RAC

Ford Focus ST - spec-only preview

The latest Ford Focus ST works smarter rather than harder. Andy Enright takes a look.

Ten Second Review

Ford has undoubtedly improved the Focus ST in virtually every regard, this latest 2.0-litre turbo model serving up more power, more pace and better efficiency but is this a car that the British public will draw to their hearts like the last one? Over to you.

Background

Putting a five-cylinder Volvo engine into the old Ford Focus ST probably seemed a good idea at the time. It had plenty of character, made buckets of torque and featured a great soundtrack. Unfortunately the engine was also very heavy, hard to package and had a quite stupefying thirst. You could almost trace the inverse relationship between fuel prices and Focus ST sales. Building a better Focus ST, therefore, doesn't seem particularly tricky. Fit a modern four-cylinder turbo engine to the latest Focus would seem to cover it. The ST's position as the accessible performance hatch in the line up, designed to sit beneath the halo RS model also buys it quite a bit of leeway. This car may have been easy to build but it's a mark of the most talented that they make the difficult appear very easy indeed.

Driving Experience

We're looking forward to getting behind the wheel of this ST for the prospects look enticing. The headline figure is that peak power has been raised from the old ST's 222bhp figure to a rather beefier 247bhp. You'll probably expect the torque from a 2.0-litre turbo four to be inferior to that of a 2.5-litre turbo five but where the old car made 320Nm, the EcoBoost engine can muster 360Nm. Less weight, more power and better aerodynamics inevitably translate into better performance and the latest ST will launch to 60mph in less than six seconds. What's perhaps more interesting than the raw figures is the work that's gone into making this four-cylinder engine sound just as exciting as the old five pot lump. A significant part of this process is the reworking of the sound symposer - an amplifier that pipes engine sounds into the cabin - first found on the previous Focus ST and subsequently employed to devastating effect on the previous generation European Focus RS models. The exhaust system, with centre exit tailpipes, has been tuned to deliver a racy tone when you're pressing on but revert back to an unobtrusive burble at cruising revs. A six-speed manual gearbox is the only transmission choice. The Focus ST's Electronic Power Assisted Steering is mated to a Torque Steer Compensation (TSC) system which will come as a relief to anybody whose last memory of a fast Focus was an early RS. More aggressive tuning of the TSC allows Focus ST drivers to accelerate at full throttle and yet still find grip on roads with uneven surfaces or uneven levels of grip. Further enhancements have also been made to the Focus ST's Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), with emphasis put on driver enjoyment. Drivers will have three modes of ESP to choose from. These can be selected according to weather and road conditions or simply to match the driver's desire for help from additional driving aids. And yes, you can switch it all the way off.

Design and Build

Although I'll probably get used to it, to this eye the current Focus ST just doesn't look quite as planted in its stance as the old car. The detailing is all there but the way the old ST hunkered down onto its wheels gave it real attitude that doesn't quite seem to be there with the current ST. Talking of wheels, this current car continues a tradition with 18-inch Y-spoked alloys, in this case wrapped in 235/40R18 Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2 tyres, developed after rigorous testing on all kind of road surfaces and conditions, including the Nurburgring Nordschleife in Germany. Four colours are offered. The signature paint finish is Tangerine Scream but you can also choose Performance Blue, Race Red and White if orange isn't your thing. The cabin is well trimmed with a great set of Recaro sports seats with cushion tilt and length adjustment. It's good to see that Ford has poured resource into all the parts you touch, with custom ST steering wheel, gear lever and pedal set. Space inside is up to the usual Focus standards with access to the rear eased by those hideaway rear doors.

Market and Model

Pricing sits in the £22,000 to £27,000 bracket for the five-door hatch that most will want. The ST is offered in three distinct trim options, ST1, ST2 and ST3, which should be a trim structure familiar to exiting ST owners. While precise details of feature availability for each trim option will vary by market, ST1 is the standard model, offering key features like cloth Recaro seats, keyless start, front door scuff plates with ST logo and standard ST rear bench with centre armrest. Step up to the Focus ST2 and you'll find part leather Recaro seats and dual zone Electronic Automatic Temperature Control (EATC). We'll also get unique ST floor mats, automatic headlamp control, auto-dimming rear view mirror and automatic wipers. The top spec Focus ST3 builds on this with heated leather Recaro seats with 8-way adjustability and pull out cushion, plus the newly developed Recaro rear bench. ST3 customers also benefit from Bi-Xenon headlamps. A genuinely exciting alternative for an £1,100 premium over the Hatch bodystyle is the Focus ST estate, or 'wagon' in Ford-speak. "There's nothing comparable in the market to the Focus ST wagon," said Ford's director of Global Performance Vehicles. "It retains all of the practical elements of the Focus wagon and adds the unique ST performance, handling abilities and refinement of the five-door model. We have high hopes for the ST wagon being a great success." Let's face it. Estates are just that little bit cooler.

Cost of Ownership

The old five-cylinder engine was a bit of an emissions disaster area, chugging out 224g/km and although the published economy figure said 25.3mpg, owners will attest to the fact that this figure dived off a cliff as soon as you used the throttle pedal with any conviction. I once ran one for a few weeks back to back with a Chevrolet Corvette and the 5.7-litre Chevy returned better fuel economy figures. The latest car promises to be 20% better on economy and emissions, putting out 169g/km and delivering 39.2mpg on the combined cycle. I suspect that it'll be a lot better than 20% better on fuel when you're trying hard. The swingeing fuel bills associated with the old ST did much to dent its residual values and the latest car should fare a good deal better. It's doubtful that you'll find many insurance brokers willing to give you any presents though, which will nix this as a potential choice for most younger drivers.

Summary

That the latest Ford Focus ST is a better car than its predecessor is beyond debate. It's faster, safer, better equipped, lighter on its feet and won't bankrupt you if you drive it hard. And yet, and yet. The old car had something intangible that endeared it to all who drove it. Character is so often a byword for flaws and if that's the case, the ST was eventually sunk by the weight of its character. It's pointless to wistfully gaze through rose-tinted spectacles though. Ford's progress is unrelenting and if its track record is anything to go by, we'll soon take this new Focus ST to our hearts and forget about the old car. I think I may still be in the denial stage of the grieving process. It'll pass.

That the latest Ford Focus ST is a better car than its predecessor is beyond debate. It's faster, safer, better equipped, lighter on its feet and won't bankrupt you if you drive it hard. And yet, and yet. The old car had something intangible that endeared it to all who drove it. Character is so often a byword for flaws and if that's the case, the ST was eventually sunk by the weight of its character. It's pointless to wistfully gaze through rose-tinted spectacles though. Ford's progress is unrelenting and if its track record is anything to go by, we'll soon take this new Focus ST to our hearts and forget about the old car. I think I may still be in the denial stage of the grieving process. It'll pass.

That the latest Ford Focus ST is a better car than its predecessor is beyond debate. It's faster, safer, better equipped, lighter on its feet and won't bankrupt you if you drive it hard. And yet, and yet. The old car had something intangible that endeared it to all who drove it. Character is so often a byword for flaws and if that's the case, the ST was eventually sunk by the weight of its character. The headline figure is that peak power has been raised from the old ST's 222bhp figure to a rather beefier 247bhp. You'll probably expect the torque from a 2.0-litre turbo four to be inferior to that of a 2.5-litre turbo five but where the old car made 320Nm, the EcoBoost engine can muster 360Nm. Less weight, more power and better aerodynamics inevitably translate into better performance and the latest ST will launch to 60mph in less than six seconds. Ford also promises at least a 20% improvement in economy and emissions. It's pointless to wistfully gaze through rose-tinted spectacles though. Ford's progress is unrelenting and if its track record is anything to go by, we'll soon take this new Focus ST to our hearts and forget about the old car. I think I may still be in the denial stage of the grieving process. It'll pass.

Ford has undoubtedly improved the Focus ST in virtually every regard, this latest 2.0-litre turbo model serving up more power, more pace and better efficiency but is this a car that the British public will draw to their hearts like the last one? Over to you. The headline figure is that peak power has been raised from the old ST's 222bhp figure to a rather beefier 247bhp. You'll probably expect the torque from a 2.0-litre turbo four to be inferior to that of a 2.5-litre turbo five but where the old car made 320Nm, the EcoBoost engine can muster 360Nm. Less weight, more power and better aerodynamics inevitably translate into better performance and the latest ST will launch to 60mph in less than six seconds. What's perhaps more interesting than the raw figures is the work that's gone into making this four-cylinder engine sound just as exciting as the old five pot lump. A significant part of this process is the reworking of the sound symposer - an amplifier that pipes engine sounds into the cabin - first found on the previous Focus ST and subsequently employed to devastating effect on the previous generation European Focus RS models. The exhaust system, with centre exit tailpipes, has been tuned to deliver a racy tone when you're pressing on but revert back to an unobtrusive burble at cruising revs. A six-speed manual gearbox is the only transmission choice. The Focus ST's Electronic Power Assisted Steering is mated to a Torque Steer Compensation (TSC) system which will come as a relief to anybody whose last memory of a fast Focus was an early RS. More aggressive tuning of the TSC allows Focus ST drivers to accelerate at full throttle and yet still find grip on roads with uneven surfaces or uneven levels of grip. Further enhancements have also been made to the Focus ST's Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), with emphasis put on driver enjoyment. Drivers will have three modes of ESP to choose from. These can be selected according to weather and road conditions or simply to match the driver's desire for help from additional driving aids. And yes, you can switch it all the way off. Four colours are offered. The signature paint finish is Tangerine Scream but you can also choose Performance Blue, Race Red and White if orange isn't your thing. The cabin is well trimmed with a great set of Recaro sports seats with cushion tilt and length adjustment. It's good to see that Ford has poured resource into all the parts you touch, with custom ST steering wheel, gear lever and pedal set. Space inside is up to the usual Focus standards with access to the rear eased by those hideaway rear doors. That the latest Ford Focus ST is a better car than its predecessor is beyond debate. It's faster, safer, better equipped, lighter on its feet and won't bankrupt you if you drive it hard. And yet, and yet. The old car had something intangible that endeared it to all who drove it. Character is so often a byword for flaws and if that's the case, the ST was eventually sunk by the weight of its character. It's pointless to wistfully gaze through rose-tinted spectacles though. Ford's progress is unrelenting and if its track record is anything to go by, we'll soon take this new Focus ST to our hearts and forget about the old car. I think I may still be in the denial stage of the grieving process. It'll pass.

Scores
Performance 9
Handling 9
Comfort 8
Space 8
Styling 9
Build 8
Value 8
Equipment 9
Economy 7
Depreciation 8
Insurance 6
Total 89

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