Ford Focus ST170 Estate

As unlikely combinations go, the Ford Focus ST170 Estate is up there with peanut butter and jelly. Blending the speed of a hot hatch with the practicality of a family estate is a leap in the dark for the blue oval - particularly in the light of the limited popularity of the standard load-lugger. However, with no real competition in this niche, will the feisty ST170 find homes?

This version of the Ford Focus ST170 will appeal to a relatively small group of motorists, but the blue oval is adamant that there is a market for a compact performance estate. The lively powerplant and excellent practicality make this machine a real Frankenstein mix which works surprisingly well.

As unlikely combinations go, the Ford Focus ST170 Estate is up there with peanut butter and jelly. Blending the speed of a hot hatch with the practicality of a family estate is a leap in the dark for the blue oval - particularly in the light of the limited popularity of the standard load-lugger. However, with no real competition in this niche, will the feisty ST170 find homes?

After all, buyers wanting to combine excellent driving dynamics and lively performance with the versatility of an estate currently don't have a lot of choice. Although Peugeot is preparing to launch a 206 SW Si and Vauxhall has an Astra GSi Estate in the wings, neither has hit the road just yet.

As with its hatchback twin, the ST170 Estate shows its sporting credentials with sleek, understated looks. Smart OZ Racing multi-spoke alloy wheels, striking projector headlamp units and tasteful skirts and bumpers look the part without being garish. And at the rear end there's a new spoiler and bigger exhaust.

The 2.0-litre Duratec engine is smooth and refined, but it needs to be kept on the boil when pressing on - a downshift is often necessary when overtaking. The 168bhp powerplant - which equates to 170PS, giving the model its name - propels the estate to 60mph in 8.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 133mph. While the figures don't seem earth-shattering on paper, the ST feels surprisingly quick and nimble - you quickly forget that the Focus is carrying a larger boot than its hatchback stablemate.

Although the six-speed Durashift close-ratio transmission is perfect for motorway cruising, it occasionally feels a little sticky. However, the steering offers fine feedback, weights up well at speed and is very precise. Couple this to the Focus's excellent chassis, and country jaunts prove extremely entertaining. Traction control is a little intrusive and cannot be fully turned off, but the ABS performance from the all-round disc brakes is stunning, shedding speed with ease.

The functional interior is simple to use, with the exception of the fiddly air-conditioning controls, but it is a shame that you don't really feel like you're sitting in one of the range's sportier models. Apart from the slippery alloy pedals and ST-badged dash, you'd be hard-pressed to realise you were in a 'fast' Ford.

Although the driving position is a little lofty, the standard sports seats are comfortable and the side bolsters offer good support. The tailgate opens wide, while the low bumper height makes loading an easy task. Stowage is impressive at 520 litres with the rear seats up, and a huge 1,580 litres when folded down. The lack of a boot handle is annoying, however, as the tailgate can be unlocked only via the remote key fob or by a button located on the dash. As with the ST170 hatch, specification in the cabin is particularly impressive. Twin front and side airbags and a six-CD stereo are standard fit, as are remote central locking and a CAT 1 Thatcham-approved alarm. The high 15A insurance group may put a few potential buyers off, however.

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