Ford needs to blow its trumpet — especially for the likes of the punchy ST hatch
A WEEK with the Focus ST shows me what’s gone wrong at Ford. And it has nothing to do with the cars.
The new ST is a little ripper thanks to a tweak this year that improves the cabin and its comforts, as well as compliance in the chassis.
So it must be the Blue Oval brand’s sales and marketing teams, who continue to run scared about the end of local Falcon production instead of trumpeting some great cars wearing Ford badges. Why else would the Fiesta-Focus-Mondeo troika — all very good cars — be in decline?
A Carsguide favourite from the kick-off, the Focus ST in many ways has been even better than the hot rod RS model that was a sellout in the past and should be a huge hit when it returns next year.
The ST is not as extreme, in the way it looks or the way it drives, but it’s a hot hatch that’s user-friendly and great for almost any day-to-day use. With a firecracker ready to be lit for weekend fun.
The test car shouts its arrival with Tangerine Scream bodywork and it’s easy to enjoy the turbo surge from the first moments at the wheel. That’s what you expect from 184kW and 360Nm in a compact-class car.
But I’m also quick to notice the dashboard does without the business and fussiness of the previous car, while its suspension tuning combines more refinement with slightly better grip and feedback.
Ford touts the new bonnet design and the more aggressive nose treatment, the new colour for the alloy wheels and the sporty red brake calipers.
But I’m just as interested in the practical five-door body, which gives the Focus the edge over hot-hatch rivals including the Renault Megane RS.
The optional safety pack brings emergency auto braking, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and auto high beams for $2000. To me, that’s good value.
But the ST demands to be driven and I’m quickly up to speed, enjoying the six-speed manual gearbox — there’s no auto available. The torque surge starts from about 2500rpm and means the car always feels responsive.
I’m also happy in the wrap-me-up Recaro front buckets, although the yellow-on-black cabin trimming could be a little loud for some people.
The latest SYNC infotainment setup has more features and works well. The button count in the cabin is down significantly and there are more logical controls on the steering wheel.
Some things I don’t like. The turning circle is awful, a common trait in high-powered front-drive cars that could overstress the drive shafts.
As with many hatchbacks, it’s pinched for rearward vision, which means relying heavily on the reversing camera.
The punchy turbo engine also needs 95-octane unleaded
— minimum — and will be happiest on 98 in hot weather.
Also, the car can be unruly at full throttle. The front wheels scrabble and fight for grip, which means the steering wheel requires a firm grip if you unleash all the power on a run to the redline. A mechanical limited-slip differential, like that in the Megane RS, is now required in the ST. It would cost a lot but would make the ST more tractable.
Even so, it’s a car that’s surprisingly compliant and composed when you’re not going flat-out. The latest suspension tweaks might be stiffer in the settings but it does not feel that way. In fact, it’s more like the car has been given permission to ride firmly without bouncing the body — and the occupants — around too much.
So it’s a hot hatch that’s compliant when you’re dribbling in traffic but has the suspension control — helped by 18-inch alloys and big brakes — to help you really hustle down your favourite twisty road.
The double-edged approach — comfortable and user-friendly family hatch that’s also got a wicked side — makes the ST a real winner. I have absolutely no hesitation in awarding The Tick to a car that Ford needs to shout about.