Ford Focus ST hatchback
"The Ford Focus ST is one of the most exciting hot hatchbacks on sale but is no longer a cheap option when compared with its rivals"
- Great handling
- Impressive technology
- Easy to live with
- Unproven reliability
- Artificial engine note
- Not the bargain it once was
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. But, in true hot hatch tradition, it's a fairly practical everyday car, with a decent boot and a new exhaust setup giving you the option to tow a trailer. It's not short of competition, though, from old enemies like the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Honda Civic Type R to new ones in the form of the Hyundai i30 N. Unlike many rivals, the Focus ST also comes in estate form.
To ensure it doesn't get lost in the crowd, the petrol ST (there's also a diesel version) 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, making it quite a bit faster than the 187bhp diesel version capable 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 up to 34.9mpg.
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.
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 Recaro 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.
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. But, its price has also crept up to the point it's now more expensive than the faster Honda Civic Type R, never mind new rivals like the Hyundai i30 N.