Ford Focus ST review
Sharper style, uprated performance and a new diesel option make the fastest current Focus even more compelling
If you believe motoring is meant to be enjoyed, it’s hard to think of a car that delivers as much fun for the money as the Ford Focus ST. There are faster hot hatches (and cheaper ones), but few share the Ford’s mix of excellent handling, punchy performance, and affordable practicality. It’s an accessible confection of family-friendly fun that has made the Focus ST a winner in previous guises, and the latest update has done nothing to dampen our enthusiasm.
New engines – including a punchy diesel – add a new dimension to performance, while styling, suspension and interior upgrades bring a little more sophistication to the party. There are compromises, of course, but you’d have to be a bit of a party pooper to put much of a downer on Ford’s hottest Focus.
The Ford Focus ST is part of a long-line of fast hot hatches from the brand with high-performance thrills and everyday usability at accessible prices. The sales figures are a testament to the model’s popularity with UK buyers. More than 140,000 have been sold globally since the German-built Focus ST was introduced in 2002, and a third of them have found homes over here.
The updated model sets out to continue that trend, and is available with either a 247bhp 2.0-litre, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine under the bonnet – downsizing from its predecessor's five-cylinder 2.5-litre unit – or a 182bhp 2.0 TDCi diesel for the first time.
Hot Focus aficionados can spot the latest model by its more aggressive, sportier styling, set off by a lower, wider stance. The sporty chassis and impressive handling of the standard model have been enhanced, too, as the Focus beefs up its arsenal in the battle with some very capable hot hatch rivals like the Renaultsport Megane 265, Volkswagen Golf GTI and GTD.
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While fans of the previous Focus RS will be eagerly awaiting the arrival of an even hotter version in 2016, for now they will have to make do with the ST as the range-topper. There’s no three door option, as the Focus ST comes with five doors and a six-speed manual gearbox only. Plus, there are only three simple trim levels: ST, ST-2 and ST-3. For those who need some extra space, a Focus ST estate version is also available.
Starting from £22,495 (the price for equivalent diesel and petrol models is identical), the Ford undercuts its main hot hatch rivals by a decent amount of money. Our sister title Carbuyer.co.uk crowned the Focus ST Best Hot Hatch in its March 2015 Awards – and for very good reason. However, it lost out to the extra performance and three and five-door versatility of the pricier SEAT Leon Cupra in our Auto Express awards.
Engines, performance and drive
As befits its role as a drivers’ car, the Focus ST only comes with a slick, six-speed manual gearbox – there’s no paddle-shift or auto option. When this is paired with a new front-wheel-drive chassis and a torque vectoring system that ensures maximum traction, it makes the Ford one of the best-handling cars in its class.
A well set-up suspension keeps body roll in check, and helps ensure stability through swift corners. The electromechanical steering has a meaty weight to it, and the fact that the ratio is higher than normal means it reacts immediately just off centre. However, the system lacks the more natural feel of the Volkswagen Golf GTI’s steering.
Yet despite its extremely reactive steering and sporting credentials, the Focus ST is also a remarkably capable long distance cruiser, thanks to its quiet cabin and hugely supportive Recaro seats. If a criticism had to be made, it'd be that the low-speed ride is a tad too firm, especially on the larger 19-inch alloys. Other hot hatches are even firmer, though – the Megane Renaultsport will jiggle your fillings out – so it’s not too much of a grumble.
Ford has taken a more economical stance with the latest Focus ST, replacing the thirsty old 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine from the previous-generation car with a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder EcoBoost unit. This engine provides more power than the old model – a boost of 22bhp to 247bhp, coupled with 339 Nm of torque – and will sprint from 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds.
However, if fuel economy is important, then the new 182bhp 2.0 TDCi option is the one to go for. Throttle response isn't as frantic as the petrol model, and that's reflected in the performance figures, but it's quick enough with loads of torque for effortless in-gear acceleration. The diesel returns 67.3mpg, but takes 1.6 seconds longer to get from 0-62mph, at 8.1 seconds.
To ensure the latest car sounds as good as its predecessor, a sound ‘synthesiser’ has been fitted to both the petrol and diesel models by Ford to enhance the engine note inside. This delivers a purposeful, growling soundtrack that will no doubt please fast Ford enthusiasts.
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If you like the sound of the petrol model, but 247bhp is not enough, Ford's official tuner, Mountune, can bolt on a performance upgrade that boosts the car’s power to 272bhp and torque to 400Nm. In addition to taking all of 90-minutes to fit from a Mountune-approved Ford dealer, it'll also set you back around £1,200.
The Mountune upgrade is an official upgrade, so it won't void the Focus ST’s warranty. However, while the kit gives the hot hatch plenty of mid-range grunt, the additional boost in power is a little too much for the chassis to handle.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
It may be fast and fun, but the day-to-day cost of enjoying the Focus ST shouldn’t be too high. The petrol model returns decent economy figures and the diesel option is incredibly frugal (when driven gently, of course).
The new 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine returns a 41.5mpg economy and emits 159g/km of CO2 – both improvements over the pre-facelift model thanks to the addition of a stop-start system. However, these improvements still can't quite match those of the Golf GTI, which returns 47.1mpg and emits 139g/km.
The diesel Focus ST fares better, though, delivering 67.3mpg and 110g/km CO2 emissions – identical figures to a VW Golf GTD fitted with a manual gearbox. That means you have a potential range of over 850 miles on its 60-litre tank, if you can resist the urge to put your foot down. The Ford falls into the G tax group, so you’ll pay £180 per year for the petrol model. The frugal diesel is in band B, which means that after a free first year, you’ll pay just £20 annually.
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Insurance has long been the bugbear for hot hatch drivers, yet the Focus ST is competitive, with the turbodiesel version being most cost-effective at group 24-26, depending on specification. Petrol models are significantly quicker off the mark, and the quid pro quo is a hefty insurance hike. The basic Focus ST with petrol power starts at group 34, rising to group 36 for the top-spec ST-3. That compares to the petrol-powered 2.0-litre Golf GTI in group 29, and the Renaultsport Megane range, which spans groups 36 to 40.
Depreciation is where Ford always falls down, and the Focus ST is no different. Residual values are alarming for potential buyers, as our experts predict that the petrol ST will struggle to hold onto 40 per cent of its new value after three years. The diesel version should fare better, however, with industry analyst CAP predicting it will be worth more than the Golf GTD.
Interior, design and technology
The Focus ST couldn't be more different from one of its main rivals – the Golf GTI – when it comes to styling. While the VW is subtle about its sporting credentials, the Focus ST is everything you'd expect from a fast Ford. It certainly looks the part thanks to a gaping mesh grille, 19-inch alloy wheels and a wide range of colours, including Tangerine Scream orange available on ST-2 and ST-3 models. It's by no means understated, but that's what this type of car is all about. For the facelift, Ford has updated the front end with a wider grille, slimmer headlights, rectangular foglights and a more sculpted bonnet.
The sporty theme is continued inside. Every car is kitted out with front Recaro sports seats, contrast piping, carbon fibre trim, extra gauges on the dash, a sports steering wheel, metal pedals, a metal gear lever and a generous distribution of ST badges as standard. Again, it doesn’t look as classy or understated as the Golf GTI’s cabin, and it’s not as clearly laid out, either – although the quality and feel of the Ford’s plastic parts isn’t far off the VW’s.
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Moving up the range, Ford gives the Focus ST-2 half-leather trim, dual climate control and a heated windscreen, while the range-topping ST-3 is further softened by luxuries such as heated seats, full leather trim and bi-xenon headlamps. In line with the rest of the Focus range, Ford has redesigned the interior with fewer buttons for a classier look.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
An eight-inch touchscreen is now available (standard on ST-3) fitted with Ford's latest SYNC2 infotainment system that features hi-resolution graphics, Bluetooth connectivity and the best voice-recognition system we've tested to date. You can also spend £750 on sat-nav that includes a reversing camera.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Ford's decision to make the Focus ST available in five-door hatch or estate bodystyles means a welcome dose of versatility has been brought to the hot hatch class. The ST also shares the same platform architecture as the rest of the Focus range. That means it’s roomy up front and, with sufficient adjustability in the low-set Recaro sports seats, most drivers should find a comfortable position. The pedals are well spaced out, too, so enthusiastic drivers can practice a bit of heel-and-toeing.
Happily for more pragmatic owners, the Focus ST’s interior maintains the practicality of the standard hatchback’s. This means general family paraphernalia can be kept in check, with a large glovebox, deep door bins and plenty of cup-holders.
The family hatchback class is pretty well defined across rival manufacturer offerings, so it’s no surprise that the Focus fits right in. The ST, at 4,358mm nose-to-tail, is a little longer than a five-door Golf GTI, at 4255mm. However, both are shorter than Vauxhall’s Astra VXR, which, in spite of only having three doors, is 4,419mm overall.
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Yet the Ford is the widest of the trio. Its 1,858mm girth is 59mm and 44mm wider than the Golf and Astra respectively. The Focus splits its rivals on height, standing 1,461mm tall against the 1,452mm VW and 1,510mm Vauxhall.
Legroom, headroom & passenger space
In spite of its five-door configuration, the Focus ST isn't quite the perfect family car. Due to the heavily sculpted nature of the Recaro bench seat in the rear of ST-3 models, three adults can only fit in the back at a squeeze – although the extra doors make getting in easier, if you’re looking at three-door rivals. There is a proper seatbelt for each of the three rear passengers, and isofix child seat mounting points are standard in the rear.
While the Focus ST is definitely more practical than the Renaultsport Megane 265 and Vauxhall Astra VXR, it still has less boot space than the Volkswagen Golf GTI - the two cars offering 316-litre and 380-litre load bays respectively.
Folding the rear seats down boosts capacity to 1,101 litres – still some way short of the class best, but the Estate version remains an option if that’s a problem. The seats themselves are easy to collapse and leave a decent load area, which is easily accessible via the wide tailgate.
If your dynamic/sporty lifestyle extends beyond driving to – say – owning a jet-ski, it’s worth remembering that the Focus ST has a towing capacity of precisely zero kilograms. The central exhaust tailpipe means there’s nowhere to put a tow bar.
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Reliability and Safety
Ford has worked hard to ensure the latest Focus is a step up over the old car, with an improved cabin and a general feeling of solidity that seems to address past criticisms. You can’t argue with the fact the ST is also one of the safest hot hatches on the market, either, thanks to standard traction and stability control, a torque vectoring system, strong brakes and suite of airbags throughout.
The automated braking system has been upgraded, too, and now operates at speed of up to 31mph. These combined to help the Focus ST achieve a maximum score of five-stars in Euro NCAP's crash safety tests. In addition, Ford offers options such as a Driver Assistance Pack that adds safety collision avoidance, blind spot monitoring and lane-keep assist to make the Focus ST that bit safer – you can also specify adaptive cruise control.
However, it's not all good news. Ford didn't fare well in our 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, finishing a disappointing 25th out of 33 manufacturers. To make matters worse, the Focus range finished 133rd out of 150 cars – it managed only 115th for reliability, and 139th for build quality.
Hopefully some of those issues will have been addressed with the current model’s facelift, but we’ll be watching closely to see how the range performs in future surveys.
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All Fords come with a three-year/60,000 mile warranty, which is about average for this class. The cover also includes one-year roadside breakdown cover, but you can buy warranty extensions.
Generally, thanks to the mass market nature of the Focus ST, scheduled maintenance costs should be reasonable. You can buy a pre-paid servicing pack for the car, which costs £340 for two years or £570 for three – but you have to stump up the cash before the first service.
You can also take advantage of a Service Assure plan, if required, which spreads the costs of servicing across monthly instalments. Buyers should also be aware that the Focus ST is likely to eat its way through tyres as a result of all that power.