We spent a week with the facelifted Ford Focus ST in ST 3 guise. Can it match the best hot hatches in the segment?Highlights: 2.0-litre turbo engine with 184kW and 360Nm 0-100kph in 6.5s, top speed of 248kph Five-door practical hot hatchback From R381 900
Ford's ST department has a knack of making terrific and entertaining vehicles. We're especially fond of the Fiesta ST and the old 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine which did duty in the second generation Focus ST. The third generation of Focus ST did away with the five-pot motor on the grounds that it was simply not clean enough. Replacing this unique engine was a 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor which sees it slot alongside its rivals in terms of capacity.
This newer version features no power increases, which we think is a bit of a shame. There's 184kW and 360Nm on tap, which gives it credible on-paper performance. Zero to 100kph is dispatched in around 6.5 seconds and if the road is long enough, it'll go onto 248kph. Being a Ford EcoBoost engine, economy is claimed at 6.8L/100km, but given the nature of this vehicle, you're not likely to see that very often.
Ford claims the new Focus ST has an improved stability system, revised suspension, tweaked steering as well as an improved infotainment system. With these upgrades in mind, let's see how it fared.
Our test unit arrived in this menacing gun-metal grey colour, which is striking and very appropriate given the nature of the car. It's called Stealth and this colour/car combination is anything but! Fans of the outrageous Tangerine Scream orange colour need not panic as this colour has been retained for the new generation. The only visible changes we could pick up were redesigned headlights, tail lamps and a mildly-tweaked bumper.
How does it drive?
Once the wheels have grip and you're moving, the Ford Focus ST is a rapid performer.The previous version of the Ford Focus ST had a reputation for being a wild animal under hard acceleration, with the driver having to wrestle the steering wheel in an effort to keep the vehicle straight and true. The torque steer was quite evident and to get the best out of it, you had to have your wits about you and be gentle with the throttle.
Sadly the latest version suffers from the same affliction and hard acceleration gives your arms quite a workout, with the front wheels spinning wildly. Once the wheels have grip and you're moving, the Ford Focus ST is a rapid performer. It's six-speed manual gearbox offers a pleasant shift action and thanks to all that torque, the car's responsiveness is good. From third gear onwards, all 360Nm can be unleashed and it's in-gear acceleration is its strongest performance asset. Let's not forget that distinctive induction bark too...
When you're not pressing on, the Ford Focus ST offers a mature driving experience and the ride is fair on smooth roads. On uneven surfaces, the ride becomes a little crashy. The steering is very direct, which is a good thing for a car such as this.
Another aspect where the Ford Focus ST arguably outshines the competition is practicality and specification. At this price point, the car comes well equipped and the infotainment system with Sync 2 connectivity which we've experienced before in the Ford Fusion sedan is commendable. It's slick, intuitive and works well. The car also features heated seats, cruise control and lovely Recaro racing seats. The boot is surprisingly spacious and the five-door configuration makes it suitable for four adults. With the seats folded down, the Ford Focus ST offers class-leading boot space.
Verdict and Summary
While it's not bad at all, it's tough to recommend the Focus ST given the exceptional quality of its opposition.The Ford Focus ST is trying hard to wear both the Comfort/Practicality and Entertaining Performer hats all at once. As past experience has shown, only one hat can be worn at a time to be successful. We were expecting a little more if we're honest, but we have the Ford Focus RS to look forward to.
While it's not bad at all, it's tough to recommend the Focus ST given the exceptional quality of its opposition. The Volkswagen Golf GTI offers a combination of luxury and practicality which makes it a best-seller, while the Renault Megane RS Lux is more composed a performer.
The Renault is the most compromised of the three as it's a three-door coupe and it's difficult to live with day to day, but it more than makes up for it in the performance stakes. It has more power and crucially, comes in under the R400 000 barrier. The Volkswagen Golf GTI can match the Focus ST in most departments and is available with both a manual and twin-clutch gearbox. It's also the most comfortable and the recent GTI Performance Pack improves its dynamic ability even further. This comes at a price premium though.
Ford Focus ST Price in South AfricaThe Ford Focus ST is priced from R381 900 for the ST 1, while the ST 3 tested here goes for R421 900. The price includes a 4-year/120 000km comprehensive warranty, 4-year/80 000km service plan, 3-year/unlimited km roadside assistance and 5-year/unlimited km corrosion warranty. Service intervals are every 20 000km. The only options are a sunroof and bigger 19-inch alloy wheels.
"I enjoyed my time with the Focus ST - I particularly love the sound of the thing, and the in-gear power delivery is addictive. It's also quite practical and generally easy to live with, but the Golf GTI remains the superior product. Still, if you want something with a bit of a harder-edged character, but also don't want to go all the way out and get a Renault Megane RS, this strikes a very good compromise." Hannes Oosthuizen
We Like: Practicality, space, specification, smart infotainment system, in-gear acceleration
We don’t Like: Torque steer, compromised ride on uneven surfaces
Also consider: Volkswagen Golf GTI, Renault Megane RS