Typical isn’t it? You fly to Spain in search of some sun, only to be greeted with some properly British downpours. Not the ideal weather in which to test-drive Ford’s latest blue collar hot hatch hero.
Barcelona was the destination for the launch of the new Ford Focus ST, which can now be ordered – should sir or madam wish – with a diesel engine. Aside from some truly impressive economy figures, the diesel’s primary weapon over the petrol version is the bucketloads of torque on offer from the 2.0-litre TDCI unit. How does 295lb ft at 2,000 to 2,750rpm sound?
Of course, as a reader of PetrolBlog, you really want to know if the Focus ST with the petrol engine is still the one to have. Fear not, because on the evidence of two days in Spain, the petrol-engined ST is the terrorist, while the ST diesel is the economist. That doesn’t mean the Focus ST diesel isn’t without appeal. As an all-rounder it’s hard to knock the oil-burner, with the combined appeal of 67.3mpg and that torque giving it the edge for lease buyers and commuters.
And the weather – which resulted in one unfortunate chap writing off a brand spanking new Focus ST estate – did hamper any attempts to really put the hammer down. It’ll be interesting to see if the ST diesel still spins its wheels in third gear when the roads aren’t covered in a thin layer of grease.
But with the second day bringing some welcome sunshine and much drier roads in the stunning Montserrat National Park, the petrol-engined Focus ST felt more alive, more agile and more like a proper hot hatch should be. It’s a highly subjective opinion (and one that wasn’t shared by everyone on the launch), but the 2.0-litre petrol ST is the one to have.
It’s the car that will drag you out of bed at 5am for a dawn raid. The one that will set the heart racing. And – if you have the guts to order your ST in Tangerine Scream (orange) – the one that will give you the better wake up call. And seriously, you really should order your Focus ST in Tangerine Scream. Although only a select few will have the guts to do so.
It has all the ingredients for the perfect hot hatch. Superb Recaro sports seats; a central exhaust system that produces a throaty, but not OTT soundtrack; a set of optional 19-inch alloy wheels that completely fill the wheel arches; plus a terrific amount of pace.
The ST experience starts with a disappointingly flimsy keyless entry fob and a now familiar Ford Start-Stop button. Finding a decent driving position is easy thanks to plenty of steering wheel and seat adjustment, while the revised Focus interior is much simpler than before and loads better as a result.
That said, the interior quality still lags behind the the premium quality-feel of the Golf GTI, with small things like the loose-fitting dials atop the dashboard highlighting the Ford’s deficiencies. Then again, the Focus ST2 costs £23,695, a price which, on the evidence of the Spanish road test, is an absolute steal. Even the top-spec ST3 costs a mere £25,995. Good lord. There’s also no price premium for choosing the diesel.
In any situation, be it pulling away from a junction, racing away from the traffic lights, or engaging in some Tollfoolery at the toll booths, the Focus ST will readily spin its wheels. And it will continue to do so until you’ve reached third gear. Insert cliched excitable puppy and stick reference here.
Without wishing to state the bleeding obvious, in either diesel or petrol flavour, the Focus ST is a seriously quick car. Top speed of the petrol version is 154mph, with 62mph polished off in a mere 6.5 seconds. But if the straight line performance is good, it’s the way it carries this clout through corners that impresses the most.
The levels of grip are astonishing and there’s only a hint of body roll as you tackle the twisty bits. Soon your confidence will grow and you’ll realise you can enter the corner just that little bit faster than the last, with the traction control system helping you charge out the corner just that little bit earlier.
Far be it for PB to get excited about a traction control system, but in the Focus ST it’s a wonderful thing. Remember that moment as a child when your mum finally said you could cycle to the end of your road, just as long as you kept within eyesight of the house? The Focus ST’s TCS works in much the same way.
It lets you induce a small dollop of oversteer, giving the Focus ST a playful character, only to bring everything into line before things go awry. Drivers with considerable more skill than me could choose to put the ST into Sport mode and disengage the safety blanket, but when the car feels so beautifully poised, it’s questionable why you’d ever feel the need to.
And the steering? How refreshing to report that Ford has nailed it. Beautifully weighted, direct and central to the car’s overall prowess. When the road conditions allowed and when the traffic cleared, the new Focus ST delivered some moments of pure joy. Proper hairs on the back of your neck stuff.
It’s a brilliant hot hatch that feels slightly unhinged and always ready to entertain. It’ll encourage you to pull over into a lay-by in order for the road ahead to clear. You’ll constantly feel the urge to travel in a gear lower than you would in a more ordinary performance hatch. Fair play to Ford, it has delivered on the revised ST. I can’t praise this thing enough.
Let’s not forget the Focus ST sits alongside the Fiesta ST on the third tier of the newly-formed Ford Performance division. By amalgamating SVT, Ford Racing and RS, Ford has created a global performance brand that will include the all-new and super-sexy GT. Goodness knows how good the cars from the upper tiers will be. As for the new Ford Focus RS – if it’s even 10% better than the ST, we’re in for a treat.
Should you consider buying the Ford Focus ST? If you’ve got the smallest trickle of petrolhead blood running through your veins, then absolutely. Don’t rule out the diesel because it does offer a terrific soundtrack, superb on-paper economy and the aforementioned torque.
But the petrol-engined Ford Focus ST deserves its place alongside some of Ford’s performance heroes. As good as the Fiesta ST? With the benefit of a good night’s sleep, perhaps not. But it comes a damn sight close. And that’s the biggest compliment I can pay it.