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In-depth reviews

Ford Focus ST review – a great handling hatch, made hotter

"The Ford Focus ST is one of the most exciting hot hatchbacks on sale, but it's no longer a cheap option next to its rivals"

Carbuyer Rating

4.2 out of 5

Owners Rating

5.0 out of 5

Read owner reviews

Pros

  • Great handling
  • Impressive technology
  • Easy to live with

Cons

  • Unproven reliability
  • Artificial engine note
  • Not the bargain it once was

Verdict - Is the Ford Focus ST a good car?

As you would expect, the Ford Focus ST is incredibly good at what it does, and boasts some of the most impressive technology in its class. However, its price has also crept up to the point that it's now more expensive than the Hyundai i30 N and on par with the more powerful Cupra Leon. While it makes it even more expensive, we’d recommend specifying the Track Pack or going for the special ST Edition because not only is it likely to be Ford’s final fling for the hot hatchback, but it also sharpens up its chassis and makes it even more enjoyable.

Ford Focus ST models, specs and alternatives

The hot hatchback is practically a British institution, and the Ford Focus ST – now in its fourth generation – is one of the genre's main players. It won’t be around for long, though, with Ford discontinuing the Focus in its entirety by 2025. That’s a shame, because compact, agile and practical fast cars are ideally suited to our narrow and winding roads and the Focus on which the Focus ST is based already happens to be one of the best-handling family hatchbacks money can buy.

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Enthusiasts may be pleased to read that the latest Focus ST is the fastest yet. But, in true hot hatch tradition, it's a fairly practical everyday car with a decent boot – unlike the previous generation, the latest Focus ST doesn’t sport a centre-exhaust, meaning you even get the option to attach a tow hook and pull a trailer, should you wish to.

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It's not short of competition, though, from old enemies like the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Cupra Leon to new ones in the form of the Hyundai i30 N. Unlike many rivals, the Focus ST also comes in estate form.

Best hot hatchbacksTop 10 best hot hatchbacks 2024

When the Ford Focus was facelifted for 2022, so was the ST. This brought updated styling and technology, while the diesel engine was dropped due to low demand. 2023 saw the introduction of a Track Pack option for an extra £3,000, which brings a black painted roof, door mirrors and spoiler, rear diffuser, Brembo brakes, uprated suspension, and a unique set of 19-inch alloy wheels and tyres. We think that’s actually somewhat of a bargain considering the upgrades included, and well worth considering.

The pre-facelifted car got a last-of-the-line special called the Ford Focus ST Edition in summer 2021, and this has returned for 2024 as the end of Ford Focus production looms closer. It improves the ST’s driving experience and is instantly recognisable thanks to Azura Blue paint and gloss black detailing. On the inside it even gets an uprated sound system and lots of other extra equipment you’d usually have to pay extra for.

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To ensure it doesn't get lost in the crowd, the petrol ST has a 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine with 276bhp and some intriguing tricks up its sleeve. These include a new 'anti-lag' system that can keep the turbo working even between bursts of acceleration, just like a rally car, along with a clever limited-slip differential sending power to the front wheels, adaptive dampers and rev-matching software for the manual gearbox that blips the engine when you change down a gear. You'll want the manual, because the seven-speed automatic makes the ST slower and feels out of kilter with the car's hardcore setup. 

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The petrol-powered Focus ST can get from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and hit a top speed of 155mph. When the 187bhp diesel version was offered, it was quite a bit slower, with figures of 7.6 seconds and 137mph. Of course, the trade-off is that it's also thirstier, returning 35.3mpg to the diesel's 53.3mpg. The automatic petrol can get to 62mph from rest in six seconds and return identical economy figures.

Making the most of the extra power is a supremely talented chassis, with faster steering (now just two turns lock-to-lock) and stiffened suspension. An optional Performance Pack takes things a step further, adding the aforementioned limited-slip differential and the continuously adjustable suspension, among other things. If anything, that steering can make the Focus ST feel a little nervous on relentless British back roads, requiring the driver to get in its groove before truly gelling with it. While the Track Pack – another recent addition to the Focus ST range – might sound rather focused, we found it gives the ST the handling edge to compete with newer models like the i30 N.

Inside, the Focus ST benefits from the same big step up in quality and tech as the standard model but also gains a set of sports seats, a new steering wheel and carbon-fibre style trim. The Performance Pack even adds a shift light to show you the optimum time to change gear, while features like adaptive LED headlights, adaptive cruise control and Ford's first head-up display should make driving safer.

Safety is an area in which the ST excels, with a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test score already under its belt and the latest in safety features. Along with autonomous emergency braking, the ST also has an evasive steering assist feature that can help the driver to steer around an obstacle in an emergency.

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Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

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