A bright orange Ford Focus ST might sound a bit daring in terms of style, but in the metal it definitely works well. Actually, Ford calls it Tangerine Scream, and in the many years of being a car enthusiast, the only cars that I think look good in orange are old Mopar muscle cars like the Plymouth Superbird and mid-engined V12 Lamborghinis. I even think the lines are quite nice, and those dark-coloured 18-inch rims give it a nice sporty stance as well. Looking good, as we all know, is only half of what is required from a performance vehicle, it also has to deliver thrills. However, hot hatches have to deliver those thrills without breaking the bank, so it has to strike that crucial combination of affordability and being a fun car to drive. Luckily, I had over a week to find out if the Focus ST does just that.
As with many hot hatches these days, power comes from an engine with forced induction and direct injection – a four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine with 250hp and 360 Nm of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission, while acceleration from 0-100km/h is done in 6.5 seconds and maxes out at 248km/h. This test car comes fully loaded and costs CHF 47,600, while the base price is CHF 39,250.
Obviously, being a hot hatch of the 21st century means that the Focus ST rides on a stiffer suspension compared to ordinary hatchbacks. Other things that remind you of its intent to performance are the fast-reacting Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS) as well as Torque Vectoring Control (TVC). The steering can catch you unaware at first but you quickly learn to use it smoothly on daily drives, while the TVC (a braking differential) will brake the inside wheel during fast cornering, minimizing understeer and helping it stick to your selected line.
The engine is without question one of the most noticeable elements in the Focus ST, not only is it a torque-rich unit, it sounds good too. Ford have placed a device called a Sound Symposer, which channels engine noise into the cabin. The device is activated around 3,000 rpm, valves open, and the note you hear is one that’s very close to a highly-tuned naturally-aspirated unit. In fact, it reminded me of Mk2 Ford Escort rally cars. I personally think that the Sound Symposer is a lot better than other manufacturers’ (BMW, Audi) speaker-enhanced systems, as the noise is simply channelled rather than digitally amplified. But, while the car sounds great from the inside, the exhaust note is a bit too quiet for my liking. If you listen very carefully, though, you might notice a small pop from the exhaust when you lift off around 3,500rpm.
There’s only a small whiff of turbo lag when you floor it in higher gears, but otherwise power is always readily available. It’s a proper ‘pin-you-to-your-seat’ type of car, and the interior soundtrack makes it that bit more exciting. The gearshift is nice and light, with the steering being very responsive and accurate with your inputs. Mid-corner bumps don’t upset the balance of the car that much either, and it feels perfectly planted on those open and twisty country roads as well. Also, on mountain roads, there’s never any hesitation from the engine when coming out of those second gear high-altitude hairpin bends.
The Recaro bucket seats are fantastic too, not only being super-supportive when cornering but also comfortable for your everyday drive. Torque steer – as far as I’m concerned – is the only enemy when driving the Focus ST at brisk pace. It doesn’t violently want to throw the car into a ditch but it will be noticeable to any driver that decides to floor it.
For everyday driving, the Focus ST is a great partner. The quality of the controls is pretty good, and I didn’t see anything that looked low-budget and fragile. Average-sized adults wont struggle for space, but taller passengers and drivers might have to compromise with each other for legroom – headroom is plentiful, even at the back. Yes, the ride is on the stiff side but I found it to be perfectly acceptable, and the steering is light at low speeds and weights up a little when you gather pace. You also never have to take the car out of sixth gear when on the highway, the car rides on a wave of torque that simply negates having to change gear at anything over 80km/h.
Paying nearly CHF 48,000 for the Focus ST means that you do get a lot of features. There’s a neat speed limit display on the on-board computer, which constantly looks out for speed limit signs. It works well most of the time and it is very useful if you didn’t notice new speed restrictions. However, it can get things wrong sometimes, at one fork it read the 80km/h sign of the lane that leads to the highway rather than the 60km/h that I was on, so driver concentration is still very much needed. My favourite interior feature was the Sony Premium sound system, which provides enough bass to please any night club DJ.
Other features in this car include: Active City Stop, which scans the road ahead for potential hazards and applies emergency brakes when needed; keyless entry and start; dual-zone climate control; heated seats; hill assist; lane-departure warning; bi-xenon headlamps; blind spot monitoring; satellite navigation; rear parking sensors and a reverse camera; Bluetooth; as well as USB and auxiliary wiring slots.
So far it’s been mostly positive things about the Focus ST, but there definitely are negatives. The thing that annoyed me the most was the turning circle, you often find yourself having to manoeuvre a lot more in tight underground car parks, making a small car feel as wide as a Hummer H2. The user interface and satellite navigation could use a bigger screen and better graphics, and the torque steer is a reminder of the limits of front-wheel drive vehicles.
As an overall experience, though, the Ford Focus ST is brilliant. It is not only fast on a straight line and agile around the bends, it is everyday useable too. I was very fortunate to have the Focus ST be my very first hot hatch experience, meaning that the bar has been set quite high for future hot hatch test drives. But most importantly, the Focus ST is a genuinely likeable car, and that’s something that can’t be engineered. I really didn’t want to give it back to Ford.
Written by Alex Kisiri