Ford Focus ST review

Category: Hot hatch

Well-priced, well-equipped hot hatch combines performance with family-friendly practicality

Ford Focus ST front cornering
  • Ford Focus ST front cornering
  • Ford Focus ST rear cornering
  • Ford Focus ST interior dashboard
  • Ford Focus ST interior back seats
  • Ford Focus ST interior infotainment
  • Ford Focus ST right driving
  • Ford Focus ST Estate front right driving
  • Ford Focus ST front cornering
  • Ford Focus ST Estate rear right driving
  • Ford Focus ST Estate left static
  • Ford Focus ST alloy wheel detail
  • Ford Focus ST headlights detail
  • Ford Focus ST badge detail
  • Ford Focus ST rear lights
  • Ford Focus ST interior front seats
  • Ford Focus ST interior seat detail
  • Ford Focus ST interior driver display
  • Ford Focus ST interior detail
  • Ford Focus ST interior detail
  • Ford Focus ST interior detail
  • Ford Focus ST boot open
  • Ford Focus ST Estate boot open
  • Ford Focus ST front cornering
  • Ford Focus ST rear cornering
  • Ford Focus ST interior dashboard
  • Ford Focus ST interior back seats
  • Ford Focus ST interior infotainment
  • Ford Focus ST right driving
  • Ford Focus ST Estate front right driving
  • Ford Focus ST front cornering
  • Ford Focus ST Estate rear right driving
  • Ford Focus ST Estate left static
  • Ford Focus ST alloy wheel detail
  • Ford Focus ST headlights detail
  • Ford Focus ST badge detail
  • Ford Focus ST rear lights
  • Ford Focus ST interior front seats
  • Ford Focus ST interior seat detail
  • Ford Focus ST interior driver display
  • Ford Focus ST interior detail
  • Ford Focus ST interior detail
  • Ford Focus ST interior detail
  • Ford Focus ST boot open
  • Ford Focus ST Estate boot open
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Introduction

What Car? says...

In turbulent times, it’s good to know that the Ford Focus ST remains a constant – at least in the hot hatch sector. You see, Ford has an immense and enviable legacy of building great performance hatchbacks, and there's been a sizzling ST version of all four generations of the Ford Focus.

The Focus ST is available as a hatchback or estate car and you can have a manual or automatic gearbox. The 276bhp petrol engine is a detuned version of the turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder in the 2016-2018 Ford Focus RS so it has a dash of pedigree to go with its healthy dollop of performance.

To keep all its vigour channelling straight to the road, the Focus ST has an electronically controlled limited-slip differential to minimise wheelspin and prevent the nose from running wide as you power out of corners. You also get bigger brakes than on the standard Focus to scrub off speed more effectively, and the steering and suspension are bespoke and tuned for increased agility.

So, is the Ford Focus ST as good as the best hot hatches available? We'll let you know over the next few pages of this review. We'll rate it in all the important areas, and tell you how it compares with the main rivals, including the Cupra Leon, the Hyundai i30 N and the Honda Civic Type R. Oh, and let's not forget the original hot hatch – the VW Golf GTI.

If you decide to buy a new ST or any other model, you could save thousand if you search for the lowest prices using our free What Car? New Car Buying pages. It's a good place to find the best new hot hatchback deals.

Overview

The Focus ST is not as fun to drive as the Honda Civic Type R, but it is more entertaining than many rivals. It’s also competitively priced and well equipped against its major competitors. Plus, it's just as practical as the regular Focus, making it perfect for performance-hungry families.

  • Well equipped
  • Great driving position
  • Even more fun with the grippy Track Pack
  • Infotainment system can be fiddly to use
  • Interior is a bit low rent
  • Steering is inconsistently weighted
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

The great news is that the Ford Focus ST is an enjoyable hot hatch for the road. It’s not up with the ultra-balanced Honda Civic Type R as a fully-focused machine for road and track alike, but it offers greater agility, playfulness and, ultimately, a higher fun factor than other rivals, including the Cupra Leon, the Hyundai i30 N and the VW Golf GTI.

It’s an easy car to position on the road and the quick steering makes it feel agile on twisting back roads. That said, the weighting of the steering could be more consistent to make it a little more predictable and accurate.

In terms of outright pace, the ST gets from 0-62mph in a brisk 5.7sec – or 5.8sec with an automatic gearbox – so it's not as quick as the Civic Type R (nor does it rev out as enthusiastically). It can match the i30 N and Golf GTI for pace, though. The ST's augmented engine sound and entertaining exhaust note give an extra layer of theatrics missing from most hot hatch rivals.

Ford Focus image
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All Focus STs come with a crisp six-speed manual gearbox as standard. It’s light and slick, making it a delight to use. A seven-speed automatic gearbox is available as an option but it’s best to avoid that if you can. That’s because it’s not as responsive as the snappier (and smoother) dual-clutch auto gearboxes available with some rival cars. Also, the dampened-down response from the accelerator pedal means it doesn’t feel as lively as the manual version.

On the standard suspension, you definitely feel bumps as they pass beneath the car, but cushioning is acceptable for a hot hatch. If comfort is what you’re after, the Golf GTI is the one to go for.

The hatchback ST (but not the estate car model) is available with optional adaptive suspension as part of the Performance Pack, and that lets you select different modes. In Normal mode, the car is surprisingly comfy and usable for every day driving, although it's still a bit angsty when you hit sharper road ridges. If you tighten up the suspension by switching to Sport or Track mode, the car feels too firm on the worst UK roads.

The Performance Pack adds a light that indicates when you need to change up a gear, and rev-matching to help you change down smoothly (with the manual gearbox only). There’s also a launch control system that helps you make perfect getaways, and more aggressive settings for the engine, steering weight and (where fitted) auto gearbox.

The hatchback version is also available with an ST Track Pack, which includes stickier tyres and lighter wheels. You also get adjustable front coilover suspension, which allows you to adjust the firmness to suit you – as long as you're willing to remove a wheel and use a tool kit to do so.

Few cars drag you out of bends quite like a Civic Type R, but the ST's limited-slip differential (LSD) does a good job of magnifying the traction available at its front, driven wheels. Even with plenty of steering lock applied out of tight turns, you can get hard on the power without masses of wheelspin. A Cupra Leon 300 will scrabble its tyres more often, while traction in wet conditions remains higher in the Focus ST than most rivals. However, if you want four-wheel drive, you’ll have to look at the Cupra Leon Estate 310 with 4Drive.

An LSD can result in torque steer, where the steering wheel is tugged left then right under power as each tyre grips and breaks traction. The ST suffers from a little of that, but not enough to spoil the driving experience.

The stickier tyres on the Track Pack helps lessen the torque steer effect, letting you apply the power sooner with minimal fuss (especially when the tyres are warmed up). They also help the ST feel even more planted as it dives into corners and feels much more reassuring, dialling back some of the playfulness until you’re really pressing on. The Track Pack is a great option, especially if you're serious about track day lap times, and also makes the car drive and flow down a road more naturally.

The standard ST’s brakes are strong with a reassuring pedal feel, but the Track Pack adds larger front brake discs to increase stopping power.

Driving overview

Strengths Punchy engine; entertaining handling; more theatrical sound than most; Track Pack adds more grip and fun

Weaknesses Automatic gearbox dampens performance; inconsistent steering weight

Ford Focus ST rear cornering

Interior

The interior layout, fit and finish

The minute you open the driver's door of the Focus ST, it's obvious that it's not a regular Ford Focus because of the heavily bolstered, part-leather front seats. They adjust electrically in multiple ways and grip you tightly around the midriff.

The front seats enhance what’s already a great driving position. Every Focus comes with loads of adjustment for its steering wheel, along with well-aligned pedals and a dashboard that's pretty simple to use.

The quality of the interior materials is a little iffy though, with plenty of hard plastics on show. However, the detailing – such as the red stitching, alloy pedals and ST-engraved stainless steel scuff plates on the sills – adds a smidgen of sporting panache and charm.

Visibility is generally good, with fairly narrow windscreen pillars that provide largely unobstructed forward vision. The wider rear pillars are less helpful, but you get a rear-view camera and parking sensors at the front and rear. There are also adaptive LED headlights that illuminate your route through the gloom brilliantly. 

A 12.3in digital driver's display is standard, and you can add a head-up display as an option. The 13.2in touchscreen infotainment screen runs the latest Ford Sync 4 software, but it's not the best system on the market. Some of the small icons are tricky to hit when you're driving, and even the air-con temperature is controlled using the touchscreen. The iDrive system found in the hot versions of the BMW 1 Series is far easier to use through its rotary controller.

The ST's touchscreen does include built-in sat-nav plus Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring. Then there’s the stereo: a Bang & Olufsen system that pipes a healthy 675 watts through its 10 speakers.

Interior overview

Strengths Great driving position; supportive sports seats; plenty of tech

Weaknesses Doesn’t feel that special over the regular version; iffy quality

Ford Focus ST interior dashboard

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

Unsurprisingly, the ST is the same as any other Ford Focus when it comes to passenger space. That makes it one of the roomiest hot hatches you can buy.

There’s plenty of space in the front, and the hatchback version has more head and leg room in the rear than many rivals, including the Hyundai i30 N. In estate car form, the ST is right up there with its closest competitor for space, the estate version of the Cupra Leon.

Boot space in the hatchback ST is roughly on a par with the i30 N, but a little less than the Cupra Leon. The Skoda Octavia vRS is still the champion when it comes to fitting the most suitcases or shopping.

The ST estate’s bigger boot makes it more practical than the hatch, but it’s still slightly smaller than the Cupra Leon Estate and less commodious than the Octavia vRS Estate’s.

For more details on the car's passenger and boot space, check out our specific reviews of the Ford Focus and the Ford Focus Estate.

Practicality overview

Strengths One of the more spacious options in its class

Weaknesses Boot could be bigger

Ford Focus ST interior back seats

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

The standard Ford Focus ST hatchback isn’t badly priced compared with its hot hatch rivals. The Skoda Octavia vRS starts lower, but the Cupra Leon 300 and the VW Golf GTI cost slightly more. For value, it's hard to ignore the Hyundai i30 N because it costs less than an ST equipped to a similar level.

The same applies to the Focus ST Estate, which costing more than the Octavia vRS Estate, but less than the Leon 310 4Drive.

Ford gives you plenty of kit as standard, including keyless entry, privacy glass, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, privacy glass, power-folding door mirrors, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. The ST Track Pack adds black exterior highlights, including on the roof, rear spoiler, door mirror caps and alloy wheels.

You don’t buy a hot hatch if you’re hoping for record fuel economy but the ST can officially manage an average of around 35mpg. In our tests, which included a mix of roads to give a real-world average, we managed 32.1mpg with the standard manual gearbox. It's less economical with an automatic gearbox.

As for safety, the regular Ford Focus fared well in its Euro NCAP appraisal in 2019, scoring five stars overall. You get traffic-sign recognition, lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking (AEB) as standard, while blind-spot monitoring and traffic-sign recognition are on the options list. In terms of security, a Thatcham alarm and deadlocks come as standard.

The Focus finished below average (26th) in the family car class in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey while Ford as a brand came a poor 27th place out of 32 manufacturers, behind Toyota, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Skoda.

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Costs overview

Strengths Plenty of standard equipment; lots of options available

Weaknesses Reliability isn’t as strong as rivals

 

Ford Focus ST interior infotainment

FAQs

  • The Focus ST produces 276bhp.

  • The Ford Focus RS is quicker – although it was discontinued in 2018, the RS would still beat the ST in a 0-62mph sprint.

  • No, it's still available new. For the latest prices, see our New Car Buying pages.

At a glance
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Target Price from £35,513
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RRP price range £37,705 - £40,705
Number of trims (see all)1
Number of engines (see all)1
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)petrol
MPG range across all versions 35.3 - 35.8
Available doors options 5
Warranty 3 years / 60000 miles
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £1,525 / £3,090
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £3,049 / £6,180
Available colours