By James Mosley
This year has seen Ford’s popular Focus ST range receive a mid life facelift, as well as the addition of a new diesel model to the range, and no, thankfully Ford decided not to call it the Focus STD. Interestingly the diesel model is the first diesel ever to grace the Focus ST range, and only the second diesel ST ever - the last being the Mondeo ST Tdci from the mid 2000’s. It appears Ford has finally decided it’s time to have a rival to the likes of the VW Golf GTD.
The new Focus ST Diesel serves up a respectable 182bhp and 0 - 62 mph in 8.1 seconds - both considerably down on the petrol version, although of course it’s substantially more frugal as you would expect. That being said, the diesel version could be the compromise that the high miler petrolhead has been looking for, and could also offer a great opportunity for company car drivers who want something a little more fun than the usual dull diesel saloons.
Personally I consider myself a true petrolhead and if I had to put my money where my mouth is then of course I’d take the full fat petrol version without hesitation, so perhaps it’s a good thing that it was the petrol version I was able to test on a recent trip to this year’s Ford Fair event at Silverstone, courtesy of our good friends at Evans Halshaw Milton Keynes.
So what’s changed from the pre-facelift version? Well, most obvious is of course is the styling change, which puts the ST back in line with the rest of the Focus range, albeit a little more aggressive looking. The top spec ST3 model I’m testing is in a new colour called “Stealth Grey”, which is definitely a colour that has proved to be controversial. It’s certainly attracted plenty of attention - the sort that I’m sure would only be received when driving around with this colour or perhaps the more well known “Tangerine Scream” option.
Interesting the “Stealth Grey” option is a free colour option and also a choice that will be carried onto the 2016 Focus RS. Everyone I’ve shown the car to has had a different opinion on the colour. It seems to be a bit of a love it or hate it thing, with many people telling me how fantastic it looks and equally as many proclaiming that it looks like primer. Personally, I wasn’t sure at first although I found that I learned to love it over the few days that I had it. One thing I would say though, is that in my opinion it could have done with gloss black wheels. The standard grey ST3 wheels looked a little lost with the whole “grey on grey” thing going on, and I felt like it needed a contrast - something that can easily be rectified of course with a quick refurb or indeed the optional black 19 inch wheels, albeit no doubt with a less compliant ride and vastly more expensive replacement tyres.
Overall, I much prefer the look of the facelifted version of the car. The pre-facelift version never felt quite right to me, even a little awkward on the eyes. This time however, I think they’ve hit the nail on the head with a car that provides just the right mix of class and aggression for this sector.
The interior has not been without its fair share of upgrades too. The dash layout is a huge improvement with way less buttons and a much more generous 8 inch touchscreen this time making the car feel much more modern. The ST’s trademark gauges for boost pressure, oil temperature and oil pressure are still present and something I really like to be honest. It just helps to differentiate the cabin (particularly the dashboard) from the normal Focus, especially as I was just a little disappointed to discover the carbon fibre dash inserts from the MK2 Facelift ST and RS haven’t made an appearance this time. Like the paint, the Recaro seats seemed to divide opinion amongst those who sat in the car, thanks to their particularly heavy bolstering. The bolstering is definitely considerably heavier and indeed harder than the Recaros on the MK2 Facelift (I remember this well as I used to own one), although personally I found them just right and they kept me held securely in place through any fast turn I could throw at the car. Perhaps a little adjustment wouldn’t go amiss then to cater for all tastes.
As is usually the case with a mid-life facelift, Ford has left the 2.0 Ecoboost engine well alone, content with the 247bhp and 267 Ib ft of torque on offer, delivered through a crisp 6 speed manual box to the front wheels. As a previous MK2 owner, the engine was always naturally an area I was going to be sceptical about when it came to this car. After all, the MK2 had a glorious 2.5 litre Volvo derived 5 pot that had character in spades, and although the new engine actually produces more power and torque as standard, it has lost a cylinder and half a litre of cubic capacity versus the old lump - all in the name of efficiency. Ford of course was well aware of this and has clearly put plenty of effort into breathing a bit of character into the engine, keen to avoid a disappointing and limp sounding 4 cylinder that would have upset the enthusiasts. Well, I’m pleased to report that they’ve (pretty much) succeeded in this department.
Whilst it’s obvious you’re never going to make a 4 cylinder sound exactly like a 5 cylinder (gone are the characterful pops and bangs), Ford have managed to create a sound that under medium to hard acceleration cleverly creates a similar off-beat warble to the old much loved 5 pot. Apparently there is some clever trickery used, but to be honest you’d be hard pushed to tell when driving it and I’m quite impressed at how close to the old sound they’ve managed to get it. It still sounds great and that’s the main thing. Plus of course you get the bonus of vastly improved emissions and therefore tax, plus supposedly better fuel economy but more on that later.
Whilst Ford hasn’t changed the powertrain in the Facelift, they haven’t left the dynamics of the car completely alone. There’s new spring and bushes, re-tuned dampers, plus the electric power steering and torque vectoring system have been fettled with too in order to reduce understeer. Not only this, but there’s a new Enhanced Transitional Stability system that can brake individual wheels and the body has been stiffened along with the rest of the Focus range. They may be subtle refinements but added together Ford engineers seem to have managed to sprinkle some of that “Fiesta ST magic” that some said was missing from the pre-facelift car. Yes, the car is still a very powerful front wheel drive hatchback that doesn’t have a mechanical differential or the clever revo-knuckle system that Ford used in the last RS, but the facelifted Focus ST does manage to deliver fun in spades.
On the road, the engine feels every bit as powerful and eager as the figures suggest, with peak torque available from 2000 rpm right through to 4,500 rpm. Simply put, the power is always there on demand, when you need it. Overtaking is a breeze too, with the ample supply of torque ensuring you rarely need to change down for a simple maneuver. The chassis and engine combination is definitely a sweet one with a car that always feels as if it wants to have fun and is at home on British B roads. The steering is now very sharp and responsive and there is barely any body roll at all, which combined with that torquey engine and slick shifting manual gearbox means that the ST is a fantastic companion when given some stick through a twisty section of road. One criticism of the old 5 pot model was that you were always aware of that weighty lump under the bonnet when cornering, and that simply isn’t an issue here.
Of course, as you would expect there is some torque steer, especially when the road surface is not that great. It can have the tendency to follow dips in the road under hard acceleration, though this is easily corrected through the ST’s communicative steering. Naturally, traction can easily be broken in the wet, though this to be expected. In the dry however the grip is excellent, with the torque vectoring system and grippy Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres doing a fine job.
The suspension and ride comfort is on the firm side as you might expect from a car such as this, although I wouldn’t describe it as uncomfortable at all, and I’m sure the ride was definitely helped by the fact that my test car was running on the standard 18 inch wheels and not the optional 19’s. Indeed, some earlier reviews have suggested quite a busy/harsh ride on the 19’s and I can’t say I noticed that with this car. Perhaps the 18 inch wheels hit the sweet spot when it comes to ride comfort and dynamic ability then.
When it came to fuel economy, I was very interested to see how the 2.0 litre Ecoboost performed, particularly now that it comes with stop-start technology as standard, and the old 5 pot motor from the MK2 wasn’t exactly known for its fuel efficiency. Fortunately, in taking the car to the Ford Fair event at Silverstone, I had plenty of chance to test the ST on a variety of roads including a nice long motorway drive. If I’m being completely honest, I was a little disappointed with the fuel economy I got from the ST. I achieved around 25-26 mpg around town but only an indicated 29.2 mpg on a long motorway run. Perhaps I expected a little too much from a car that clearly isn’t fuel economy focused and perhaps it’s also a little unfair given the ‘spirited’ nature of certain sections of my drive, but given the official 41.5 mpg rating, I was hoping for at least mid 30’s. It’s a slight improvement over the old model but not a great deal, plus this car had done less than 1500 miles so it will probably loosen up a bit over time. Clearly though, most people are buying an ST for fun rather than fuel economy, but if you want a bit of both then there’s always the diesel option.
The ST3 specification of my test car means that the car was fairly well equipped as standard, with the Recaros gaining full leather plus the ability to heat your rear in the winter. The seats are also now electrically adjustable unlike the old MK2 although sadly there is no memory function. Keyless entry and start plus dual digital climate control are all part of the package too. The rather nice illuminated ST branded scuff plates and ambient lighting really look the part at night, and there is bi-xenon/led lights all round that not only look great but provide excellent visibility too. The cruise control is a welcome addition and something that was sorely lacking from the MK2 for long journeys.
This particular car also had a few options added above the £26,295 price for a standard ST3. It had the rear privacy glass (£200), door edge protectors (£85), heated steering wheel (£95), SYNC 2 premium nav with 10 Sony speakers DAB and sub woofer (£400) and rear view camera (£165) taking the total to £27,240 - still excellent value in my opinion considering the car and all the kit you get. The car is a bit of bargain to be honest, especially if you could live without the gadgets. Indeed, the range actually kicks off from £22,195, significantly undercutting some rivals.
The SYNC 2 nav and sound system for £400 would be an essential upgrade in my mind and actually seems quite reasonable considering all the extra kit you get with that. The navigation itself was excellent with clear directions and lane guidance, although it was missing a junction from the M40 which was a little odd for a brand new car but never mind. If I had one criticism with it though, the touch screen interface did seem a little laggy and fiddly in places, but it does the job.
I also think the door protectors deserve a special mention as I think they’re excellent value at £85 and everyone I showed was wowed at how they worked - pretty impressive for something as simple as a door protector. They’re on a simple mechanism that means they hide away when the door is shut (which is great as door protectors are usually ugly) and pop out when you open the door. It’s a very neat solution, although of course it doesn’t protect you from other people opening their doors against you, but try finding a non-hideous solution for that. One criticism of this system though - the driver’s door protector actually arrived broken. It looked like simple replacement for the actual protector was all that was needed as the mechanism itself was fine, however it’s not the first time I have heard of problems with this feature. It seems like it can be quite problematic which is a real shame as it’s a great idea.
As well as performing the function of a fun and involving drivers car, a hot hatch is of course still meant to function well as the practical hatchback on which it is based. I’m pleased to report that the ST still works very well as a family hatch. My daughter’s child seat was easy to attach with the standard fit Isofix and she seemed happy enough. There’s plenty of headroom in the back for adults with adequate, though not great legroom, thanks to the bulky Recaro front seats. Again, the boot is fairly average with a reasonable amount of space, although it is quite shallow. Having said that, a space saver spare wheel is provided under the boot floor and on this model, the optional subwoofer sits on top of that, so the boot may be deeper without this. Driving the Focus ST around sedately it’s quite easy to forget you have all that performance on tap - it feels just like a normal Focus. It’s fairly quiet and there’s only a faint burble from the exhaust to remind you of the potential under your right foot. So it’s safe to say that the Focus ST is quite happy to play the part of your daily driver or family hatchback, and it will surely be easier to live with day in day out than its new big brother, the Focus RS will be.
Verdict: An incredibly well set up and balanced chassis paired with a sweet, torquey, turbocharged engine and a slick 6 speed manual box make the Focus ST a great accompaniment for twisty British B-roads. Not only this but it’s a bit of a bargain too! The Focus ST has always been a bit of a halfway house between a standard Focus and its more hardcore sibling the Focus RS, and this ST feels like it will be no exception to this. Its an easy car to live with that has plenty of performance on tap whenever the roads permit, and is sure to leave you with a big smile on your face after each and every drive.
The Focus ST range is available from just £104 per month at Evans Halshaw dealerships nationwide (October 2015).
Follow Evans Halshaw on Twitter: @evanshalshawuk
Engine: 1,997cc four cylinder turbocharged “Ecoboost” engine, 6 speed manual gearbox, front wheel drive
Price: From £22,495 (£27,240 as tested)
Power: 247bhp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 267 Ib ft @ 2000-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Top Speed: 154 mph
Fuel Economy: 41.5 mpg (EU combined cycle)
VED band: G (£180)