New car review: Ford Focus ST
Ford's Focus ST is now a better real-world hot hatch. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
EVEN hot hatch shopping rockets must move with the times. Clever EcoBoost engine technology, motorsport know-how and neat electronics have enabled Ford's Focus ST to do exactly that. Other top GTis can offer more than its 2.0-litre turbo's 250PS but few of them can deliver a better driving experience. And isn't that, after all, what owning a car of this kind is all about?
First impressions of the 154mph hot hatch are promising. You're perfectly placed low down on – or should I say 'in' – a grippy Recaro sports seat that beautifully positions you for use of the lovely, leather-trimmed steering wheel and short-throw, sweet-shifting six-speed manual gearbox.
Beneath your right foot meanwhile, resides a four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo rather than the old ST's five-cylinder 2.5-litre. But as ever, size is no guarantee of speed and this modern EcoBoost unit puts out 25PS more power and 40Nm more torque than its predecessor. Even more surprisingly, it manages to sound just as good, thanks to a "sound symposer" in the engine that offers fireworks under hard acceleration when you want them and refinement the rest of the time when you simply want to be left in peace.
And through the corners? Off hand, I can't think of any car in the world that better balances the need for supple ride with sporty handling. Torquesteer has been tamed, thanks to a system called TSC – Torque Steer Compensation. When this issue threatens driving experience, a little motor in the steering feeds in an opposing force to counter it. And, like all Focuses, a clever Torque Vectoring system lightly brakes the inside wheel as you turn, transferring power to the outside wheel where grip is needed, firing you from bend to bend.
Ford has learnt sporting subtlety in recent years – to the point where you might even find this Focus ST's aesthetics a little on the modest side, especially if you opt for the practical estate bodystyle that's offered as an alternative to this five-door hatch. There's no rakish three-door option, but the stylists have done their best to spice up the bodyshapes.
We've seen more extreme, red-blooded hot hatches than this Focus ST, but what we've actually ended up with is the very definition of what a hot hatch should be: a guilt-free GTi with near-supercar performance and technology that's relatively affordable, perfectly practical and everyday usable.