Ford Focus ST

It's a colourful, affordable and impressive feat of engineering from Team RS, but the Focus ST is too well-behaved to usurp the Golf GTI as the hottest hatchback, says John Simister

Price: £17,495
Engine: 2,522cc, five cylinders, 20 valves, turbocharger, 225bhp at 6,000rpm, 236lb ft at 1,600-4,000rpm
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 150mph, 0 to 60mph in 6.5 seconds, 30.4mpg official average CO2: 224g/km

The most remarkable thing about the Focus ST? It's a tie between the lurid, metallic Performance Orange that is Ford's launch colour of choice, and the low price for the pace, kit and cylinder-count on offer. Here is a Focus that sounds like a Volvo T5 with a big-bore exhaust (or, rather, two of them), a Focus whose easy, velvet-gloved fistful of pulling power should make it the coolest, most effortless of hot hatchbacks.

The idea of an oversize engine in a compact car is appealing. And it's not an anti-ecological extravagance. This Focus can reach 150mph, touches 60mph from standstill in 6.5 seconds, yet returns more than 30 miles for every gallon of fuel - a fast car you don't have to feel guilty about.

Power for the ST - 225 turbocharged bhp, backed up by an even 236lb ft of torque all the way from 1,600rpm to 4,000rpm - comes from another part of Ford's worldwide empire, Volvo. Hence that deep, harmonic, throbby five-cylinder beat that's so hard to reconcile with the Focus. Team RS, the special engineering group responsible for fast Fords, has livened up the engine's personality, with variable timing for the two camshafts, plus a lighter flywheel and a recalibrated throttle to improve response.

There are plenty of other changes to suit this Golf GTI rival. (The Focus has an extra 25bhp and costs £2,500 less.) The body sits 15mm lower on 30 per cent stiffer springs and recalibrated dampers. There's a brace between the front suspension struts, as in a rally car, and the front subframe is made of thicker steel. The rear anti-roll bar is stiffer, which creates greater weight transfer across the rear wheels to counteract the heavier nose, and the steering wheel requires 8 per cent less movement for a given directional change. The brakes are bigger, too.

This is standard souping-up, made easier because the regular Focus is arguably the best-handling hatchback you can buy. And the visuals are sexed-up to suit, resulting in a car as striking and attitudinal as a standard Focus is bland.

The obvious changes are the bigger front grille, which sits above an enlarged lower air intake, itself flanked by aluminium-outlined foglight housings. That motif is repeated at the back, where the bumper has grown cartoon whoosh-lines where it flows into the wheel arch. Inside, huggy Recaro seats can have the bolsters trimmed to match the paintwork, the steering wheel has a thicker rim, the pedals are of rubber-studded aluminium, and a three-dial pack on the dashboard displays the engine oil's pressure and temperature and the amount of turbocharger boost. The headlining is black - very Golf GTI.

But raw ingredients don't always cook to perfection. The ST also has a fuzzy identity as a car deliberately not too extreme.

That said, this ST is less of a shrinking violet than the last one, even if it is a long way from the raw tactility and untamed demeanour of 2002's last- generation Focus RS. So it's with no clear expectations that I slip into the new ST and fire up its five-cylinder engine. It sounds good: deep and crisp and potently uneven. The driving position can be rendered perfect with separate seat adjustments for height and tilt (the optional leather chairs let you adjust cushion length), and the aluminium-ringed dials quantify performance parameters.

But I'm just 400 yards down the road and the ST's personality is revealing itself. The steering is glutinous for all its precision and alacrity, and I'm aware of considerable nose weight (the whole ST weighs more than 1,300kg). It's different from the light, immediate responsiveness of the smaller Fiesta ST; this feels bigger, more Mondeo ST-like. That's not a good thing.

Now I'm overtaking on a brief straight, and the ST is pulling off its party trick. No need to change down, stay in fourth gear and feel the turbocharged torque haul the Focus in one lunge right through the engine's speed repertoire. And the engine responds crisply for a turbo unit, with instant effect and hardly any of that "elastic" feeling such engines sometimes have. Not like it feels in Volvo's T5 cars.

The vocal repertoire is similarly broad, culminating in a hard-edged, staccato beat at the 7,000rpm limit. The sonority is helped by a "sound symposer", a resonant tube with a vibrating diaphragm that is aimed at the underbonnet bulkhead so the ST's occupants can gain maximum aural benefit. The sound is novel for a compact hatchback. Fiat's Stilo Abarth is the only five-cylinder rival.

So the Focus is as effortlessly fast as its Astra VXR rival is manically so. A smooth, six-speed gearchange helps, and then there's the way it flows through every bend with big grip and perfect poise, a jittering over ripply road surfaces its only failing. Jost Capito, the director of Team RS, says the ST is designed to handle well and stay controllable without an ESP stability system, which is why ESP is not standard. Not once in a spirited drive did I get the ESP on my test car to activate itself.

But here lies the conundrum. I'd like the Focus ST to handle more sharply, to be keener to tighten its cornering line as you decelerate, like a hot hatch should. This would make it feel lighter, keener, more agile.

The next day, I try the ST on Bernie Ecclestone's F1 test track at Le Castellet in the South of France. The way it stays stable in the scary right-hander at the straight's end, nailed to the track at more than 100mph, is breathtaking. The Focus goes where pointed, feels foolproof even with ESP switched off. But it also feels subservient, not a partner to share the thrills. It's too polite, not keen enough to play in the way the Fiesta, or a Golf GTI, will play. It's too disciplined, lacking in the torque-induced steering-wheel tugging that troubles the Astra.

This hot hatchback, impressive engineering feat that it is, needs to hang loose a little. "We could make it like that," says Capito, "but not for the road." Come on, Ford. Trust us.

The rivals

ALFA 147 GTA £23,205

A 3.2-litre, 250bhp, fabulous-sounding V6 explains the 147's higher price. The front wheels handle this power surprisingly well, but handling feels a bit nose-heavy, like the Focus's. Stylishly Italian looks don't include the revised nose of lesser 147s.

VAUXHALL ASTRA VXR £18,995

Terrific idea - handling developed by Lotus, 240bhp turbo-engine, racy styling - but the VXR is too fractious to enjoy on most roads, as the front wheels pull this way and that. Hyperactive "Sport" setting makes the accelerator act like a catapult.

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI £19,995

Here's a car that matches your mood like no other. Its 200bhp turbo-engine offers ample, usable pace, and the steering and handling draw the driver into the action, but it can be calm if you want it to be. Looks good, feels good - but expensive.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    General Cover Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?