One way ST
The sharpest Focus is the hot hatch to live with
THE best— the smartest— buying of any car type is surely the hot hatch. Please banish any image of young miscreants in children’s headwear driving Japanese derived and horribly enhanced doof-doof devices.
Since the 2005 edition of Volkswagen’s Golf GTI, a sum of some $40K will buy you a hatch with the family capacity of most small SUVs to which we’re hopelessly addicted, but possessed of driving dynamics to rival sports cars priced in triple figures.
The trick is to take an inexpensive, mass-produced shopping trolley and imbue it with performance dynamics without forsaking daily driveability. The best are a sublime blend of mild and wild — and the Focus ST is just that.
A tag of $38,290 for a five-door is sound enough. Some at this price or even more have only three portals. Standard kit is exceptional. There are Recaro sports seats, dual-zone climate control, heated and folding exterior mirrors, automatic bixenon headlights, autodimming rear vision mirror and rain-sensing wipers. Satnav is no extra (but on a smallish screen) nor are the nine speakers, Bluetooth, flash pedals and keyless entry/ignition.
Last year, manufacture of the Australian issue Focus shifted to Thailand but the ST remains a Euro Ford.
The foundations are from the class-leading Focus hatch. The ST uses the turbocharged Ecoboost found variously in the Falcon, Jaguar XF and Volvo S60, here tuned to a formidable 184kW/360Nm.
That’s some way above the GTI, though the Ford is but a few tenths quicker from 0-100km/h at 6.5 seconds. The ST is six-speed manual only, which restricts its appeal to people who like driving.
The experience is enhanced by variable-ratio steering of almost alarming directness. It’s as adept in the carpark as when hooking hard and fast through a favoured open road bend.
That process is lent surety by the torque vector on the front axle that counters the dreaded understeer and goes far toward removing the need for (and extra weight entailed by) driving the rear wheels too.
Ford can’t quite crack the upper market interior thing. The ST’s cockpit is a bit meh, especially against the plush innards of Opel’s Astra OPC. The bum-gripping Recaros serve well the ST’s remit but the instrumentation and centre stack of lesser models is no less frantic here. There’s a plethora of readouts between the dials but no digital speedo— an annoyance of the milder models, a problem in the ST.
You won’t lose it in carpark though, especially not in the signature yellow you see here. The hot hatch enhancements aren’t subtle, nor are they too much. It sits lower than a normal Focus on 18-inch wheels wrapped in 235/40 Goodyear rubber.
The buckets eat a bit of rear leg room. At 316 litres, the boot’s about par.
Rear parking sensors and reversing camera are the cherries atop the five-star safety cake. These are optional, but shouldn’t be, in the GTI and Renault Megane 265.
It’s an almost pleasant surprise when, under hard acceleration, you feel playful tugging through the ST’s steering wheel. Otherwise it’s refined and well-mannered.
This is among the least laborious manuals you’ll drive, summoning torque early and smoothly and pulling away like a diesel (but with no turbo lag). Nor will you be easily caught out of gear; at just north of idle the ST pulls cleanly in fourth. Only an elephantine turning circle compromises it in town.
In those ever rarer moments of open road enjoyment, the fast Focus shines. This is the most smartly tuned suspension of any hot hatch, riding rougher roads without denuding sporting aptitude. Exceptional front end grip and razor sharp turn-in make it the front-drive cornercarver par excellence. The exalted rival Renault is just that bit more adept but I’d rather live with the Focus.
Competition is ferocious and about to become more so. For now, the ST is our hot-hatch choice, smoothly blending driveability, practicality and the ability to induce smiles.