet than to tunes on the stereo.
Ford has shown remarkable confidence in its ST by not revising anything other than the styling and making a handful of specification changes on this new model. That confidence is well placed, the ST remaining among the best in class as a driver's choice. Prices remain competitive too, certainly compared to its key Golf GTI rival. That car is due to be replaced soon, so we can't help feeling that Ford has held back on its revisions to the ST to wait and see what Volkswagen will do with its new GTI. There is a new twin-clutch transmission now offered in the Focus range, and it wouldn't be too difficult to imagine it mated to boosted power ST at some time in the future...