After spending the week with the fantastic Fiesta ST back in the summer I have been extremely keen to try the new Focus ST and see how the Fiesta’s big brother compares and recently I finally got that opportunity.
The car delivered to me for the week was the petrol ST in a lovely shade of Ford Performance Blue. The Petrol ST comes with a 2.3 litre 4cyl Turbocharged engine with 280 HP and 420 NM of torque delivered through the front wheels. At a little over £30 000 undercuts many of its premium rivals especially when you consider its huge standard specification. Gone is the old ST1-3 model line but the only available model now includes everything from Adaptive Cruise Control, Adaptive LED Headlights and numerous safety systems to help prevent collisions through to Adaptive Suspension, 19 inch Alloy Wheels, Recaro Sports Seats and Sports Body Kit. In fact, there are very few optional extras to select but one that this car did have selected and which is a must in my opinion was the £250 performance pack. It adds a Track Mode, Launch Control, Shift Indicator and the feature I’d pay £250 for alone; rev matching. Yes, some people will complain that you should heal and toe yourself but how many people actually do that in the real world? In the ST it works perfectly every time and makes those spirited downshifts silky smooth. I will attach a link to the brochure so you can see how comprehensive the standard specification is for yourselves should you be interested but what I want to talk about is the driving experience because isn’t that what you buy a Focus ST for?
Having the car for a week I was able to experience the car in most situations from running the family around to a blast down some of my favourite roads in the Cotswolds and Peak District. Getting into the car for the first time, keyless entry as standard, first thing that you’re struck by are the wonderful Recaro Sports seats. Where in the Fiesta I found them a little tight around the thighs this being the bigger car they were a perfect fit and over the week proved to be hugely supportive on a twisty road as well. Anyone used to the old Focus will be impressed with the step up in both quality and technology in the new car with its touch screen and quality feeling cabin. It isn’t on a par with its more premium German rivals but then it is several thousand pounds cheaper than those type of cars who are not several thousands of pounds better in this regard. I was surprised by the amount of space on offer in this car and rear leg room was more generous than my BMW X1 even with the Recaro’s. The boot was a decent size for a car of this class too. Available as a 5 door or Estate and being the first Focus ST to be able to fit a towbar thanks to the new twin exhausts replacing the large central unit of the last generation ST, there’s no fear of not being able to justify this car in terms of practicality. Just as you would expect from your hot hatchback then!
So, with all that power is this sporty car expensive to run? The car was brand new when delivered to me so the engine was still tight but over my time with the car in which I covered nearly 900 miles, fuel economy was in the mid to high 20’s mpg with mixed driving and mid 30’s on a motorway run without being particularly economy conscious. With a car that’s got a few thousand miles on the clock I am sure you could improve on those figures as well so it is far from greedy at the pumps for a car with so much performance.
On pulling away first time I actually stalled the car which is something I haven’t done for years. The clutch is very sensitive and travel is very short so you do have to be very gentle when first setting off. The clutch is also very heavy so around town and in traffic I found myself putting the car in neutral at every opportunity which wasn’t too much of a chore with the cars auto hold function to keep you still without having to reach for the handbrake button. I do think the heavy clutch could be a bit of an issue for people who do a lot of town driving or who are regularly stuck in stop/start traffic though. Once on the move it isn’t an issue at all and does quite suit the nature of this car whos personality is to always been edgy and eager, a bit like an excited puppy. The steering is very quick and precise even around town, it immediately makes the car feel agile even at the slowest of speeds. The steering weights up further as you pass through the driving modes.
With the Performance Pack selected, this car had three driving modes to choose from; Normal, Sport and Track mode. Normal has the car in its most relaxed settings for everything and is for everyday driving but don’t be fooled. This car feels like it has purpose even in its most dulled down guise and this is possibly where its main flaws are to be felt. The ride is always very firm even in normal mode although it is only at slow speeds or on the very worst road surfaces that it becomes anything near unbareable. Whilst the exhaust becomes louder in Sport or Track modes it is never a quiet car even in normal mode which does make it an event whenever you drive it but on the other hand means there is a constant drone from the exhaust at motorway speeds which would be worse if it wasn’t for the wind and tyre noise at these sort of speeds that filter some of it out. Whilst cruising might not be a quiet experience the car does feel extremely planted on the motorway and technologies like lane keep assist and active cruise control make it an easy companion to drive a long distance otherwise. There is a Bang and Olufsen Hifi fitted which is more than capable of drowning out any unwanted sound from the car or your passengers and sound quality is excellent for a sound system in a car at this price point. Whilst many hothatch buyers have no issue with these sort of compromises in return for the performance on offer in their cars and the Focus ST is more relaxed in this respect than some more hardcore rivals, it is worth noting that more expensive cars like the BMW M135i and Mercedes A35 AMG do a better job of being quiet and comfortable cars when you aren’t wanting to press on.
In Sport mode the throttle response is sharpened up, steering becomes heavier and the suspension harder and things become a little noisier from the exhaust. This is where this car really starts to shine! Previous generations of the Focus ST have always been the stand out cars in their class for dynamic ability and I certainly haven’t driven anything that gets close to this latest model perhaps baring it’s little brother, the Fiesta ST. Particularly when you up the pace this car feels incredibly agile with only the slightest hint of body roll and all but no understeer and it responds instantly in a way those more expensive German cars could only dream about matching. As you accelerate out of bends you can feel the car pulling tighter into the apex as you deploy the power and with smooth inputs it has no trouble using that power even on wet tarmac. With a 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 155mph this car has plenty of performance between the bends as well. There is a small amount of torque steer on uneven roads but considering the limitations of front wheel drive those are impressive figures. There is a little turbo lag but that kind of adds to the experience when coupled with the manual gearbox which is as slick as you would expect from a Ford, a Fast Ford that. On full bore upshifts there is a loud crack from the exhaust system which for a 2019 regulated car is a loud system straight out of the box. The pops feel more natural than a lot of cars as well as they are largely unpredictable. In sport mode the Focus activates the auto rev matching function as well which matches the engines revs perfectly when downshifting every single time. I think it really adds to the experience this car offers.
Selecting Track Mode, which then tells you is for Race Tracks only, hardens the suspension a little more to the point there is no body roll at all and is best kept for the very smoothest of tarmacs. The steering also feels slightly heavier and traction control is disabled but on the road at least, the gains over sport mode seemed small. I’m sure on a track they would be far more pronounced but I stuck with Sport mode for the majority of my spirited driving. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Focus ST is one of the most rewarding mid-sized hot hatches to drive and every time I was enjoying a drive I found myself wanting to extend my route just a little more.
There is no doubt the new Focus ST is an excellent drivers car and should be right near the top of the list for anyone wanting a ‘proper’ hot hatchback. Whilst it lacks a bit of the refinement of its more expensive four-wheel drive competitors it is far more dynamic, sounds every bit as good as every other 4cylinder hot hatch and is affordable and practical to both buy and run. If you were the lucky owner of a Fiesta ST MK 7 or 8 but needed some more practicality, this would be the ideal car to move onto. It feels very similar to its little brother in the way it drives and adds a little more performance in a straight line and a lot more space. If you wanted a car to cruise in comfort up and down motorways or on a long commute you might be better looking elsewhere but if performance and driving dynamics are your main priorities then it really doesn’t get much better than the Focus ST.