The great news is that the Focus ST feels utterly planted on the road. Its precise steering means you don’t have to work hard to keep it centred in its lane on motorways but, even more importantly for a hot hatch, when you swap to twisting, sinewy back roads, its steering is direct and accurate.
You’ll also discover greater agility and balance than a Hyundai i30N can muster, and indeed, enough to help keep up with a Renault Mégane RS. And unlike the Megane, it’s never as unruly on the way in to tight hairpins. Instead, if you back off the accelerator in the Focus it simply tightens its line neatly to help carry you round.
Hatchback versions get adaptive suspension as standard and it keeps the body composed over undulations. And while you definitely feel bumps as they pass beneath the car, the Focus ST is much more comfortable and useable than the ever-agitated Mégane RS. The only time it gets a tad angsty is if you hit a particularly sharp ridge.
Knock the suspension into Sport or Track mode (you need to order the optional Performance Pack to gain that capability) and it feels too firm for some of the UK's more brutally calloused roads.
Because the estate gets a different rear suspension setup to maximise rear boot space, you can't have the adaptive dampers, even as an option. On the petrol model that's no great issue as even though you do feel road imperfections, it's by no means uncomfortable just like the hatch. However, the diesel estate is a little bit firmer, tripping up over craggy surfaces more than the petrol.
The limited-slip differential (LSD) works a treat: you can really feel it magnifying the traction available to the ST’s front, driven wheels. So, even with plenty of steering lock applied out of tighter turns, you can get hard on the power without doing an impression of an injured Spitfire by leaving a trail of tyre smoke in your wake.
The Mégane’s LSD is more aggressive, manifesting itself in more torque steer — a phenomenon where the front wheels tug the steering wheel left and right in your hands as the tyres struggle to put down the power effectively. You get some of this in the Focus but not enough to spoil the driving experience. The diesel doesn't get a mechanical LSD, but it's lesser power output puts less strain on the front tyres, so even on a streaming wet day you're rarely left wanting for more traction.
Speaking of power, the petrol Focus ST isn’t as fast as a Honda Civic Type R. But it feels fast enough to live with either the Mégane RS or Hyundai i30 N in a straight line. There’s an augmented engine note that includes some smile-inducing firework theatrics from the exhaust, but it doesn’t go into the realms of the ridiculous. The diesel is significantly slower, but is still brisk enough to remind you of the ST's sporting intent.
The crisp six-speed manual gearbox is a delight to use (we’re yet to assess the automatic) and the Focus ST’s beefier brakes provide a sound stopping power and a reassuring pedal.
The optional Performance Pack that we touched upon earlier adds a Track mode that gives you even more aggressive settings for the engine, steering weight, automatic gearbox (if fitted) and suspension on the hatch. It also allows you to determine the stiffness of the suspension yourself, rather than having the car’s electronic brain tune it automatically.
The Performance Pack also brings a light that shows you 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 launch control system to help you make the perfect getaway every time.