Test drive: Ford Focus ST

Max power: 225 (bhp)
Torque: 320 (lb/ft)
Acceleration: 6.8 (secs)
Max speed: 150 (mph)
Transmission: FWD, 6 gears

The Focus ST has always been something of an enigma to me. A hot hatch in every sense of the word, yet I’ve never been able to wrap my head around whether I like the way it looks, or hate it. Today I’ve tried to figure out the answer once and for all. I went down to Evans Halshaw and spoke with Adrian in the used car department (great guy) about a rather fetching red number with just shy of 7,000 miles.

First thoughts

As a I get in the ST, it doesn’t feel like an occasion or anything very special. The Recaro seats are attractive and supportive, and pretty adjustable; as the steering wheel is too, I quickly find a comfortable driving position. Firing her up is as simple as having your keys in your pocket, pressing down the clutch and firing the ‘Power’ button. No drama on start up, quiet and unassuming.

Ride

We first have to negotiate a number of standard built up area roads and speed bumps which means that the ride could easily be examined. Despite the (awful black) 18″ wheels, the ride was good. Firm, but nowhere near bone shaking or grimace inducing, which is good considering the wheel size and focus of the car as a whole.

Interior and comfort

Ford Focus ST interior

Interior - good but not sparkling

Due to the sheer drudgery of the built up area roads, I have a good look around the cabin. Good space in the back, heated front and rear screens, air con, auto headlights – all the things you expect from a car of this type. There’s also bluetooth for your phone and USB and aux points for plugging in your iPod. good useful stuff for everyday use.

The switch gear could do with being a bit better quality. Fords always have this slightly basic feel to them inside for me, no matter what level they are in the range. A little too much fake brushed metal services and such like. The dash is fine, but that’s all. It lacked the coolness of the Civic Type R’s dials and was just an overall non event in what is meant to be a sporty version. The addition of the dials for turbo boost on the top of the dash are welcome though and so add to the overall experience.

The seats feel good and supportive although not quite as huggy as in other performance cars and hot hatches like this. They are the fabric variety of red and grey trim which fits in with the cars overall feel.

Performance

Ford Focus ST stickers

The dreaded stickers and gloss wheels

Finally we leave the boredom and have a crack at some dual carriageway and one of my personal favourites: dual carriageway/motorway on ramps. Don’t you just love them? Generally low speed to start with and the whole point is to get up to speed of the road you’re joining. So get up to speed I did.

The noise of this car is very addictive. Much more so than the VTEC noise of the Type R. With the spooling noise of the turbo, the roar of induction and the whistling of the turbo, it has a fantastic soundtrack. On the dual carriageway, just a blip of the throttle is accompanied by the induction note and a general feeling of grunt. At lower speeds a small squeeze results in a subtle spooling sound of the turbo. I’d be forever blipping the throttle and speeding up a bit just to hear these noises again.

Performance itself is also impressive, if a little lacking in clarity. Due to the front wheel drive and the big lump of torque available, the direction of the car is unpredictable even in a straight line due to the torque steer. This squirming motion under power does give the ST a feeling of involvement and fun and also simultaneously spoils some of the purity of the power. Having said that the really accessible nature of the car’s power is really good. Pushing your foot towards the floor in a range of gears and speeds is generally always rewarded with a surge of forwards motion.

Despite having more or comparable horsepower than the Type R or my S2000 and boat loads more torque, the sensation of speed is much less in the ST. It’s a little more cosseted and refined and so easy to pile of the MPH in quite a civilised way. It lacks in my opinion some of the smile factor of the VTEC engines manic nature. I know I’ve already covered it, but it this is OK due to the noise. It really does sound superb.

Handling

Ford Focus ST alloy wheel and caliper

Alloy wheel and big stopper

We did have a very brief spell in some twisty country lanes which revealed the ST to be easy to handle and chuck around corners (and past transit vans) with the ABS only firing once due to a slightly misjudged corner. I don’t think I had enough bends to truly judge the steering and balance of the car, but it dealt very well with what I did drive through eve though the road was rough, a bit mucky and very twisty.

The brakes are great. Initially they seem a bit over powered (I touched them to stop on the way out of the dealership and it felt like an emergency stop) but once you’re used to them, the big stoppers are really useful and progressive.

Final thoughts

I only got to drive the car for just over a half hour, and it made a great impression in that time. I think I like it more than the Civic Type R overall, even if it loses out on it’s looks. The engine pulls better, especially mid range, giving a much more usable everyday power.

The issues I have with it that would probably stop me from owning one are the interior quality (a bit too standard Ford) and the overall style of the exterior. It’s just trying a tiny bit too hard with it’s black gloss wheels and ST stickers down the side. Now in that vibrant signature orange with silver wheels, it may be another story, especially with leather seats.

The bottom line though? The car I drove today was £15,000 (give or take a few quid) and at that price, I don’t think you could find much that offered the balance of a nearly new car (7k miles, 10 plate) with the performance (top of the hot hatches save the new RS maybe). It’s truly a gem of car Ford have produced here, and well worth a look if the styling doesn’t grate with you.

About Rob

I'm an average petrolhead - I love cars and get as much driving experiences as I can out in the world from test drives to track days.