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First Drive: Ford Focus ST

The hottest Focus yet with an ST badge on the boot has big hot hatch shoes to fill. Martyn Collins reckons it’s well up to the task.

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SECTOR C-segment PRICE From £29,495  FUEL 35.8-52.7mpg (WLTP) CO2 125-179g/km (NEDC Correlated)

Ford’s performance division has an impressive recent record for making its already keen driving models into real driver’s cars. Having driven both the diesel and petrol versions of the latest ST, this new Focus will only enhance this reputation.

Exterior changes from the standard model are surprisingly subtle with the body kit bringing new meshed upper and lower grilles, front and rear bumpers, side skirts and rear spoiler while the ST also adds in unique 18-inch alloy wheels. The ST also sits 10mm lower and is exclusively available with Ford Performance Blue and Orange Fury colours.

The interior revisions to the Focus ST are even more subtle than the exterior, with faux carbon fibre trim on the dashboard and a supportive set of Recaro seats. As such, its spacious interior remains unchanged from standard. Choose the estate, and you even get a practical 608-litre boot, rising to 1,576 litres with the seats down.

If you’re focused on performance, go for the 280hp, 2.3-litre petrol; you’ll need the optional £200 Performance Pack to have the adaptive dampers and access driving modes other than Normal and Sport. If you’re more focused on economy, opt for the more fleet-friendly 190hp 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel estate (which is only available with the standard passive suspension set up), but you’ll still have a fun drive. Track mode, as the name suggests, is probably best left for the track though.

Like ST models before it, in particular the more recently launched Fiesta, the driving experience lives up to the sporty looks. The steering is quick, pin-sharp and full of feel, just needing little adjustments in the twisty stuff and giving extra confidence to hold more speed through corners than you might expect. The slick six-speed manual transmission adds to the fun, but if you don’t want to change gears yourself, a seven-speed auto will also be available later this year on petrol models.

Whether you’re in a hatch, or the less-popular estate version of the ST, it becomes instantly obvious that there is virtually no body roll when powering through corners. Plus, there’s impressive grip from the 19-inch wheels shod in unique Michelin Pilot tyres. Despite these bigger wheels, in Normal mode, the ride remains impressively compliant and comfortable.

Although the diesel is gutsier lower down the rev range, the extra 90hp in the petrol ST ensures it feels more spirited at the top end, with the electronic limited slip differential (not available on the diesel) smoothly intervening when you find the Focus’s limits. The petrol ST feels lighter on its wheels too – although this could be down to the extra weight of the diesel engine. Apart from this, there was no noticeable difference in how the diesel estate and petrol hatch drive – both thriving in the mid-rev range.

We’re less keen on the false, amplified sound – which is particularly bad on the diesel – and the new Brake Booster, which interferes with brake feel in heavy use. And although well-made, the quality of the plastics and trim isn’t a match for other hot hatch rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

The Lowdown

Key fleet model: Ford Focus ST 2.0 EcoBlue

Strengths: Great to drive, practical – especially in estate form

Weaknesses: Diesel engines’ drop in power over the petrol, fake engine noise

The Verdict: The Focus ST isn’t the hottest hatch, although it’s one of the most rounded options. Although down on power, the diesel version is still great fun to drive.

FW Rating: 4/5

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Martyn Collins

Martyn has 18 years experience as a motoring journalist, working across a wide selection of B2B and consumer titles. A car enthusiast since his early years, Martyn has a particular interest in the latest models and technology and in his spare time enjoys driving his own Minis.