The old Ford Focus ST built itself a solid reputation as a fast, fun and affordable hot hatch, so you’d think that for the all-new model Ford would stick to the tried and tested formula.
But instead Ford has replaced the characterful 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine of the old car with a four-cylinder turbocharged unit, while the talkative hydraulic steering has been replaced by an electric system and there's more performance-boosting gadgets than ever, too.
But what hasn’t changed is the Focus ST’s visual impact. Our early left-hand drive model was finished in a subtle black but, with a gaping mesh grille, a large centrally-mounted exhaust, rear spoiler and LED daytime running lights, it still looks every part the performance special.
The Focus ST has the figures to back up its looks, too. The 2.0-litre turbocharged EcoBoost engine produces 247bhp – that’s 25bhp more than old ST – and Ford puts the official 0-62mph time at 6.5 seconds. It feels like all the performance you’ll ever need from behind the wheel, with the sharp throttle helping to pin you back in your seat every time you touch the accelerator. A precise and easy to use six-speed gearbox is perfect for shifting up and down through the gears, too.
Ditching the five-cylinder engine - and the famous warbling engine note that came with it - was a big risk but there's no reason to worry. Ford’s engineers have fitted a butterfly valve in the exhaust, which helps release a noisy growl from the engine above 3,500rpm. Below that it’s whisper quiet, which is perfect for everyday usability.
This easygoing and everyday nature is something Ford has worked hard to achieve, and it shows in the perfectly judged suspension. It rides 10mm lower than a Titanium Focus and it’s set up to be firmer, too. But it’s still capable of soaking up bumps in the road, and there’s never a hint of the loud crashes that you occasionally get in a Renaultsport Megane 265.
Ford has also worked on reducing the amount of torque steer in the Focus ST, and it obviously works very well indeed as we never felt the wheel tugging at our hands, even under hard acceleration out of corners. Unlike the mechanical RevoKnuckle system in the old Focus RS, the new ST uses a bit of software in the electric power steering that cuts out any torque steer before it even reaches the driver.
The steering itself has lost some of the feel of the old car but it’s definitely a better set-up than in the Golf GTI. The variable-ratio rack ensures quick and accurate responses when you want them, which means you’ll be just as comfortable driving around town as you will be on a quick B-road blast.
And it feels perfectly at home on twisty roads thanks to the torque vectoring system on the front axle that mimics a limited slip diff. This means that the inside wheel is braked and torque is directed to the outside wheel during cornering. The result is less of a tendency to understeer and a sensation that you’re fired out of the corner when you floor the accelerator.
Once you’ve finished blasting around deserted back roads you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise when you come to fill up with fuel. Ford claims figures of 169g/km and 39.2mpg, which is a 20 per cent improvement over the old car.
In the hot-hatch segment, the margins of performance between models are so fine that price often plays a big part in the decision making process of buyers, and this is where the Focus ST could really shine. The five-door hatch model starts from £21,995 for the five-door model, which undercuts the Golf GTI by £3,920. Ford also offers an estate version that costs £23,095.
The basic price-tag gets you an ‘ST’ spec model, complete with Recaro sports seats, air-con and keyless-go. ST2 models get part-leather Recaros, dual-zone climate control and automatic lights. Range-topping ST3 models add full leather Recaro heated seats and bi-xenon headlights.
At a price that’s far cheaper than its main rivals but with driving dynamics that have the measure of the best in class, the Focus ST has the makings of a classic performance Ford. It also seems destined for a spot at the top of the hot-hatch segment for quite some time – at least until the all-new Golf GTI arrives late next year.