When Ford launched the fourth generation of its best-selling Focus in 2018 it was immediately clear that this was a superbly engineered package with huge potential.
Now, the sporty ST version is proof positive that the Focus is back in the hot hatch game, ready to do battle with the likes of the Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai i30N, Renault Megane RS and Volkswagen GTI.
Available with either a petrol or diesel engine, and as a practical estate, the new ST demonstrates that the Fast Ford formula is alive and well.
It looks the part too. It can be distinguished from a standard Focus thanks to its lower ride height, tasty rear spoiler, new grille with red ‘ST’ badge, muscular body kit and twin exhaust pipes.
There’s a choice of 18 or 19-inch wheels and cool colours including Ford Performance Blue, Orange Fury, Race Red and Shadow Black.
Inside, it gets a sports steering wheel and body-hugging Recaro sports seats, alloy pedals and various other exclusive details, such as special metallic grey stitching and ‘ST’ badging.
Priced from £29,495, the range starts with the 2.0-litre diesel, which is available only with a six-speed manual gearbox, while the 2.3-litre petrol (starting at a not insignificant £32,495) also comes with an eight-speed automatic.
The 2.0-litre EcoBlue turbodiesel develops 187bhp and can cover 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds, topping out at 136mph, while the EcoBoost petrol motor produces an impressive 276bhp, can hit 62mph in 5.7 seconds and go on to 155mph – 0.8 seconds quicker than the previous generation model. There are also Slippery, Normal and Sport drive modes.
We tested the petrol hatchback version fitted with the optional Performance Pack, adding launch control, a gearshift light for optimal up-shift points, Track mode and Continuously Controlled Damping which boosts driving dynamics.
From the moment you fire her up, it’s clear that the ST is more special than a regular Focus, but not in a show-off way. Some have scoffed at the audio enhanced exhaust note, but it will do just for me – especially in Sport mode. Here there are some glorious pops and crackles to be had, and some nicely blipped downchanges.
That said, Normal mode is best on a longer cruise or stop-starting through town – not just because there’s a calmer ambience, but the suspension is just that bit softer.
If you want a more spirited drive, then obviously Sport is especially rewarding. The ST is seriously fast and you’ll find yourself on the legal limit in no time, even though it feels like you’re just tootling along.
It copes admirably with all that power channelled through the front wheels. Sure, there’s a bit of torque steer, but such is the traction, it’s actually really hard to lose any grip – even in the wet. A big tick for the electronically-controlled limited-slip differential.
With sharp, quick steering and virtually no body roll, it feels planted and offers supreme confidence – an excellent blend of agility and balance. Add the slick, short-throw gearchange and it’s fun with a capital F.
The ST is also a practical daily driver. There’s room for five adults and the 375 litres of boot space (1,354 litres with the rear seats flipped) is ample.
Awarded a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP safety tests, the ST is loaded with driver assistance goodies including autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane assist, traffic-sign recognition and adaptive cruise control.
There’s no shortage of standard equipment either with everything from red brake callipers and rear privacy glass to a B&O Premium Audio System and six-way power adjustable front seats, plus a big, bright 8.0-inch infotainment screen complete with sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Of course it’s not perfect – the pop-up perspex head-up display isn’t the classiest system out there, the plastic trim inside is hard and scratchy lower down in the cabin, rear headroom is slightly compromised with the panoramic sunroof fitted, while the enhanced exhaust note won’t be to everyone’s taste.
For the record, the official fuel economy figures are 35.7mpg (petrol) and 58.8mpg (diesel) with CO2 emissions of 179g/km and 125/g/km respectively. That said, I managed close on 40mpg during a couple of (fairly restrained) long runs.
But we can forgive that because Fast Fords are the stuff of legend and the new Focus ST is a worthy successor.
Verdict: The new Ford Focus ST is a stonking blend of practicality, performance and dynamism. Agile, engaging and fast, it’s also spacious and safe. Whether you’re on the school run, nipping around town, cruising motorways or pushing it on a track-day, it’s a real chameleon of a car.