Ford Focus ST hatchback (2012-2014)

The Ford Focus ST is the fastest version of Ford's small family hatchback. It's a hot hatchback that combines a practical body shape with a powerful engine and chassis that makes it lots of fun to drive. While insurance and fuel costs will be higher than for a regular Focus, the ST's humble beginnings mean it's relatively cheap to maintain and easy to live with day-to-day.

After a lull in popularity, hot hatchbacks have made a comeback, and competition is stiff. The ST takes on models such as the beautifully built Volkswagen Golf GTI and the enthusiast's favourite – the Renaultsport Megane. The current Focus ST is soon to be replaced by a heavily facelifted model sporting Ford's new-look chrome grille (so keep an eye out for dealer discounts), while there's also a Honda Civic Type R on the way and a fast version of the Nissan Pulsar – the Nissan Pulsar Nismo.

Even though it's due for replacement, the current Focus ST is still a rewarding car to drive. It's based on the standard Ford Focus (which is the best car to drive in the small family hatchback class), but gets a powerful turbocharged engine that means it's capable of more than 150mph. The ST also boasts more powerful brakes than basic models, as well as stiffer suspension, so it stops and corners quicker than the regular Focus can.

Unlike a sports car, which offers performance at the expense of practicality, the Focus’ five-door body makes it a very useable family car. While Ford doesn’t build the ST as a sporty three-door model, buyers who need a bigger boot can choose the Ford Focus ST estate, which we’ve reviewed separately. A harsh ride resulting from the stiffer suspension – as well as higher running costs – are the main downsides of choosing the ST over any other Focus.

The fast Ford is available in three trim levels: ST1, ST2 and ST3. The basic ST1 comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, a racy bodykit, front foglights, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, DAB digital radio, Ford's SYNC infotainment system with voice control, Recaro sports seats and sports suspension. One of the biggest selling points of the basic ST is its great-value price – it undercuts both the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Renaultsport Megane by several thousand pounds.