Ford Focus ST Estate review
The Ford Focus ST Estate mixes the sharp handling and turbo performance of the ST hot hatch with the versatility of an estate car body
If you’re looking for serious driving thrills, then the Ford Focus ST should be at the top of your shopping list. We named the fast five-door Best Hot Hatch at our 2012 New Car Awards, as it combines thrilling driving dynamics with a low price. However, this is the first time the ST has been offered as a versatile estate since the Mk1 ST170 bowed out in 2006. Boasting the same muscular 247bhp turbo 2.0-litre engine as the hatch, along with a generous 476-litre boot, the current model promises pace and practicality. It also features the same uprated suspension and head-turning looks as its five-door brother. Better still, prices start at just £23,095 for the entry-level ST-1.
Our choice: Ford Focus ST Estate
The handsome, well proportioned estate has been given a muscular makeover with an eye-catching bodykit that includes deeper front and rear bumpers, prominent side skirts and a large tailgate spoiler. Elsewhere, you’ll spot the distinctive trapezoidal centre-exit exhaust, gaping front grille and bold LED daytime running lights. Ford also offers the £275 Style Pack, which adds graphite grey 18-inch alloys, red brake calipers and illuminated kick plates. Ford has been equally bold with the Focus ST’s interior, which is littered with hot-hatch styling cues. A trio of extra dials is set into the top of the dashboard, and you also get a pair of body-hugging Recaro seats, metal-finish pedals and a smattering of ST logos. Everything else is standard Focus, which means a fussy dash design that’s cluttered with buttons and switches. And while fit and finish are good, some of the plastics used in the lower half of the cabin look and feel cheap. Still, the driving position is excellent and ST-2 specification gives you loads of standard kit, including a DAB radio, part-leather trim, a heated windscreen and climate control.
Most estate cars put family-friendly versatility ahead of driving fun, but the Focus is different. From the moment you fire up its characterful engine, the ST leaves you in no doubt as to its performance credentials. At the track, the Ford had to give best to the DSG-equipped Skoda in the sprint from 0-60mph, but its in-gear acceleration was much better. And while the muscular Focus suffers from more torque steer, it feels much livelier than its rival in real-world driving, responding instantly to the throttle once the revs rise above 1,500rpm. Better still, a special sound symposer delivers a rasping exhaust note under acceleration, yet reduces engine noise to a background hum when cruising. But it’s the Ford’s sparkling handling that really stands out. Like the hatchback, the ST has extremely sharp and beautifully weighted steering, strong grip and superb body control. And unlike in the Octavia, you can subtly adjust the Ford’s line through corners using a combination of steering and throttle. Factor in the six-speed manual gearbox’s snappy shift action plus the powerful brakes, and even a short blast down a twisting back road will leave you grinning from ear to ear. The price you pay for this handling is a firm low-speed ride, which causes the ST to thump into potholes. However, the Focus settles down well on the motorway and its cabin is better insulated from wind and road noise.
Despite Ford’s efforts to improve quality, the latest Focus finished a disappointing 70th in our Driver Power 2013 survey. Owners like the nimble handling and hi-tech gadgets, but complain about poor reliability and below-par fit and finish in the cabin. What the Focus lacks in ultimate durability, it makes up for with top-notch safety. All models get six airbags, stability control and a five-star Euro NCAP rating. The £900 Driver Assistance Pack adds city safety collision-avoidance kit, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and a road-sign recognition system.
Open the large tailgate and you’ll find a low loading lip and a decent 476 litres of luggage room. Flipping the rear seatbases up and lowering the seatbacks gives you a totally flat floor and a healthy 1,502 litres of space – although that’s still a notable 238 litres less than in the vRS. The Focus’ boot also features a number of handy shopping bag hooks, a 12V power supply and hidden cubby beneath the floor. However, there are no remote levers for folding the rear seats, while the retractable parcel shelf suffers from a stiff release mechanism and is quite heavy and cumbersome to move around. The Ford also trails the Skoda for interior space. Passengers in the rear get less head and legroom, while the Recaro rear bench is awkward for three adults, as the sculpted design leaves the middle occupant perched uncomfortably on top of the padded ridge between the two outer chairs. On the plus side, the cabin is littered with useful storage spaces, including deep door bins, a number of cup-holders and a retractable sunglasses tray that’s built into the roof lining.
Given its scorching performance, the Ford is surprisingly cost-effective to run. We saw a respectable 30.5mpg economy, and while CO2 emissions of 169g/km make our ST-2 a pricier company car than the vRS, the £23,095 ST-1 model will cut your costs. There’s better news for private buyers, as our experts predict the entry-level ST-1 will hold on to 46.8 per cent of its value after three years, while the ST-2 tested here should retain 45.1 per cent. The only fly in the ointment is Ford’s pre-paid servicing, which costs a hefty £785 for three years.