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Driven: Ford Focus ST 280 Estate. Image by Ford.

Driven: Ford Focus ST 280 Estate
We’ve finally found our preferred specification (and easily so) of the latest Focus ST.

 



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Ford Focus ST 280 Estate

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: mighty engine, improved ride quality courtesy of Estate's rear suspension, less competition for wagon than hatch, remarkably practical, hugely likeable thing

Not so good: steering can still feel unusual, costs £37,000-plus as specified

Key Facts

Model tested: Ford Focus ST 280 Estate
Price: Focus Estate range from £20,645; ST 280 Estate from £33,695, car as tested £37,090
Engine: 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive with e-LSD
Body style: five-door performance estate
CO2 emissions: 179g/km (VED Band 171-190: £1,280 in year one, then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 39.8mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.8 seconds
Power: 280hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 420Nm at 3,000-4,000rpm
Boot space: 575-1,620 litres

Our view:

Last roll of the dice, then, for the latest iteration of the Ford Focus ST. Well, hang on a sec; that might be a bit dramatic, considering the performance model - based on the fourth-generation Focus - only arrived last year. But, so far, it hasn't been quite the firecracker we thought it might be. The ST 280 Hatchback was driven first and it was pretty impressive, but scuppered by elastic steering with an incredibly aggressive degree of self-centring, bizarre activities from the car's halo electronic limited-slip differential (e-LSD) and overly firm damping in its more hardcore driving modes.

On the same event, we also had a brief go in the diesel ST Estate, which was fine as muscular mid-sized wagons go, but not really what we think merits the ST badge, particularly as the diesel loses some of the more intense chassis tech seen on the petrol. And then, back in the UK, a drive of the ST EcoBlue Hatchback resulted in our lowest mark yet, the derv-drinking five-door providing an unremarkable drive for a performance Ford.

So that leaves the fiscally dearest ST of the four possible variants as the one which must now convince us that Ford's go-faster division has the skills to perform as well at this level as it does in the B-segment with the phenomenal Fiesta ST. We said when driving the mundane Focus EcoBlue Hatch that a 280 Estate might be the ST we're looking for, but when you're talking about a Focus that rocks in at £37,090 as tested, then it needs to be bloody good indeed.

Obviously, that's a price with options, as the ST 280 Estate begins at £33,695. But, of the £3,395-worth of extra stuff bolted onto ST67 FUN, you'd probably want most of it - even if we don't agree that Ford should be charging £100 for a wireless smartphone charging pad or £450 for a hands-free tailgate on what is, when all's said and done, the Focus Estate flagship; these things ought to be standard-fit. You could also argue about the merits of splurging £995 on an opening panoramic roof, although we always like these things, provided they don't go wrong further down the ownership line. However, Performance Blue (£800) is an exclusive colour for the ST and it looks terrific on the wagon, which can't quite carry off the signature Orange Fury of the Focus ST Mk4 as well as the Hatchback does. The Ford Performance Pack (£250) is another desirable addition, bringing in the Track driving mode, a shift indicator, Launch Control, Rev Matching and multicolour ambient interior lighting. For £400, the Head-Up Display (HUD) is worthwhile and the final optional toy is the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS, a relic of the days when Ford was tied up with Volvo) for another 400 notes.

Nevertheless, whether you bother with all this box-ticking expense or not, we're delighted to tell you that we've finally found 'The Best' Ford Focus ST Mk4. While the 280 Estate retains the completely odd steering sensations when you dial it up into Sport or Track that we experienced on the first drive of the Hatchback, the ride quality seemed much more bearable in the UK than it did overseas - even when the car was in its tauter settings. This is nothing to do with the Estate having a longer wheelbase than the Hatch, because they both have 2,700mm between the axles, despite the wagon being almost a foot longer (+280mm) overall than the regular five-door.

But therein lies the rub. Not only does the ST Estate have a larger rear overhang of metal sitting on its back axle, and an additional 35kg of kerb weight to contend with as a result, its very reason for being - that 541-litre cargo bay - is responsible, as Ford must have fiddled with the rear suspension settings to compensate for the larger loads the ST Estate might have to lug about. And, on that note, we spent a good proportion of our time with the car examining its practicality thoroughly with a number of runs to the local tip; whereupon it performed admirably at swallowing a load of junk and hauling it off to be dumped.

Yet it's not because you can slot a load of Ikea flatpack furniture or a couple of sizeable canines into the back of the ST Estate that we love it so much. It's that it just drives and rides more sweetly than the Hatchback model, without losing anything in terms of the driver involvement. This is still an excellent front-wheel-drive performance car, one blessed with a monster 2.3-litre turbocharged engine, a wonderful six-speed manual gearbox and some epic brakes, all of which - coupled with the fabulous body control provided by the adjustable dampers on the ST - sometimes makes you wonder if the Focus isn't surreptitiously four-wheel drive, so balanced and tractable is it in all conditions.

It's also a nicer car to cruise around in, the quality cabin and impressive refinement teaming up with the firm but fair ride to make it a thoroughly decent daily. It is a bit juicy, mind, as we saw an overall 22.5mpg from it across 154 miles. In its defence, it was, um, enjoyed quite a few times in those miles and never once saw a lengthy motorway/dual carriageway run to show off its best economy returns, but a peak of 29.6mpg on a rural A-road demonstrates that it isn't totally appalling on Super Unleaded if you can resist the lure of that mega 280hp turbo motor.

The final feather in the Ford's fedora is the lack of competition. This isn't really anything more than blind luck on the Blue Oval's part, because - while the ST Hatch has to take on some of the most glittering, talented rivals like the Honda Civic Type R and the Hyundai i30 N, among more - the ST Estate currently doesn't have any comparable peers. We've listed two below in the 'Alternatives' section but, if we're being honest, those Volkswagen Group products are now technically out of production. So, if you want a circa-300hp C-segment estate, there's only one option.

Thankfully, the Ford Focus ST 280 Estate deserves to collate glowing accolades for its kinematics, beyond the fact it is the Hobson's choice of the modern motoring world. Put simply, it's a brilliant, rapid and compact estate, a car which should seriously make you think twice about spending a vast amount more cash on something like an Audi S4 Avant. We love it and think it's clearly the best choice of the current Focus ST family, even if - thanks to that weird steering and the machinations of the e-LSD - we'd still say the Leon we mention below is the superior vehicle of this size. Well, come on; there's only £1,385 between the optioned-up price of both of them and the SEAT has an additional couple of driven wheels, plus another 70hp, 20Nm and a 0-62mph time that's 1.1 seconds quicker than the Ford.

But let's not end on a downer. For starters, that Cupra R is going to be very hard to get hold of now, as only 150 examples of it were made. And there will be plenty of people who prefer the look and mannerisms of the Focus ST 280 Estate. We're delighted because, as fans of fast Fords of the past, this wagon has taken that last roll of the dice for the ST line and come up with double-sixes. Which means it has laid the necessary groundwork and we're now awaiting the return of the next Focus RS all the more eagerly. Excellent stuff.

Alternatives:

Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4: there are a few performance SUVs with around 300hp available on the market, but trying to avoid a 'VW Group Lockout' for the Ford's rivals, we've chosen this instead. No real dynamic emphasis and it's incredibly pricey, but the 3008 Hybrid4 is surprisingly rapid.

SEAT Leon Cupra R Estate 350 Abt: the best compact performance estate we've yet driven, and possibly one of the best performance estates we've ever driven of any size and price. Difficulty with this is getting hold of it - Cupra R Estates were limited to 150 UK units.

Volkswagen Golf R Estate: uses much the same hardware as the Leon Cupra above and has magnificent damping, but since we last drove a Golf R wagon the model (as a Hatchback or Estate) has become so ubiquitous that it has become boring. Also, Golf 8 is here so the Golf 7.5 is dead in the water.


Matt Robinson - 26 Feb 2020









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2020 Ford Focus ST 280 Estate UK test. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Focus ST 280 Estate UK test. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Focus ST 280 Estate UK test. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Focus ST 280 Estate UK test. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Focus ST 280 Estate UK test. Image by Ford.

2020 Ford Focus ST 280 Estate UK test. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Focus ST 280 Estate UK test. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Focus ST 280 Estate UK test. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Focus ST 280 Estate UK test. Image by Ford.2020 Ford Focus ST 280 Estate UK test. Image by Ford.








 

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