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First drive: Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.

First drive: Ford Focus ST
Ford's new Focus ST is significantly cheaper and more powerful than the Golf GTI it goes head-to-head with.

 



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| First Drive | Nice, France | Ford Focus ST |

Overall rating: 5 5 5 5 5

Even if you ignore the £4,000 price advantage the Focus ST has over the base five-door Golf GTI, it's a compelling combination of high performance, engaging dynamics and everyday usability. What chance has any other hot hatch on the market right now?

Key Facts

Model driven: Ford Focus ST-3 hatchback
Price: £25,495 (Focus ST starts at £21,995)
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
Rivals: Mégane Renaultsport 265, Vauxhall Astra OPC, Volkswagen Golf GTI
CO2 emissions: 169g/km
Combined consumption: 39mpg
Top speed: 154mph
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Power: 250hp at 5,000rpm
Torque: 340Nm at 1,750rpm

In the Metal: 5 5 5 5 5

You can go one of two ways in the Focus ST. Choose the 'Tangerine Scream' paintwork pictured here for maximum attention or opt for one of the more subtle hues to make less of a statement. Either way the exterior changes that make up the ST are highly effective, differentiating it from the regular Focus hatchback. The massive air intake at the front dominates the face, which is defined neatly by the shape of the front spoiler, which visually leads up into the bonnet. Side skirts, a 10mm lower ride height and cracking 18-inch alloys are found in profile, while the rear end features a roof spoiler, a sportier bumper and a central-exit exhaust with a highly distinctive outlet - said to be styled after one of the spaceships in Star Wars...

It's an effective transformation, distancing the ST from the normal Focus without screaming as loudly about its performance as the RS did.

Inside, the changes are also subtle. The steering wheel, gear lever and pedals are all very close in design to items found in the regular car, though they are tweaked for the ST, while a trio of extra gauges sit atop the dashboard in a slim new housing. The most successful aspect of the cabin is the fitment of a pair of bespoke Recaro sports seats up front. They offer loads of adjustment, allowing you to sit relatively low, and have plenty of side support.

Driving it: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

The ingredients that make up the Focus ST are not highly exotic, but mixed together they produce one of the best performance cars of the year. That lower ride height sets the tone by reducing the centre of gravity, while the suspension components themselves are optimised for body control. The result is flat, confident cornering with a degree of adjustability on the throttle and brakes. The latter are perfectly modulated and were not fazed by repeated stops on twisty mountain roads. Ford relies on electronics and the brakes to control torque and stability rather than fitting a mechanical limited slip differential and it seems to work seamlessly enough - in the dry at least.

Under the bonnet is a 250hp version of Ford's 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine, but it's the low- to mid-range torque that truly defines this engine. You soon discover that third gear can be used where you'd usually select second. Supporting this strategy is the sound symposer (see 'Worth Noting' below for more details), which ensures that the engine sounds good without the need to chase the redline. Naturally you'll still do that and the soft limiter arrives with surprising speed. Thankfully the gearchange is swift, and there's no apparent dead spot in the engine's delivery.

The steering is ultra direct, yet manages not to be nervous on initial turn in, which is a great achievement (again, see more in 'Worth Noting' below), meaning the ST is civil and as easy to drive as a regular Focus as it is exciting when that's what you're looking for. Backing this up further is a wonderful suppleness to the chassis, which will ensure that buyers won't be alienated by an uncompromising ride. It really is a fabulous set-up, offering everyday usability alongside engaging dynamics. There's no doubt it's a car you'd take out to drive for the sake of it, yet it can do the whole family thing too.

What you get for your Money: 5 5 5 5 5

Ford's announcement that the Focus ST would start at £21,995 must have been a shock to its rivals. That's considerably less than the five-door Golf GTI, which it outperforms, while also undercutting the latest high-powered rivals from Renault and Vauxhall. The base model includes 18-inch alloys, cloth covering for the Recaro seats, air conditioning, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

The ST-2, at £23,495, adds partial leather trim, dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, a better stereo, 'Quickclear' windscreen, auto-dimming rear view mirror and ST floor mats.

Topping the line-up is the ST-3 at £25,495, which features full leather trim plus heating for the front seats, bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, keyless entry and electrically folding door mirrors.

Options will include a Performance pack and a Driver Assistance Pack.

Ford also offers the ST in estate form, for a £1,100 premium.

Worth Noting

As mentioned above, the sound the ST makes stands out - as does the steering system. The former is thanks in no small part to a sound symposer. Ford was acutely aware that its previous hot Focus made a distinctive five-cylinder growl, which would be difficult to emulate with a four-cylinder engine. To produce the characteristic off-beat intake noise, a pipe channels sound towards the cabin from an offset part of the inlet manifold, with a valve ensuring that it only happens on acceleration. The effect is pronounced and highly distinctive.

The steering came in for just as much attention. It's still an electronic power assisted system, though it features torque steer compensation and it's far more direct than any other Focus. Along with that the ratio is not linear, so the wheels turn further for a given input the more you move away from straight ahead. It feels completely natural yet gives a sensation of increased agility.

Summary

Ford's new Focus ST stays true to the remit for that badge. While offering a truly engaging driving experience it manages to remain refined and civil in everyday use - and it's not at all uncomfortable. Items like the sound symposer and trick steering could have been pointless gimmicks, but they manage to enhance the car making it a real event to drive. On top of all that it's a veritable bargain and hence will go down as one of the best hot hatches of the moment.


Shane O' Donoghue - 12 Jun 2012









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2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.

2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.



2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.
 

2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.
 

2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.
 

2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.
 

2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.
 

2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.
 

2012 Ford Focus ST. Image by Ford.
 






 

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