Ford Focus ST long-term test

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 3450 List price £32,495 Target Price £29,655 Price as tested £32,745 Test economy 24.8mpg Official economy 39.8mpg (combined) Dealer price now £26,400 Private price now £24,200 Trade-in price now £21,900 Running costs (excluding depreciation) Fuel £552

10 March 2020 – Turning off the heat 

If you want proof that Ford is capable of making great hot hatchbacks, look no further than the Fiesta ST. It’s exactly what a hot hatch should be: quick, nimble and hugely entertaining to drive, while still being affordable and practical enough for everyday use. The bigger Focus ST has never quite managed to replicate that magic formula to the same degree, but Ford has brought all of its expertise to bear on the latest version in an effort to broaden its range of abilities and allow it to go toe-to-toe with its fiercest rival, the Honda Civic Type R – easily the best current exponent of the hot hatch art.

Ford Focus ST long term

Not that I’d ever buy a Civic Type R; I can’t get on with its wacky ‘boy racer’ looks. Nor could I live with a Renault Mégane RS; too hardcore. The slightly less brash Focus ST seemed like a better bet for me, despite being rather pricey for a model that used to be a performance bargain. I wasn’t expecting the ST to be as mature as the BMW M135i or Volkswagen Golf R hot hatches I’ve run in the past (and loved, in both cases), but I was confident that I’d have plenty of fun in it. 

Ford Focus ST long term

And the ST certainly wasn’t averse to a bit of fun. For starters, it was properly quick. Its 2.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine provided muscular performance and crisp responses at low and medium revs, only missing the high-rev fireworks of the screaming Civic Type R. Along with that healthy turn of pace, it had nicely balanced handling, bags of grip and a sweet manual gearshift. 

Ford Focus ST long term

But while it was a sharp-edged weapon in the right conditions, I can’t honestly say that it was a pleasure to drive all the time. Despite having adaptive suspension that could be stiffened or softened at the touch of a button, the ride was simply too firm for my taste, making the car feel unsettled at low speeds, even in default Normal mode, and even more agitated in Sport or Track mode. Complaints about comfort from passengers were fairly common.

Nor was I a fan of the steering, which seemed overly keen to self-centre and tended to tense up or tug on the steering wheel under hard acceleration. The ST wasn’t a quiet car, either, generating a lot of tyre noise at all speeds, and the suspension clonked and banged dramatically over sharp-edged obstacles around town. Commuting and running around in the ST every day was perfectly do-able, of course, but it required some forbearance on my part. 

Ford Focus ST long term

On the plus side, the standard Recaro front seats were comfortable and supportive and the driving position proved excellent, with the seat being set much lower and adjusting over a wider range than was the case in some previous Ford hot hatches. The infotainment screen was occasionally reluctant to boot up when the ignition was turned on, and the engine stop-start button could have been better positioned on the dashboard, but in general the interior was fine – not showy or particularly high in quality but mostly very easy to get along with. And the ST was as practical as you’d expect of a Focus, with lots of rear leg room and a big boot, even if it wasn’t a match for the Civic Type R in that respect.

Ford Focus ST long term

In the end, the ST didn’t prove quite as well rounded as I was expecting. Yes, it could be entertaining, but it didn’t make me want to get out of bed early on a Sunday morning simply to go for a blast – something any hot hatch should be able to do, surely – because I knew it would frustrate me as much as it would reward me. I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but a Civic Type R – a car I really couldn’t tolerate in its previous, hardcore incarnations – would have been not only more fun to drive but also easier to live with. What’s the world coming to?

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