The Ford Focus ST is finally here. Ryan Bubear drives the ST3...
The last Ford Focus I drove was the latest generation four-door sedan, soon after its launch back in late 2011. While it did pretty much everything rather well, it was a little underwhelming for the keen driver. A sort of store-bought veggie burger of the motoring world, if you will. Supposedly healthy, but not terribly stimulating.
Before that? The absolutely outrageous three-door Focus RS, powered (through the front wheels, no less) by a 224kW 2.5-litre Duratec five-cylinder and featuring all manner of suggestive styling cues (think huge rear wing, massive air vents, lime green paintjob, etc.). As enthralling as it was to drive, it was about as subtle as a slap in the face with a kilogramme of raw rump steak. At three in the morning. On a Monday.
The new Ford Focus ST, however, attempts to mix the best of both worlds — though thankfully erring on the side of visceral sportiness. Available only in five-door form, Ford's "first global performance car" can do both unexciting practicality and white-knuckle thrills, depending on whether you're wearing your sensible family-man hat or your boy-racer beanie. Yes, there's space for the kids and space for a heavy right foot (although preferably not at the same time).
The local ST range consists of two models — the entry-level ST1 and the top-spec ST3 — which differ only in trim. Under the bonnet, they're identical.
Less is actually more
The bad news is that the pesky global downsizing craze has seen the previous generation's fabled five-potter kicked to the curb, and replaced by a 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder. The good news? Despite its loss of a cylinder and some 500cc, this new engine generates even more power, sending a meaty 184kW (29kW more than the GTI, 11kW more than the GTI Edition 35, and just 4kW less than the Golf R) to the front wheels.
Peak torque of 360Nm is available between 2000 and 4500rpm — meaning the ST pulls cleanly from pretty much the bottom of each gear — and a healthy dollop of under-bonnet wizardry evidently results in a 20 percent improvement in CO2 emissions and fuel consumption. Ford claims an average fuel economy figure of 7.2 litres per 100km, but I ended up on 11.2, largely due to the fact that the ST just begs to be driven. And driven hard. The six-speed manual gearbox is a peach and helps the ST dispatch the obligatory 0-100km/h dash in just 6.5 seconds Top speed is a largely academic but still impressive 248km/h.
How do the front tyres deal with all that oomph? Well, something called Torque Steer Compensation (which acts via the electric steering system) attempts to counteract the anticipated steering-tug. I say attempts because a solid mashing of the loud pedal still results in an (at first) startling amount of torque steer. Which can be scary. And amusing... unless you land up in a hedge. But it's by no means untameable, and in fact delivers a sort of playful engagement missing from many modern speed machines. Having to wrestle the steering wheel once in a while also serves as a stark reminder that you're driving something with plenty of power.
Oh, what a sound...
Not that the Ford Focus ST's soundtrack would ever let you forget that fact. Yes, at idle and under light throttle inputs, the engine and exhaust are fairly muted. But accelerate with purpose and the resulting growl is nothing short of glorious. Ford has achieved this by sneakily adding a sound symposer (a special tube featuring a valve that varies its position based on engine speed, throttle position and gear selection) to enrich and channel the ST's throaty intake noise directly into the cabin. While you may feel slightly cheated to learn that this aurally orgasmic roar is "enhanced", once you hear it, trust us, you won't mind a bit. Add some acoustic input from the turbo and exhaust, and you soon have little use for the audio system.
What about handling? Well, despite the "heightened" feedback (aka, that lively torque steer), the Ford Focus ST acquits itself rather well in the bends. The variable ratio steering rack increases sensitivity through the corners — allowing precise placement of the nose — while the Torque Vectoring Control system eases understeer, making you out to be a better driver than you probably are. And despite the dropped suspension, low-profile rubber and uprated shocks, the ride is surprisingly comfortable. Most spines will approve.
Styling, of course, is largely a subjective issue. To me, the Focus ST comes across as tastefully understated from the outside, particularly in our test vehicle's "Moondust Silver" paint scheme (the signature "Tangerine Scream" is altogether another matter, though). Sure, there's a gaping trapezoidal grille, chunky side-skirts, tasty 18-inch alloys, and a twin hexagonal centre exit tailpipe, but the lines are clean and simple, and there are no over-the-top design cues. It's aggressive, but not overbearing.
Inside, fabulously comfortable and supportive heated leather Recaros take centre stage, and are complemented by dark headlining and door trim. The handbrake is situated quite far forward — almost next to the gearlever, in fact — which I find actually makes it quite a bit easier to use. There's plenty of room on the back bench, and headroom is especially generous for rear passengers. The boot's pretty substantial at 316 litres too.
Standout features on the ST1 include keyless start and cruise control/speed limiter. The ST3 — which costs about R44k more — gets keyless entry, auto folding mirrors, dual-zone air-con (the ST1 gets manual air-con), automatic wipers, automatic Bi-Xenon HID headlamps (with LED DLRs), auto-dimming rear-view mirror, LED tail-lights, and those tasty eight-way electrically adjustable leather Recaros. Both models feature Ford SYNC — a software platform that provides hands-free, voice-activated in-car connectivity — but the top-spec ST gets an uprated nine-speaker Sony audio system as well. The only thing that I expected to be there that wasn't, was a rear parking sensor.
In terms of safety, the ST is well covered, thanks to dual-, side- and curtain-airbags. Stopping is taken care of by brawny brake discs front and rear, and ABS (with ESP and hill launch assist) as well as EBA are standard on both models. A four-year or 120 000km warranty and five-year or 90 000km service plan complete the package.
Overall, the Ford Focus ST manages to pull off a handy balance between everyday practicality and downright naughty fun. Unlike the more hardcore of its rivals, it is a hot hatch that's easy to live with every single day.
So, the new Ford Focus ST is a balanced yet exciting meal, full of colour and bursting with flavour... but thankfully it comes with an enormous, full-fat side-order of indulgence to keep the average petrol-head more than sated.
A meal I'd eat every day? Breakfast, lunch and supper.
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Click through to page 2 for specs and pricing.