The Ford Focus ST is the new hot version of Ford's small family hatch.
The previous ST was hugely popular with fast Ford fans; even though it wasnt the sharpest-handling car of its kind, it made up for that with stonking straight-line performance, a great-sounding engine and a surprisingly comfortable ride.
What's the 2012 Ford Focus ST like to drive?
The good news is that the STs comparatively low price doesnt come at the expense of performance.
It uses a 247bhp 2.0-litre engine that can fire it to 62mph in just 6.5 seconds almost half a second quicker than the Golf GTI.
There's 247bhp under the bonnet of the Ford Focus ST
Better still, the new ST sounds fantastic. Thats partly down to its burbling exhaust note, but also thanks to a clever system called a sound symposer, which amplifies the throaty induction roar of the engine when you put your foot down. The result is a noise that mimics the old STs five-cylinder warble.
Sadly, the new ST also has some of the old cars less appealing traits. Accelerate hard and the steering wheel tugs left and then right in your hands, especially on uneven road surfaces. As a result, its difficult to keep the car on your intended line when youre pushing hard.
Thats a shame, because in other respects the ST handles very well indeed. Theres plenty of grip, and it feels nicely balanced, allowing you to carry loads of speed through corners.
Better still, the ride is wonderfully supple for such a high-performance car, even on the scarred and pot-holed roads that make up most of Britains road network.
What's the 2012 Ford Focus ST like inside?
The ST is more practical than hardcore hot hatches such as the Renault Megane Cup and Vauxhall Astra VXR, largely because it has an extra couple of doors. However, the Focus has a slightly smaller boot than a five-door Golf GTI.
The driving position is excellent, and although the entry-level ST-1 car's cabin shares most of its layout with less-glamorous models in the Focus range, it does feature a set of supportive colour-coded Recaro sports seats.
ST-2 spec adds part-leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, and automatic lights and wipers for a 1500 premium.
Meanwhile top-of-the-range ST-3 trim gives you powered- and heated full-leather seats, bi-xenon headlights, rear parking sensors and keyless entry, but ramps up the price to much less tempting 25,495.
Should I buy one?
If youre looking for a hardcore hyper hatch then buy a Renault Megane 265 Cup. However, if youre happy to trade a few thrills for better comfort, superior practicality and lower running costs, the new ST makes a great deal of sense.
The only stumbling block is the Golf GTI. Which car you should choose really depends on how many luxuries you want; although the entry-level Focus ST-1 looks like cracking value, undercutting the VW by more than 4000, it misses out on things such as leather seats, climate control and automatic light and wipers.
If those things are important to you, go for the Golf. Its no sharper to drive than the Focus and theres nothing between the two cars on running costs, but the VWs stronger resale values will more than make up for the 1000 premium that it carries over the equivalent Focus ST-3.
What Car? says...