"The Ford Focus ST strikes a fantastic balance between comfort and outright performance."
The performance model of the Ford Focus does an amazing job of balancing power and practicality, losing none of the standard model's everyday usefulness. It's very comfortable, fun to drive and comes as a five-door hatchback or an estate model if you need extra boot space. The suspension is precisely tuned to maintain sharp handling while remaining comfortable. While the engine stays nicely hushed at motorway speeds, but emits a pleasing noise when worked hard. It also starts at a list price that undercuts its main competitors, such as the Renaultsport Megane 265 and the Volkswagen Golf GTI, by a good few thousand pounds. The Focus ST comes in three specifications – standard ST, ST-2 and ST-3.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
As the performance variant of the Ford Focus, the ST is the most uneconomical model, although that's hardly surprising given the power that's available. The ST is capable of returning economy of 39.2mpg and emissions of 169g/km for road tax that costs £200 a year. Those figures compare favourably to the Renault Megane Renaultsport 265, which can manage just 34mpg and emission of 190g/km for road tax of £260 annually. But the Volkswagen Golf GTI moves significantly in the other direction. It can manage 47.1mpg, while emissions of 139g/km mean it is the cheapest to tax of the three at £125 annually.
Interior & comfort
Because it maintains the dimensions of the standard Focus, the ST is just as practical. The suspension is undeniably firmer, but it never feels as harsh as key rivals – such as the Renaultsport Megane 265 or the Vauxhall Astra VXR. The ST is also quieter than its main competitors, which makes it much more comfortable and relaxing to drive overall, and excellent for long distances.
Practicality & boot space
Offering just 316 litres of boot space, the Ford Focus ST lags behind the Volkswagen Golf GTI, although folding down it's standard-fit split-fold back seats does expand load space to a more useful 1,101 litres. If you really want a practical version of the ST you should go for the estate model – it has 476 litres of space with the rear seats up and 1,500 litres with them down. Both the estate and hatchback have a decent amount of room in the back for adults to get comfortable, making them practical family cars. While five-doors may harm the Focus’ looks they definitely improve its accessibility and practicality. The ST also has a big glove compartment and lots of cubbyholes for family use. And, while it may not trump the Golf GTI, it is much more practical than the three-door Renaultsport Megane 265.
Reliability & safety
The biggest asset Ford has in terms of reliability is its vast dealer network and abundance of cheap spare parts and components. Which is why it's slightly bemusing that Ford only ranked 23rd out of 32 manufacturers in our 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. The Focus itself, meanwhile, finished around mid-table coming 70th out of 150 cars. Generally it should be solid and, as the ST is just a normal Focus with a bit more performance, it should also prove durable. Like the standard hatchback, the ST has the maximum five-star rating from the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, coming fitted with electronic stability control (ESP), traction control and a full range of airbags as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
The Focus ST has a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, which produces a hefty 247bhp to take the ST from 0-60mph in just 6.5 seconds. This performance is paired with precise, responsive handling that is a contender for best in class. It corners quickly when you want it to, but transforms itself into comfortable transport when it's tasked with more mundane family duties. And, if you want more performance, you can get a Ford-approved tuning pack from Montune. It costs around £1,200, boosts power to 272bhp, and doesn’t affect the manufacturer's warranty. Although we found that the extra power could upset the car's excellent handling, it does give noticeably improved overtaking performance. All Focus STs come fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox, which makes for easy gearshifts. The only downside is a ride that some may find a bit too firm at low speeds.
Price, value for money & options
The Focus ST costs less to buy than the rival Volkswagen Golf GTI, even if the base model doesn’t come fitted with as much equipment. The basic ST comes fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels, Recaro sports seats and keyless-go as standard, while ST-2 models get automatic headlights and wipers, a trip computer, plus an uprated stereo. Top-spec ST-3 cars are equipped with LED running lights, keyless entry and start, full-leather trim, bi-xenon headlights and parking sensors. Resale values should also be strong, but it's unlikely to be able to match the Volkswagen Golf GTI.