A new Ford Focus ST is always going to be quick but can an ST ever be considered a true fast Ford when there is a Focus RS on the horizon? We’ve been testing the hottest-for-now Focus ST in the south of France.
The 280hp Focus ST has come a long way since its debut at the ST170 in 2002… 110hp in fact! Each new generation ST (2005 & 2011) has moved the game on. The 2019 ST gains more power and more torque but on first glance lacks the menace of an RS and for some that’s a good thing.
The ST’s exterior styling is similar to the Focus ST-Line – the one with sporty looks but no real power but costs a whole lot less. The ST comes in five door hatchback or practical estate (+€1,100). European buyers love Focus estates where sales are circa 50%. In Ireland the estate is a less loved variant – shame. Closer inspection reveals an enlarged functional tailgate spoiler, air blade intakes and a large honeycomb grille to aid airflow. The ST’s exhausts are repositioned with twin pipes on the diesel and the petrol’s two pipes cheekily mimicking the Focus RS layout. This movement away from the centre of the bumper means a tow hitch can be fitted if you need to get the sheep to the market quickly.
18 inch alloys are standard on the entry ST2 grade, the ST3 range topping grade gets 19s. The ST sits 10mm lower on the road. Next to a Civic Type R or Megane R.S. you wouldn’t would give the Ford a second glance. Trick active suspension CCD is an option in the diesel hatch. Sadly CCD is not available in the estate as it requires a conventional rear suspension set up. Continuously controlled damping is standard fit on the petrol hatch – as it can accommodate the reconfigured rear suspension. The active technology monitors suspension, body, steering and braking inputs every 2 milliseconds and adjusts damping responses accordingly.
Inside, ST motifs are found in the usual places and brilliant Recaro sports seats up front are very supportive and comfortable. There is a nice sports steering wheel but otherwise it’s pretty much the standard Focus. The driver’s dash display features some extra info e.g. oil pressure and temperature readings and turbo boost pressure. The ST’s head up display is excellent. In places there are cheap materials excused somewhat by Ford spending the money on how the car drives first and foremost.
Petrol and diesel engines are available As per the last generation ST. The ST’s entry price point is a 2 litre diesel, wait before you say it, you can’t have a fast Ford burning the devil’s fuel! The 2 litre diesel is quick but thankfully salvation is at hand with the 2.3 litre petrol EcoBoost that is quicker. The 2 litre EcoBlue Is a great cruiser and pushes out a very useful 190hp and 400nm but the petroleum has more with 280hp and 420nm. The diesel is the most powerful ever fitted to a Focus and produces relatively modest CO2 at 125g/km. It is frugal too with an average fuel consumption of 4.8 l/100 km. Apart from idle and start up, the diesel’s is hushed with little in the way of diesel shudder or rattle. A brief test drive confirm the diesel’s effortless cruising ability. The standard suspension is firm and boarder line harsh.
The EcoBlue diesel however is not the ST you want. Our ‘orange fury’ (€1,500 option) hatchback featured Ford’s big twin-scroll turbocharged 2.3 litre EcoBoost engine. Ford has revised the four cylinder that we know from the poor man’s Mustang. In the rear wheel drive Stang it is no slouch so it is a given that in a much lighter car it has no difficulty in rapidly bringing the horizon closer. 0-100kmm/h takes just 5.7 seconds (7.6 diesel). The new ST 2.3 is credited with better in gear performance than the old all wheel drive Focus RS. The Focus ST EcoBoost is thirsty averaging 7.9 l/100 km fuel consumption with emissions of 179 g/km of CO2.
The ST feels solid and planted on the road much like a premium machine. Its steering has be tweaked and is now beautiful fast and fluid. Power deliver is very smooth and relentless thanks to its class leading torque of 420nm. The large engine displacement delivers a power dynamic that can effortlessly shift the five door along in any gear, installing confidence behind the wheel. You can make rapid progress in a very relaxed manner or if you hold the gears to the rev limiter the ST can be a seriously dynamic performer. A fast car is only as good as its brakes and the ST gets suitable anchors with an EBB electronic brake booster to help scrub off excess speed. The brake discs are bigger and there is less brake fade – an issue with the last ST. The ST’s quick steering is the star with the slightest input delivering an instant response. It takes just two turns to go from lock to lock. The steering may lack a bit of road surface feel but is joyous and allows you get in to a flow. The steering is faster geared than the Fiesta ST and is Ford’s quickest yet. Underneath Focus’s torque vectoring has been returned for the ST. The ST can comfortably cruise but can also hustle with the best of them encouraging drivers to take the twisty route home.
The manual six speed gearbox features a shortened gear throw. A seven speed automatic with paddle shifters is due later in the year for petrol models only. Anti-lag technology from the Ford GT is used for the first time. In sport or track driving mode the anti‑lag system keeps the throttle open when the driver lifts off the accelerator pedal, enabling boost pressure to build faster on demand. It is really noticeable when accelerating in any gear. Ford has added an ESE electronic sound enhancement system to artificially beef up the engine note – first used in the 2.3 Mustang.
The ST is the first front wheel drive Ford to get an electronicly controlled limited slip differential (option with diesel). The e-LSD is similar to the one used by VW in its GTI performance Golf. The e-diff unlike a mechanical diff can pre-empt wheelspin and when needed split the torque delivery to either driven wheel. This makes it is easier to power away out of the corners and transitions. Our test route was driven in mixed weather and even in damp conditions the ST stuck to the road like glue. Bespoke Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres are fitted as standard on the ST.
The ST has three selectable electronic drive modes as standard and operated via steering wheel mounted buttons. Normal is the default setting. Sport and a slippery/wet mode also feature. The optional performance pack is essential available in both fuel types. Party tricks like line-lock, rev matching and flat shifting (where you can keep the accelerator buried and shift the manual gears with no clutch) feature along with red brake callipers. Rev matching’s throttle blipping mimics heal and toeing and always produces a giggle. The new ST has a host of high tech driving safety aids too. Really it is the polar opposite of the first drive by the seat of your pants fast Ford, the 1963 Lotus Cortina e.g. if you’re not up to handbrake-turning in to a parking space Ford’s active park assist 2 will park for you. Evasive steer assist, a class first, helps drivers avoid collisions by steering around stopped or slower vehicles. The ST even has pot hole detection.
Two versions of the Focus ST are now on sale in Ireland; an ST2 and higher trimmed ST3. The diesel ST starts from €39,595. Petrol power starts at €41,099 but remember CCD active suspension is standard. There is a jump in equipment to ST3 with LED headlights, 19 inch alloys and full leather seats the headline differences. Ford Focus pricing starts from €22,805.