Ford Focus ST

Hot hatch proves that you don’t need to spend a fortune to have fun.

  • With a score of 73 per cent, the Focus ST lags behind its rivals. Yet it’s by the far the most affordable car of this trio, and still left all of us with big smiles on our faces.

It’s not rear-wheel drive and makes do with five cylinders, but stay with me – the Ford Focus ST is a true weekend wonder. Write a shortlist of great drivers’ cars, and while Porsche and Audi will probably spring to mind first, a fast Ford is sure to be there, too. And what better blue oval thriller to choose than the recently facelifted hot hatch Focus?

You might be surprised by my choice, but the ST proves you needn’t break the bank to have fun. Even the top-of-the-range ST-3 is one-third of the price of Audi’s RS4, and while it’s not as fast in a straight line, I reckon it’s just as enjoyable.

Not that the Focus is exactly slow: it covers 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds. Even more intoxicating is the in-gear pace. The turbocharged 2.5-litre engine is sourced from Volvo, but the unit takes on a whole new identity in the Ford.

Having dragged myself out of bed, I was able to make a subtle exit from sleepy suburbia – unlike my colleagues in their flashy models. The Ford’s powerplant rumbles into life with a satisfying growl, while a blip of the throttle is accompanied by a burble from the twin exhausts. It’s enough to get the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end, but not to wake the neighbours. Once on the move, the Focus soon stirs you with its immense character. Performance is effortless, while the warbling five-cylinder soundtrack is a delight. There’s no sudden shove in the back, but the healthy dose of torque seems to last forever.

Don’t think that this hot hatch is a one-trick pony, though. Getting to our rendezvous in North Wales means tackling motorways first – for me it’s the M6 – and the ST is just at home in a steady cruise as it is tackling sweeping corners. Although the suspension has been lowered by 25mm over the standard car and firmer springs have been added, the Focus offers refinement that few hot hatch rivals can match.

Once off the motorway, the twisting roads that lead to Bala give the Ford the opportunity to do what it does best. It has superb steering feedback, grip and body control, and it always feels nimble and secure. Yet at the same time, it’s not a frantic or exhausting car to drive.

Even with the stability control switched off, you can rely on Ford’s chassis engineering to deliver vice-free handling. It’s big and bulky, but the Focus is a hot hatch that’s eager to please.

In terms of styling, the five-door falls down – next to the Boxster and RS4, it looks unassuming, especially in our car’s Moondust Silver finish. As with the pre-facelift model, you can get brighter colours and optional bonnet and door stripes.

Engineers took a back seat during the revamp, although mechanically there was little to improve. But the cabin has changed – it’s now far more upmarket, with a revised dash, and our ST-3’s Recaro seats are supportive and comfortable.

While it can’t match its rivals for prestige or pace, the Focus ST is every inch their equal when it comes to the fun factor. It’s guaranteed to make getting up early on a Sunday worthwhile.

David Ross

Details

Price: £20,850Model tested: Ford Focus ST-3Chart position: 3

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