Ford Focus ST (2019 - 2021) used car review

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By Jonathan Crouch

Introduction

In early fourth generation form, this C519-series Ford Focus ST hot hatch was smarter, classier and more dynamically adept. In hatch or estate guise, with petrol or diesel power, it was a car that owners found it easier to get the most from. And a machine that buyers on the used market can enjoy to the full on their favourite roads without afterwards having to pay for it with the kind of over-firm ride you simply don't want in everyday traffic. Ultimately, so many quick cars can feel. well, rather irrelevant. Here's one that's anything but.

Models

5dr Hatch / Estate (Petrol - 2.3 EcoBoost / 2.0 TDCi diesel)

History

'ST' is a badge that, when it comes to Ford, stands for 'quick but not concussive', a performance level that sits just above the company's fast-but-family-friendly 'ST-Line' models. But just below their track-spec RS derivatives. A badge applied to the kind of car a red-blooded racer could afford, enjoy and use every day. A car like this - the fourth generation Focus ST.

The Focus ST is the kind of car that's always democratised performance, giving you the speed of a supercar within the body - and the budget - of something much more ordinary. Other brands promise this kind of thing but in reality, often do little more than bolt a set of spoilers and a turbo onto something more ordinary. Ford though, has a different approach, the Blue Oval brand boasting a long history of developing proper performance versions of its mainstream models, designed by enthusiasts to be driven by enthusiasts. The very first Focus ST was the MK1 ST170 model of 2002, but the first properly quick one was the MK2 model of 2005. That car was rapid, both in speed and in the way that its 225PS 2.5-litre turbo engine drained its fuel tank in next to no time. Its replacement, a third generation model launched in 2012, then updated in 2015, was better. It primarily used a 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol powerplant and handled responsively, but arguably wasn't quite special enough.

This MK4 model though, we were told back at its original launch in 2019, was a Focus ST that could be. It got an all-new petrol engine, the 2.3-litre unit we'd previously seen both in the Focus RS and the Mustang, here delivering 280PS - 30PS more than the previous generation model's 2.0-litre EcoBoost unit could provide, so as to meet the improved class standard. And that power was more usable thanks to a couple of Focus ST 'firsts'. Selectable drive modes allow drivers to tailor the way the car could respond. And, for the first time in a Ford front wheel drive model, there was an electronic limited slip differential to help get the power down through the bends, some compensation for the continuing lack of a 4WD option.

Those were the headlines but of course there was also plenty else to talk about, given that this MK4 Focus ST was based on the completely redesigned fourth generation Focus model launched in 2018. And therefore delivered a higher quality cabin than its predecessor, as well as much improved standards of safety and media connectivity. As before, Focus ST buyers not wanting a petrol hatch could also have a high performance diesel engine and with either unit, there was also the option of an estate body style. Stay with the petrol unit and, for the first time on a Focus ST, original buyers were offered the chance to specify an extra-cost auto gearbox, this one a 7-speed transmission with paddleshifters. An ST Edition model was introduced in Autumn 2021 with the Ford Performance division's more dynamic coilover suspension system.

This MK4 Focus ST sold in its original form until 2022, when it was facelifted inside and out. It's the earlier pre-facelift MK4 models though, that we look at here.

What You Get

Overtaking presence is key with a car like this of course and this revitalised Focus ST got plenty of it with a bolder, more confident front grille shaped to optimise cooling, its lower section (as before) partly obscured by the number plate, which sits just above a stylised lower intake. Overtly angled lower wing elements channel air into the air-curtain inlets for improved aerodynamic performance and, just above, sit headlamps that feature full-LED technology and can adapt themselves to the road ahead and other motorists. They're placed as far into the corners of the car as possible, to maximise the vehicle's width and stance, flowing up into a longer bonnet featuring twin creases on either side.

When it comes to the really significant styling changes made to this fourth generation Focus ST model though, you'll learn more from a profile perspective, especially if you choose the five-door hatch body shape over the alternative estate variant. A full body styling kit is of course a continuing part of the ST package and includes bulging side skirts that emphasise the 10mm lowered chassis height. The wheels were a size larger than before - large 19-inch 'Magnetite'-finished rims - and they'll be embellished with evocative red brake calipers if you find a car whose original owner paid extra for the optional 'Performance Pack.

Right: what's it like at the wheel? Well if your perspective is that Ford was a touch conservative with the exterior styling, then you won't change that opinion once inside because at first glance, it doesn't feel all that much different from an ordinary 'ST-Line' variant in the standard Focus range. The main change lies with the addition of grippy Recaro seats trimmed with contrast stitching in a combination of leather and an alcantara-like material called 'Miko Dinamica'. Alloy pedal covers, faux-carbon trim inlays, an 'ST'-embossed aluminium gear knob, grey-stitched floor mats and branded scuff plates on the sills complete the ST embellishments. These chairs position you a touch lower in this MK4 model, though you're still perfectly placed behind the thick-rimmed leather-stitched sports steering wheel, on which resides the all-important drive modes button. As usual with a modern Ford, the centre of the dash is dominated by an 8-inch SYNC 3 infotainment touchscreen, this one your access point for navigation, Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring, 'FordPass Connect' WiFi connectivity and a 10-speaker 675-watt B&0 360-degree sound set-up.

The space on offer in the rear certainly didn't redefine the segment standard, but it did at least typify it. In this Focus, back seat folk are treated much as they would be in a rival Golf GTI, thanks to the way that this MK4 model's new C2 platform freed up 56mm more knee clearance, 78mm more legroom and 60mm more shoulder room.

The boot in the hatch variant is just as small as it was on the previous model, just 273-litres of capacity being available on models equipped with a mini spare. That's partly why Ford continued to offer the estate body shape we mentioned earlier, which can take 541-litres with all the seats in place. Fold down the 60:40-split rear backrest and 1,250-litres of space can be freed up in this hatch model. An estate fitted with a mini-spare will give you up to 1,576-litres.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Most MK4 Focus STs will have been reasonably well looked after but check in the engine bay for any signs of crash damage. Check that all the front end pieces are secure and not loose; the grilles, bumper, front panel, headlights etc. It is also worth getting an HPI report to see if there are records of the vehicle being damaged or written off. For a small fee it is well worth it, as the seller could be hiding something about the car and it's just not worth taking the risk of not checking. If the car has been written off or accident repaired, the front page of the V5-log book will show this at the bottom of the page. This means that the vehicle is recorded as such and will forever be on file for the car. This decreases the value of the car and you are best off going to find a non-damaged car, as there are plenty out there.

As usual with a family hatch, check the interior for child damage. And with top-spec versions, check the alloy wheels for scratches. Look for any dents, dings and scratches to the panelwork. And ensure on manual models that the clutch engages smoothly and that the car goes into gear easily.

There were a few recalls that should have been applied to any early MK4 Focus ST models you might be looking at. There were some wiring loom recall issues between 2019 and March 2020; an issue with the power distribution box on some cars made in October 2019; and some seat belt anchorage issues on cars made between May and September 2019. Insist on a fully stamped-up service history and you'll know that all of these recall issues have been attended to.

And overall? Well if there are issues, then weigh up the hassle of rectifying them. If that's prohibitive, walk away. There are plenty of other examples of this model there. Good websites you could try for information include focusstoc.com (owners forum), profile-automotive.co.uk (a helpful specialist) and mountuneperformance.co.uk (if you want a power boost).

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2019 Focus ST 2.3 EcoBoost - Ex Vat) An air filter for a petrol MK4 Focus ST will set you back around £19; and an oil filter will be around £5. Front brake pads will be in the £40 bracket. Rear brake pads will be in the £46 bracket. Rear brake discs will be in the £87 bracket. Wiper blades cost around £10-£20. A headlamp is around £187; a rear lamp is around £90. A pollen filter is in the £8-£22 bracket.

On the Road

Right from the get-go, this fourth generation Focus ST feels like a serious piece of hot hatch engineering, with sharp steering that makes it feel darty and alert, this character trait turning out to be an integral part of the vivacious handling that makes this car the accomplished shopping rocket it undoubtedly is. The faster you go through the bends, the better it feels. As with the previous generation model, there are petrol and diesel engine options, the green pump-fuelled unit here a de-tuned version of the 2.3-litre four cylinder unit used in the Mustang and the Focus RS. In this case it develops 280PS (30PS more than the previous generation 2.0-litre EcoBoost model could offer), sprints to 62mph in 5.8s and offers a class-leading 420Nm of torque. The alternative diesel variant has nearly as much pulling power (400Nm) but a rather less impressive 190PS available from its 2.0-litre EcoBlue powerplant. Still, there's compensation of course in the black pump-fuelled version's efficiency, WLTP-rated at up to 58.8mpg on the combined cycle, with 125g/km of NEDC-rated CO2 emissions.

Whatever kind of Focus ST you go for, petrol or diesel, hatch or estate, there was lots to aid this car's prodigious cornering bite; a stiffer C2 platform, grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres and a clever SLA suspension set-up that lowers the car by 10mm, incorporates thicker anti-roll bars and features spring and damper units that are 20% stiffer at the front and 13% firmer at the rear. Driving modes feature on an ST for the first time, the three main ones being 'Normal', 'Slippery' and 'Sport', the latter setting delivering a far more alert feel. Petrol models feature standard 'CCD' adaptive damping and an 'e-LSD' Electronic Limited Slip Differential to help get traction down in the bends, plus that EcoBoost engine was also offered with an optional 7-speed paddleshift auto gearbox. With both engines, you're probably going to want a car originally specified with the optional 'Performance Pack'. On a petrol version, this gives you 'Rev-matching' (which relieves you of the need to lift off the throttle between upward gear changes), along with Launch Control and an extra 'Track' driving mode. On a diesel variant, the 'Performance Pack' gives you rather less, but you do get the extra 'Track' setting and it adds back in the 'CCD' adaptive damping system that you otherwise wouldn't get on an EcoBlue model.

Overall

Ford didn't set out to make the fastest hot hatch in the Golf GTI segment here. Or the most wild-looking. Or the most track-ready. If, in buying a car of this kind, your over-riding priorities lie in any of these three areas, there are other rivals we'd point you towards. But if what you'd really like is a car that can combine all those virtues in one very complete package and you want a fast hatch from the 2018-2021 era, then we'd absolutely direct you to include this Focus ST high up on your wish list.

This early MK4 'C519'-series Focus ST is arguably the very definition of what a car of this kind should be, a guilt-free fast hatch with near-supercar performance and technology that's relatively affordable and perfectly practical. You get a class-leading ride and handling balance, estate versatility if you want it and the option of low diesel running costs if that's needed. All in a car that deserves to be remembered fondly in a fine tradition of fast Fords.

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