Ford Focus ST long-term test: report 1

Has Ford replicated the brilliance of the Fiesta ST in its new Focus ST hot hatch? And can it match the class-leading Honda Civic Type R as a daily driver? We've got four months to find out...

Ford Focus ST long term

The car Ford Focus ST  Run by Allan Muir, managing editor

Why we’re running it To see whether the new ST can live up to Ford’s reputation for making great hot hatches and provide better value than its rivals

Needs to Be thrilling and fun to drive on country roads while being practical and civilised enough for everyday use

Mileage 89 List price £32,495 Target Price £30,207 Price as tested £32,745 Options fitted Performance Pack (£250) Test economy 26.6mpg Official economy 39.8mpg (WLTP)

27 November 2019 – Let the fast Ford frolics begin 

Ford and hot hatchbacks go together like cheese and pickle. Between the Fiesta ST, Focus ST and Focus RS over several generations each and even going back to the Escort days, the brand has earned a reputation for being a master at turning its everyday hatchbacks into outstanding driver’s cars that offer accessible performance and entertaining handling for an affordable (mostly) price. Indeed, the Ford Fiesta ST is our current favourite hot hatch for less than £25,000.

However, the Focus ST’s place in the hot hatch hierarchy is now less clear-cut than it used to be. The game changed somewhat during the course of the previous-generation model’s life and it was overshadowed by a raft of new rivals that offered a greater bang for the buck, including the current Honda Civic Type R and Renault Mégane RS, while a newcomer in the shape of the excellent Hyundai i30 N muscled in on the Focus ST's traditional territory. 

Ford Focus ST long term

In response, this new Focus ST is a more serious piece of kit than its predecessors, featuring a different engine with more power, adaptive suspension for the first time and an electronic limited-slip differential to boost traction and enhance agility in corners. The downside is that it’s no longer the bargain it once was; this new model is available only in one high-spec trim and is priced at more than £32,000 – similar money to the Civic Type R, the current benchmark among hot hatches. That seems quite steep for a Focus ST, so I hope it’s worth the money. 

My car’s turbocharged 2.3-litre Ecoboost petrol engine (a 2.0-litre diesel version is available too) puts out 276bhp through the front wheels. That’s more than most versions of the current Volkswagen Golf GTI but still down on the 316bhp Civic Type R. Regardless, the 2.3 Ecoboost is a very strong, flexible engine with an evocative, warbling soundtrack, and the Focus ST certainly isn’t short on performance; in fact, its official 0-62mph time of 5.7sec pips the Civic Type R’s by 0.1sec.

Ford Focus ST long term

My car comes with Race Red paint and standard dark grey 19in alloy wheels – a combo that looks pretty tasty, I reckon – and is fitted with a £250 Performance Pack, which adds an extra Track driving mode to the standard Slippery, Normal and Sport settings, as well as launch control and a rev-matching feature to help with gearshifts. Although an eight-speed automatic gearbox is available as an option, I’ve gone for the standard six-speed manual, figuring that my left leg could do with the extra exercise of pushing a clutch pedal in and out for a change. Besides, the precise, short-shift manual ’box is more involving, as should always be the case in a hot hatch.

Ford Focus ST long term

Standard equipment includes front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, heated windscreen and steering wheel, adaptive LED headlights, adaptive cruise control and a premium Bang & Olufsen audio system with 10 speakers, while the infotainment system is accessed via an 8.0in touchscreen perched high up on the dashboard. The front seats are electrically adjustable, part-leather Recaro buckets with substantial side bolsters to hold me in place during hard cornering, yet they’re not so figure-hugging that they’re awkward to get in and out of or become uncomfortable on long trips. The driver’s seat also drops lower than has been the case in some of Ford’s previous hot hatches, making for an excellent driving position.

Initial impressions are that the Focus ST is indeed fun to drive, with quick steering and a taut, precise feel, although the ride can be rather jiggly at times, even in its most compliant setting. Being a five-door hatch, the ST is fairly practical, too.

Ford Focus ST long term

My only concern so far is that it seems very noisy, even at low speeds, with lots of rumble and roar from the tyres. We’ll have to see if that becomes a problem. Otherwise, the Focus ST is shaping up to be a bundle of fun. I’m confident that we’re going to get along as well as the cheese and pickle filling in the sandwich I had for lunch today…

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