Ford Focus ST hatchback review
"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"
- Great handling
- Impressive technology
- Easy to live with
- 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 the Track Pack 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. Compact, agile and practical fast cars are ideally suited to our narrow and winding roads and the ST has the advantage of being based on the best-selling and best-handling family hatchback you can currently buy.
Enthusiasts may be pleased to read that the latest Focus ST is the fastest yet, particularly in Track Pack guise. But, in true hot hatch tradition, it's a fairly practical everyday car, with a decent boot and a new exhaust setup that even gives you the option to tow a trailer. 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.
The Ford Focus ST Edition was introduced in summer 2021, as a last-of-the-line special before the car was facelifted. It improves the ST’s driving experience and is instantly recognisable thanks to Azura Blue paint. The facelifted Focus ST has updated styling and technology but the previously offered diesel engine has been dropped, because UK buyers tend to favour petrol hot hatchbacks and sales of diesel cars have dwindled in recent years. The range was also expanded with a Track Pack version in 2023, which makes the ST’s handling and composure even more impressive. It’s enough of an upgrade to make its £3,000 extra cost seem like a bargain, especially when you consider that this is likely to be Ford’s last hot hatch hurrah as it switches its attention to electrified SUV models.
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.
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.