Ford Focus ST hatchback

£22,495 - £26,295

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 a chassis that makes it lots of fun to drive.

While insurance and fuel costs will be a bit higher than for a regular Focus, the ST's humble origins mean it's relatively cheap to maintain and easy to live with day-to-day.

As well as the 247bhp petrol engine - which can be boosted by choosing an optional Mountune performance package - there's a diesel version available. That puts the ST in competition with a different set of rivals, such as the Volkswagen Golf GTD and SEAT Leon FR TDI. Here, the emphasis is on fuel economy rather than outright speed, but there's still enough performance to put a smile on your face.

The petrol-engined Focus ST takes on more traditional hot hatches such as the beautifully built Volkswagen Golf GTI and the Renault Megane Renaultsport.

The Focus ST sports Ford's big chrome grille and there are sleek headlights on the outside, plus Recaro sports seats, extra dials and sporty trim on the inside.

It's been on sale for a few years, but the Focus ST is still a very rewarding car to drive – one of the best hot hatchbacks, in fact.

It's based on the standard Ford Focus (which is among the best cars to drive in the small family hatchback class anyway), but gets a powerful turbocharged engine that means it's capable of more than 150mph. The ST also boasts more powerful brakes than more 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.

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. Even so, it's still a car you can use every day without too much trouble.

That's particularly true of the diesel. Although it's a little slower than the petrol-powered model, you’d be hard-pressed to notice this in the real world. That, coupled with far better fuel consumption and lower road tax, means it's our pick of the engine range.

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, 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 VW Golf GTI and Renaultsport Megane by several thousand pounds.

Spend a little more, and electrically operated leather seats, a colour touchscreen and dual-zone climate control are all available. We’d recommend the Ford Focus ST-2 model, as it strikes the best balance between price and standard equipment.