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Ford Focus ST review (2012 onwards)
What: Ford Focus ST
Where: Vence, France
Date: June 2012
Price: £21,995 - £26,595
Available: On sale now, deliveries begin September 2012
Summary: Ford's first global performance car delivers the fast Ford experience to a wider audience, and it's a more than worthy effort - and for the first time since the ST170, there's a practical estate option too.
We like: linear engine, decent torque, supportive seats, estate option
We don't like: lack of initial steering precision, final 1,000rpm feels flat, busy centre console
The UK has always been hungry for fast Fords, from the original MK1 Escort to the most recent Focus RS. The new Focus ST is the latest in that long and prestigious line, but unlike any before it, it's the first Ford performance car of the firm's "One Ford" global strategy - that means the same car will be sold worldwide.
Does that mean it's gone soft for the rest of the globe, or has Ford kept the hard-edged balance we Brits love? First impressions say it strikes almost the perfect blend between the two.
Available as an estate
It looks the part, too. With its resplendent four-layer Tangerine Scream metallic paint, gaping grille and its Star Wars battle ship inspired exhaust pipe (no, really...) it's suitably aggressive yet reserved enough to not immediately get you landed with an ASBO.
Now available in estate guise, you can bring the kids and the dog along for the ride, too.
The previous car's warbling 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo has been axed, replaced by a more conventional 2.0-litre turbo four. But, those of you who are thinking the ST's character will have been removed with the retirement of the old engine won't be disappointed.
Power is up by 10 per cent over the old car, meaning 250hp on tap. With 265lb ft of torque available over a wide plateau - 1,750 to 4,000rpm - the motor feels very linear, and the swell is sustained from low down until around 5,500rpm, beyond which the new engine seems to run out of urge.
It's good for a 0-62mph sprint in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 154mph and it certainly feels quick. It's helped by Ford's Sound Symposer system - effectively a plastic pipe connected to the intake that ducts sound into the car's cabin when accelerating. Far from being intrusive, it actually adds to the experience.
Decent grip and great drive
The Ford's gearbox is good with ratios well stacked to make the most of the engine's shove - second and third gear is what you'll be using if you're attacking your favourite B-road, but leave it in fifth and sixth and there's still more than enough performance to make more than brisk but relaxed progress.
When you are pressing on and exploring the limits of grip, the myriad electronic systems intervene like a soft guiding hand rather ruling with an electronic-iron fist combination. The technology is always active, nipping a brake here, applying more power to one wheel there - there's no histrionics though, just decent grip and great drive.
Ford says there are no official plans for an RS version - expect one in about three years, then.
Ride and handling
According Ford Europe's chief performance engineer Matthias Tonn, the Blue Oval wanted to do it "the old school way." That means no switchable damping modes and a great ride as a result.
It's firm but not overly so and is well damped, smothering bad surfaces - the car's mass never feels like its getting away from you, but its also not bone shakingly stiff as a result. It's a strong compromise and a facet that most people will look for if the ST is to be their only car.
There's a small amount of torque steer, but according to Ford it's been actively left in to give a lively steering setup with a good amount of feedback.
Neat and tidy or a hooligan
At speed the helm is nice and direct once you get through the slight imprecision around the straight ahead, complimenting the chassis' agility. It's well geared and intuitive in both low and high speed corners - you always seem to know the right amount of lock to feed it.
The overall setup works well and gives the driver more than one option to drive fast - you can pilot it neatly and tidily or be more of a hooligan, lifting off mid corner to tighten the ST's line with a predictable and controllable reaction.
We sampled the 25kg heavier ST wagon and found it difficult to spot the difference. Only in quick direction changes or trailing the brake into a tight corner was there any hint of extra mass, but on a blindfold test or day-to-day driving, you'd be hard pushed to tell.
Inside the new ST, it's familiar Focus fare. It feels solid and well screwed together, with no nasty trim rattles showing themselves throughout some hard driving over more than rippled surfaces.
Just like the car it replaces, the ST gets a bolt-on binnacle placed on top of the centre console. Angled towards the driver, it displays turbo boost pressure, amongst other things - is it really needed? Probably not, but it's a cool touch that differentiates it from a cooking Focus.
The ST does the important things inside well. There's plenty of adjustment for the standard Recaro seat - a brilliantly supportive and properly comfortable two-piece bucket item - as well as the wheel, meaning finding and relaxed position to command the car from is easy.
The infotainment interface is cluttered and busy, though - myriad buttons cover the centre console and control a small low-resolution sat-nav screen. It's a minor gripe, and not what the ST is truly about, but if you were buying the Ford as your only vehicle, you might be a bit disappointed.
The ST is practical, and with the option of the estate and its maximum 1,502 litres of boot space, the new car could be the perfect choice for carrying possessions or people from A to B at a brisk pace.
Economy and safety
Despite a 10 per cent increase in power over the car it replaces, the latest ST is actually 20 per cent more efficient - that means 39.2mpg combined with 169g/km CO2, equating to £195 road tax.
Even after a full day traversing French mountain passes, taking in some fuel slurping uphill switchback roads, the ST still recorded an average of 21.5mpg. It doesn't sound like it, but that's an impressive result.
Both the five-door and estate iterations of the current Focus receive five-star Euro NCAP safety ratings, and with the new car's plethora of driving aids - we're talking Torque Steer Compensation, Electronic Stability Programme, Torque Vectoring Control and Cornering Understeer Control, the ST's safety credentials are good.
The MSN Cars verdict
The new Ford Focus ST is solid, capable and impressive, both in terms of its dynamic ability and its day-to-day usability - exactly what you want from a hot hatch.
It's got more charm and sparkle than a VW Golf GTI and makes it feel anodyne by comparison - it's a cohesive package that we can really see working in the UK.
Add into the mix that prices start from £21,995 for the five-door hatch (it might be 30hp down on the new Vauxhall Astra VXR, but it's £5,000 cheaper) and the ST looks even more appealing. It's more than worthy of initiation into the fast Ford hall of fame already.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||2.0 four-cyl turbo|
|Torque, lb ft||265|
|0-62 mph, secs||6.5|
|Top speed, mph||154|
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