Ford Focus ST170
The Eighties revival is in full swing. People are listening to the music of Wham! again, while highlights are reappearing in hair. All that's missing is a Ford XR3 on the driveway. But don't worry - the blue oval has just unveiled the perfect alternative...
Dubbed the ST170, this hot hatch is the first of an exciting line-up of performance derivatives of Ford's award-winning family car. The name is taken from the 170PS (168bhp) output of the 16-valve Zetec engine, and the car promises to combine that 42bhp power hike over the current 2.0-litre model with a tuned version of the standard car's chassis.
With hot versions accounting for 25 per cent of sales in the small family sector, Ford has invested plenty of effort on getting the ST right. And with prices starting at Ł15,995, it's set to go into battle with Honda's Civic Type R, Peugeot's 307 XSi and Alfa's 2.0-litre 147 when it goes on sale next month.
Ford performance specialists make no secret of the fact that the ST170 is venturing into Civic Type R territory. They have been working overtime to deliver the most thrilling and involving ride possible from the already class-leading chassis. A firmer suspension set-up and low-profile tyres mean the Focus's dynamics will be developed to full potential, with the promise of huge amounts of grip, ultra-sharp steering and leech-like roadholding.
And it's on the open road where the ST170 will come into its own, with Type R-style variable valve timing promising smooth power delivery and a constant supply of torque right up to the top end of the rev range. A close-ratio six-speed gearbox will mean that performance can be explored to the full, with enough low-down power to keep the engine on song, together with high-speed refinement, decent fuel economy and low emissions
Larger brake discs and electronic brakeforce distribution will also guarantee the kind of stopping power that XR3 owners could only dream of.
Auto Express saw the first clues to the car's appearance last year when the US-only Focus SVT was unveiled at the Chicago Motor Show. And the vehicle officially revealed here has clearly inherited several of the design cues. Building on the reputation of the Focus WRC rally car, the ST170's performance aspirations are quite subtle, although deeper front bumpers, small circular front foglamps and valance-mounted front airdam show the flying Focus means business.
Chromed ST170 badges and neat 15-spoke alloy wheels also indicate this is more than just a standard car, although Ford has sensibly decided not to embellish the hot hatch with the huge wings and kerb-scraping body-kits beloved of Eighties boy racers. The Focus's interior has also received a restrained makeover, with leather and alcantara Recaro sports seats, leather-rim steering wheel, brushed aluminium gearknob, drilled rally-style pedals and black-on-white dials. Practical additions include six airbags, climate control and a front-loading six-CD player.
The ST170 marks the beginning of a sporty new era from Ford. Next up will be the gutsy Mondeo ST220, while the car we've all been waiting for - the Focus RS - is promised later this year. The performance flagship will share most of its external features with the ST range, but will be powered by a new turbocharged version of the same 2.0-litre engine, pushing out more than 200bhp. In the meantime, the ST170 promises to be an exciting addition to Britain's most popular car range and could pave the way for more extreme editions of the Focus. The XR3 lives! Roll on the RS Turbo and Cosworth!
The standard Focus has class-leading dynamics, so improved handling and a significant power hike mean the ST170 promises to be a fine driver's car.
At a glance
* Ford Focus ST 170 on sale from early next month
* Prices start at Ł15,995
* Three and five-door versions will be available from launch