The wait is nearly over for fast Ford fans. The all-new Focus ST has taken a big step closer to showrooms, and Auto Express was invited along to be part of the process.
We joined Ford’s engineers in the Eifel Mountains, Germany, as part of the team which prepared to sign off the 247bhp hot hatch for production.
Don’t be fooled by the plastic wheel trims fitted to the car in our pictures. With temperatures dipping as low as -9 degrees Celsius, Ford’s team wisely decided to fit a set of winter tyres to our test car. Not that the ST is ever likely to be mistaken for a basic model...
Even our car’s subtle black paintwork couldn’t disguise its racy exterior. It rides 10mm lower than Titanium cars, and features a gaping grille and LED running lights. This gives the car a much more aggressive look, while a large spoiler above the rear windscreen and centre-exit exhaust set it apart at the back.
Paul Wijgaerts is technical specialist for performance cars at Ford of Europe, and has the job of looking after us for the day. He explains that the visual changes are more than simple cosmetic tweaks, as they’re also designed to improve high-speed stability.
He then runs through the list of mechanical changes. It includes a tuned version of the Mondeo’s 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine, plus revised suspension geometry, new springs and dampers, a variable-ratio steering set-up and upgraded transmission.
Inside, there’s a smattering of ST logos, a pair of racy Recaro seats and a trio of trademark gauges on top of the dash. And it’s easy to see which car Ford is targeting with the ST, as the team has brought along a VW Golf GTI for comparison. There’s also an old ST to show us how much the new car has changed. As we set off in the old five-cylinder model, the size of the job that faced Paul’s team is audible.
“It was an absolute nightmare to get the noise of the car right,” admits Paul. “It’s impossible to get a similar sound to the five-cylinder with a four-cylinder, but
I think we’ve done a good job.”
It’s hard not to agree when we get into the new ST. A sound tube feeds the engine noise into the cabin with a butterfly valve that opens when you press the throttle. Once the revs are above 3,500rpm, it sounds great, with a hard-edged note that’s loud enough to put a smile on your face without becoming tiresome over longer distances.
The Focus is as quick as it sounds, with the acceleration enough to pin you back into the body-hugging seats as we blast out of second-gear corners. Paul says the car can do 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, but the ST has never been about raw speed; the best fast Fords are defined by agile handling and sharp responses.
This is where Paul thinks the car will have an advantage. “We have variable-ratio power-steering, which is a big step over the GTI, and I think agility will be the ST’s biggest selling point,” he says.
However, Ford’s Continuous Damping Control (CDC) won’t be available. “We decided not to spend money on CDC, but to get the dynamics right instead,” Paul explains. From our position in the passenger seat, the result feels like a good compromise. It’s firmer than the Golf GTI but more forgiving than a Renaultsport Megane. And Paul is clearly having fun as he uses the throttle to help steer the car through corners – a sure sign the chassis is playful and engaging.
It’s impossible to tell if the car torque steers from our vantage point, but Paul isn’t having to wrestle with the steering as he accelerates out of tight bends. And our car isn’t even fitted with the latest software for the torque steer compensation system, which works through the electric power-steering.
So, it’s easy to believe Paul when he says the new ST is faster than the old model. The outgoing car could lap the Nürburgring in eight minutes, 35 seconds. While he claims not to have timed the new car around the famous track, he estimates a time of 8m20s is easily within its grasp. We can’t wait to put his theory to the test.
This article was updated with the full story on 22 February 2012.