Ford Focus ST Review
This hot hatch based on the excellent Focus features an overhauled engine, improved driving dynamics and blistering performance
Strengths & weaknesses
- Impressive pace
- Surprisingly comfortable and roomy
- High-tech performance car engineering
- Diesel option is lukewarm
- Styling might be too plain for some
- Interior isn’t as accomplished as rivals
The Ford Focus ST has been a staple on the hot hatch scene since the early days of the first generation ST170 - its potent performance figures, sportier styling and everyday practicality hitting home with customers that enjoy an occasional spirited drive without the sports car inconveniences.
Since then, there has been an ST version running alongside every Focus model, always boasting more power, louder paint schemes, sportier body addenda and an exhaust note that would often have the neighbours complaining.
But like the Focus itself, the punchy ST has matured and this latest iteration is arguably the most visually subdued to date, looking not too dissimilar than the regular family hatchback upon which it is based.
As a result, the new Ford Focus ST, which still comes in estate or five-door variants, now features a 2.3-litre petrol unit pinched from the previous generation Focus RS. It shuns the general trend for downsizing and as a result, puts out a whopping 280hp and 420Nm of torque at the heady heights of 5,500rpm. Perfect for those that like to wring the neck of their hot-hatch.
But the inclusion of several technologies derived from high-performance cars see the five-door version boldly go where few others have been before. Bespoke twin-scroll turbocharging with an anti—lag system borrowed from the Ford F150 pick-up truck ensures input from the turbo is smooth and predictable, while an electronic limited slip differential helps the front wheels to cope with the increased power demand.
There’s also Continuously Controlled Damping tech that helps to optimise ride comfort and stability through corners, making the Focus ST's handling sharper than ever.
Although infinitely more grippy and direct through corners, this technology has taken away some of hot hatch character of its predecessor, but the beauty of a hot hatch has always been about enjoying those thrills, while also having the possibility to transform back into a sensible and comfortable family car, and this latest Focus ST seems more adept at this than ever before. The ride is certainly firm but not so much that it makes longer journeys a pain.
For those wanting the ST’s performance without the associated fuel bills, Ford offers a 2.0-litre diesel version, badged EcoBlue, which returns an impressive 58.8mpg on the combined cycle. These do feel very different to the sprightlier petrol cars, as it does away with the aforementioned electronic slip-differential and the adaptive suspension system, while its power is almost 100hp down.
Still, this diesel model in the larger ST Estate guise makes for a very practical, occasionally fun family machine in which to rack up the motorway miles and transport plenty of kit and people in comfort.
|Length||4388mm to 4668mm|
|Height||1458mm to 1492mm|
|Tax||£170 to £855|
Best Ford Focus ST for...
Best for Economy – Ford Focus ST Estate 2.0 EcoBlue
Customers still get the ST styling and hotter driving characteristics, without the thirsty fuel consumption of the petrol model.
Best for Families – Ford Focus ST Estate 2.3 EcoBoost
Despite the lack of Continuously Controlled Damping technology, this larger model features all of the performance of the five-door, just with more internal space.
Best for Performance – Ford Focus ST 5-door 2.3 EcoBoost
With all of the Ford Performance bells and whistles, this five-door version is the most suited to those who place track day domination over practicality.
2019: Goes on sale and arguably packs the most track-focussed technology to date. Not to mention that excellent engine borrowed from the old RS.
Understanding Ford Focus ST names
Ford has done away with the ST-1, ST-2 and ST-3 trim levels of previous generations, instead opting for an enticing package that includes plenty as standard.
Body style Hatchback
Both a five-door variant and estate model are available across the range, although the estate doesn’t feature electronically adjustable suspension tech.
Engine 2.3 EcoBoost
It’s a simple choice of petrol or diesel, with the former badged EcoBoost and the latter EcoBlue.
Gearbox Six-speed manual
Currently, Ford only offers a six-speed manual gearbox but a seven-speed automatic will be available on five-door and estate 2.3 EcoBoost model from Autumn 2019.
Ford Focus ST Engines
Petrol: 2.3 EcoBoost
Diesel: 2.0 EcoBlue
The 2.3 EcoBoost engine is derived from the previous generation Ford Focus RS, but the team of engineers behind it claim that it boasts faster in-gear acceleration than its donor vehicle. This is thanks to sophisticated turbocharging technology filtered down from the Ford GT programme.
In essence, an anti-lag system electronically holds open the throttle for up to three seconds after the driver eases off the accelerator, stopping the reversal of airflow from the turbocharger in order to keep it spinning.
This allows the driver to comfortably achieve a flat-shifting technique, where the clutch can be engaged without easing off the accelerator, resulting in much quicker upshifts through the gears. A clever rev-matching programme automatically blips the throttle with downshifts, too, allowing for seamless changes without the need to master the tricky ‘heel-toe’ driving technique.
Thankfully, this racy technology can be switched off, as Ford offers selectable driving modes for the first time in a ST model. Normal, Sport and Track offer various settings for throttle response, braking inputs and traction control, while a Slippery/Wet mode keeps the power in check when the weather turns foul.
The engine itself is a lovely thing to live with, offering plenty of poke under normal driving conditions but also an extremely engaging drive when pushing it to the high rev ranges. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the exhaust note is no longer as ASBO-inducing as it used to be, with a synthetic burble piped into the cabin.
In order to appeal to as broad a customer set as possible, the new Focus ST is also available with a diesel engine, badged as 2.0 EcoBlue. Those expecting hair-raising performance might be a little disappointed. The car is heavier, the suspension is softer and it doesn’t pack as much racetrack technology as the 2.3-litre counterpart.
The upside is decent straight-line acceleration and excellent fuel economy figures, making it a good choice for those with lots of motorway miles on the car. As previously mentioned, all of these engines are currently mated to a six-speed manual transmission, which is slick and its short throw makes for very pleasing changes, but there will be a seven-speed auto offered later in the year.
0 - 62mph
Ford Focus ST Trims
Ford no longer offers the choice of various trim levels in its ST models, stating that most customers would plump for the top-of-the-range ST-3 models, meaning there was very little need to offer anything less in this generation.
It means the RRP is a little higher, with prices now starting at £31,995 for the five door 2.3 EcoBoost model and rising to £33,095 for the estate versions, but the list of standard kit is impressive. Expect a full suite of driver assistance technologies, including adaptive cruise control, active park assist (semi-autonomous parking), blind spot detection and lane keeping assistance.
There’s also a large rear-view camera, traffic sign recognition and hill launch assist, which makes things a lot easier when setting off on steep inclines. In short, there’s pretty much everything Ford offers as an option on Focus, bar a few additional niceties.
A head-up display is a £400 optional extra, while a hands-free tailgate can be added to estate models for extra convenience. There’s also a Performance Pack, which adds the Track drive mode, launch control, rev matching and shift indicator. At £250, we sense most customers will probably want to add this.
The ST also benefits from a premium B&O audio system, a heated steering wheel and Ford’s KeyFree system, which are all carried over from the range-topping Vignale trim.
Although not quite as well put together as a rival Golf GTI, the Focus ST feels solid inside, with some unique contrasting stitching and bespoke Recaro ST seats making it feel slightly more special than the standard version. Still, the large touchscreen entertainment system could be better integrated into the dash and some of the buttons and switchgear feel a bit cheap, but then this isn’t a hugely expensive machine considering it performance stats.
Ford Focus ST Reliability and warranty
Despite Ford regularly topping the tables for cars sold here in the UK, it rarely sees the same result for reliability and customer satisfaction. In fact, in the 2019 Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, it wallowed towards the bottom of the table, alongside Citroen, Hyundai and BMW.
Used Ford Focus ST
The current generation is too new to secure big savings on the used market.
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