If the Ford Focus ST lived in your street you’d probably stay well out of its way. Rude and aggressive, it really couldn’t care less what you or anybody else thinks of it. But it’s that loutish and uncouth spirit that really sets it apart from other hot hatchbacks. It has no desire to wipe the smug grin from the Golf GTI’s face – it wants to slap it off instead.
From the moment you set eyes on it you’re aware it’s not here to mess about. Angular and angrier changes to the styling have given it a more purposeful appearance than the outgoing generation. While the Focus ST now has the distinctive
Aston Martin Ford family nose, credit should be given to the forceful lines present across the car, especially those originating from just above the large alloy wheels to reach all the way to the rear light clusters. Despite all those changes the confrontational hot hatch dress code is still all present and correct and to be honest, it makes some of its rivals look a little timid in comparison.
Inside the cabin the vast array of media buttons has finally been replaced by a tidier central console. While the loss of those buttons can be celebrated, the slightly unresponsive but nicely arranged touchscreen system left me a little frustrated at times. You can also still almost pull the extra ST gauges off the top of the dash and speaking of the dash, it’s just a bit too bleak for my liking and certainly not in keeping with the character of the car. As before the interior is still the weakest point of the Focus ST, but this is at least a step in the right direction.
You will however forgive the Focus ST for any perceived shortfalls in interior quality when you press the start button, and commence driving what is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining sub-£30k cars. Make no mistake about it; this is a car for those who love to drive. From the giggle-inducing wheel spin (which happens up to 3rd gear in the diesel) to the simply tremendous steering feel, the Focus ST has everything the everyday driver needs here to have a blast whilst also still having enough about it to amuse the more experienced back road hooligan. This is a hot hatch that deserves a little respect from its driver.
The reasons for that respect become clear when you decide to grab it by the scruff of the neck, particularly on a wet road surface. In the diesel, the sheer amount of torque going through the front wheels means that the throttle needs to be managed smoothly by the driver to avoid the wheels spinning up. Equally, the correct rules for cornering should be followed to avoid either understeer or lift-off oversteer. Unlike some of its rivals the electronic stability programmes do allow a fair bit of leeway. It’s refreshing for a hot hatch to require that bit of thought from the driver, so often in this segment cars can be grabbed and thrashed inconsiderately, but the Focus ST rewards good driving and can potentially bite those who don’t engage the brain.
‘Don’t push your luck, mate’ performance is all part of the attitude this car just radiates from sight to steer, but it’s the addictive nature of the driving experience that wins your heart. The petrol powered model in particular is an absolute delight, and there is very little more satisfying than applying the throttle out of an apex and slickly letting all 246bhp push you onto the next one. The petrol feels slightly more nimble than the diesel, and the extra revs available provide a more authentic performance car experience. Not that the diesel isn’t enjoyable, you get all of the torque and a decent slice of power on top of all the Focus ST goodness in the gear change, steering feel, and handling. Feedback is just as good in the diesel as it is in the petrol, but the petrol edges it for me because this car is made for performance and whatever people may say, petrol will always beat diesel in sporty-at-heart road cars.
So if the petrol engined Focus ST is the one to have, why has Ford tested the will of its customers by offering the diesel engined Focus ST for exactly the same price? Understandably there is a very good market for fast diesels with tax benefits and mpg gains in particular. Ford said they expect 50/50 sales between petrol and diesel, but if the prices for the cars are the same it is easy to envisage customers being swayed to the diesel, even if the performance from the petrol is better. Many customers will be well aware it’s not what you drive it’s how you drive it, and as it’s inevitable you’ll be thrashing either ST, the diesel will return better mpg. You may however want to budget a little for a quicker than expected front tyre replacement with all that diesel torque on offer.
Perhaps the most flattering thing I can say about the Focus ST is that it is a better car than its little sibling – the much heralded Fiesta ST. The extra power and attitude make this a more satisfying car to drive hard, and it should be a contractual requirement that anything with an ST badge on it should be driven like it’s been stolen. Both engine variants are utterly addictive to push on in, so buy petrol for the thrills and diesel for the bills – you’ll be happy with either, but you’ll have more laughs behind the wheel of the petrol. Consider overlooking the interior because the driving experience more than makes up for it, and crucially trumps the Golf GTI for excitement.
Volkswagen should consider the GTI’s smug grin to have been slapped off its face for now, and buyers shouldn’t forget the Focus ST has an even bigger, even meaner brother that will shortly be moving into the street – the RS. The Focus ST and big bro’ RS then are the Mitchell brothers of the automotive world, ready to throw punches at a moments’ notice. The characters of the Focus range have arrived and everybody else should be really rather worried.
2015 Ford Focus ST
|Performance & Economy||2.0 Ecoboost ST-1 Hatchback||2.0 TDCi ST-3 Estate|
|Engine||2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol||2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel|
|Transmission||6-speed manual, front-engined, front-wheel drive||6-speed manual, front-engined, front-wheel drive|
|Power (PS / bhp)||250 / 246 @ 5,500rpm||185 / 182 @ 3,500rpm|
|Torque (Nm / lb.ft)||360 / 265 @ 2,000-4,500rpm||400 / 295 @ 2,000-2,750rpm|
|0 – 62 mph (seconds)||6.5||8.1|
|Top Speed (mph)||154||135|
|CO2 Emissions (g/km)||159||110|
|Combined Economy (mpg)||41.5||67.3|