The dust has unofficially settled following the release of the hotly anticipated Ford Focus ST, which has certainly left a positive impression among publications and those who are among the first to own one. You may remember we went to visit Ford Batley at the beginning of July to gather our first impressions on the new Focus ST, and it certainly didn't disappoint us, either.
At the end of that article, we told readers to keep an eye out for the first drive to see what we thought. Well, that time has now come, because we managed to swindle the keys from the friendly team at the FordStore in Lincoln for the day. And, better yet, we managed to get some track time on the Cadwell Park Circuit in Louth, Lincolnshire. We don't want to give away too much early on, but keep on reading, because it was a riot.
The Performance Feels Old-School
The problem with modern hot hatchbacks is that they are almost too perfect. Bear with us, because it sounds like an odd comment to make, but the hot hatchbacks currently rolling out of other manufacturers are too refined and user friendly. The problem with that is the lack of drama they bring to the daily drive. And isn't that ultimately what we seek when we buy a hot hatch?
Under the bonnet of the Focus ST is a 2.3-litre turbocharged EcoBoost engine producing 280bhp, which is actually less than the likes of the Honda Civic Type R. However, the Focus ST produces 310lb ft of torque, and that is a firm winner in the game of Top Trumps.
Although that torque figure is mighty impressive, it's the way the engine delivers it that really warms the soul. At the start of the rev-range, there is noticeable lag that is seldom experienced in other hot hatches. Keep the pedal planted, though, and a massive surge of power soon follows that sees the rev-needle chasing the red-line with aggression! It feels raw; it feels exciting; it grumbles with drama; it's everything a hot hatch should deliver.
We're not going to bore you with jargon surrounding the design of the chassis and how it's so sophisticated it could solve The Da Vinci Code, because it doesn't matter. All you need to know is there is a lot of grip, which makes the Focus ST a real force to be reckoned with when the going gets twisty.
The steering provides a crisp turn-in that makes the ST very easy to place going into a corner. It's also equally satisfying to see that the steering rack is quick in its responses to the input of the driver, meaning it doesn't take much effort to get the Focus changing direction down a country road. It makes for a very linear and engaging drive.
Ford have opted for something called an eLSD for the ST (Electronic Limited Slip Differential) as opposed to a traditional mechanical differential. A differential essentially distributes torque across the driven wheels to give you optimal grip; they really help reign in the under steer associated with powerful front-wheel drive vehicles. We were skeptical of the eLSD at first, but we're pleased to report it generates a significant amount of grip mid-corner.
Completing the Package
Potent performance and a very capable chassis are expected in this day and age from a hot hatchback, but the rest of the package is what really adds the finishing touches to a top performer.
Recaro seats have been a consistent sight in Ford performance vehicles throughout the generations, and the Focus ST is no different. Interestingly, the Recaros in the ST are wider than you'd expect from a performance vehicle, so it never felt like they were there during normal driving, but there was masses of confidence-inspiring support when we started pushing on.
As you would expect, the brakes are substantial on the Focus ST. The initial bite is strong, although slightly over-assisted, with a progressive feeling that provides plenty of feedback. During some spirited driving, we didn't notice any brake-fade, either; always reassuring on a car of this capability!
The Focus ST has been a highly rated car throughout each generation it has made an appearance, and we're pleased to see the success continues with this latest model. Performance is strong; the handling is positive; and additions such as the Recaro seats are hugely appetising.
However, what really separates the Focus ST from rivals in the same class is its ability to capture what made hot hatchbacks of old so special. It feels refreshingly raw and stripped back, allowing the driver to grab the car by the scruff of the neck and really enjoy the experience of driving. Yet, it still feels refined, comfortable, and practical when you want it to settle down. This is a fantastic all-round hot hatchback that is worthy of a test drive.