Fast Focus STorms in
By Piers Ward
It's the moment of truth for Ford's fast car division - has the new Focus ST got what it takes to continue the tradition of the blue oval's greatest performance models? Read on to find out.
Britain's love of fast Fords is no secret, but the relationship is far from blind. As a nation, we've bought more of them than any other country, but we have also been the first to point out when the cars have not been good enough.
So how will the ST measure up? On the basis of specification alone, the newcomer looks to be one of the most exciting hatchbacks the firm has ever built. It's the first family Ford to offer a five-cylinder, turbocharged 2.5-litre engine, and the pre-launch hype promises its stiffer suspension and sharper steering will make the most of the impressive 222bhp output.
A host of changes to the interior and exterior are also included, ensuring the car is more than a flagship - the ST is virtually a new model in its own right.
Sitting 25 millimetres lower than the standard car and fitted with unique 18-inch alloy wheels, the ST has huge road presence. Deeper side sills help, while a revised front bumper adds an air of aggression. The rear hasn't been left alone, either, and it features a new bumper, foglamps and twin exhaust pipes. Add subtle details such as the grooves on the rear wheelarches and mirror-mounted indicators, and the ST looks good, although it's not as overly sporty as the uncompromising MkI Focus RS.
Nevertheless, it's an extremely purposeful car. Ford has also been hard at work on the interior. Swathes of aluminium dress the dashboard, but although attractive, it's not so pleasant to touch.
The thick leather rim on the ST-badged steering wheel is a much more fitting modification, as it looks and feels great. The biggest nod to sportiness inside are the three dials added to the top of the dash. Housed in a purpose-built binnacle, the instruments display oil temperature and pressure, and turbo boost levels, but we found we hardly ever looked at them once on the move.
The Recaro sports seats are much more effective. Although positioned a little too high, the chairs grip you tightly. The driving position is complemented by masses of adjustability. Unlike some rivals, the steering wheel can be raised substantially, so the lofty chair is not such an issue.
However, all this pales into insignificance when you first start the engine - it sounds fantastic inside and even better
outside. Mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, the Volvo-sourced 2.5-litre turbo unit burbles at idle, but has a hard edge to it as you accelerate.
Team RS, Ford's performance car division, has tweaked the motor so it now produces 222bhp and 320Nm. Impressively, the power delivery is very smooth, thanks to the fact that peak torque is available from 1,600rpm.
This makes the ST one of the most tractable and responsive cars in its class. Quite simply, in-gear acceleration is devastating. The only downside is that the engine can feel breathless above 4,000rpm. It doesn't carry on pulling manically to the red line like Honda's Civic Type R, but we would argue that the Ford is far easier to live with.
However, the ST is not above criticism. The gearbox in our test car was disappointing, as there was some sloppiness that isn't present in rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
We've raved about the Focus' chassis before and the ST is no exception. Under hard acceleration there's no sign of the torque steer that afflicts some rivals, yet this hasn't been achieved by beefing up the rigidity of the front suspension and power-steering. In fact, the delicate, res- ponsive wheel offers lots of feedback.
The steering is also very sharp, even though the ST does seem a bit nose-heavy because of the weighty engine. Stiffer springs have been added to the Focus, but in most instances it doesn't affect the ride too much - it's still comfortable around town, and refinement at speed on smooth tarmac is good. However, over back roads the ride isn't so impressive.
The Focus feels stable, but too much suspension movement filters into the cabin, causing the car to fidget. Overall, though, the ST handles well, and does Ford's performance car heritage proud.
Hot hatch buyers keen on kit won't be disappointed, either. Starting at £17,495 for the basic three-door model and rising to £20,095 for the top-spec five-door, the Focus represents good value. Residuals promise to be strong, too, as Ford is offering the ST in three trim levels to ensure the cars with more goodies will retain more of their value.
In isolation, the Focus ST is very accomplished and continues the heritage of the fast Ford in Britain.
Despite its sporting credentials, Focus ST has a supple ride at speed
Performance model comes in three trim levels, including ST-2 here. All versions will have generous kit levels
Punchy turbo unit sets ST apart from lesser models
Smart silver trim finishes foglamp housings
Six-speed box comes from Volvo
Focus's grip and steering feel through corners is outstanding