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. However, it’s not up with the Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Yaris as a fully-focused machine for road or track alike. It’s an easy car to keep centred in a lane on motorways, and the steering gives you lots of feel when you swap to twisting, sinewy back roads, but the weighting is inconsistent, so it's not as predictable and accurate as the Honda Civic Type R’s set-up.
It also lacks the balance, grip and poise of the Type R and the GR Yaris. Compared with other rivals, though, including the Hyundai i30N, it offers greater agility, playfulness and, ultimately, a higher fun factor. That said, if you’re all about playfulness, have a drive of the manic Renault Megane RS. While the Focus ST will tighten its line nicely into hairpins when you lift off the accelerator, it won't swing its rear-end round like a shopping trolley as the Megane does.
Adaptive suspension is standard on the petrol-powered ST and optional on the diesel. With it, you can definitely feel bumps as they pass beneath the car, but it makes the ST more comfortable and a more usable proposition than the ever-agitated Megane RS. It's still a tad angsty when you hit particularly sharp ridges, though, and the Type R, despite its hardcore reputation, is even more compliant – as is the ubiquitously easy-to-live-with Volkswagen Golf GTI for that matter.
Adding the optional Performance Pack gives you the option of knocking the adaptive suspension into Sport or Track mode, but both settings feel too firm for some of the UK's brutally calloused roads. What about the non-adaptive suspension, though? Well, it's the only suspension option you can have with the estate model and it’s fine to live with. In either body style, the lighter petrol-engined model rides slightly better than the heavier diesel one.
Few cars fire you out of bends quite like the four-wheel-drive GR Yaris, but the Focus 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 wheel spin causing a plume of smoke in its wake like an injured Spitfire.
The Megane’s LSD is more aggressive, which manifests itself as more torque steer – a phenomenon where the steering wheel is tugged left and then right under power as each tyre grips then breaks traction. You get some of that in the Focus, too, but not enough to spoil the driving experience. There's less torque steer in the diesel, partly because it doesn’t have the LSD and also because it has less power.
In terms of outright pace, the petrol Focus ST gets from 0-62mph in 5.7sec, but, ultimately, it isn’t as fast as the Honda Civic Type R or the GR Yaris. It doesn't rev out so enthusiastically either. It’s quick enough to live with other rivals in a straight line, though, including the i30 N, Megane RS and Golf GTI. The Focus ST's augmented engine note includes some smile-inducing firework theatrics from its exhaust, but it’s not the most vivacious of soundtracks.
The diesel is significantly slower (0-62mph takes 7.6sec) and has a narrower, less enjoyable power delivery; there’s a bigger surge at low revs but it diminishes considerably after 3,500rpm. To mask its underwhelming diesel engine note, you get even more fake noise pumped into the interior than you do in the petrol version.
All Focus STs come with a crisp six-speed manual gearbox as standard. It’s a delight to use, being light and slick. The optional seven-speed automatic is available with the petrol and it’s not a good fit. We found it less responsive than the dual-clutch automatic gearboxes available with some of the rival cars. The Focus ST’s brakes provide solid stopping power with a reassuring pedal feel.
The optional Performance Pack we touched on earlier adds adaptive suspension to the diesel ST and a Track mode to both versions. This mode gives you even more aggressive settings for the engine, steering weight, automatic gearbox (where fitted) and suspension. It also allows you to choose the stiffness of the suspension yourself, rather than leaving the the car’s electronic brain to tune it automatically according to specific computer maps.
The Performance Pack also 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 a launch control system that helps you to make perfect getaways, too.
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