Ford Focus ST

Trendier, sharper, and snappier inside

NATHAN PONCHARD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

FORD must have felt quietly confident when its currentgeneration Focus launched in 2011, backed up by the lairy 184kW ST in 2012.

Then VWís Mk7 Golf photobombed its way onto centre stage and, well, things changed.

Thereís nothing like a smarter, better-dressed, more aspirational competitor to rain on your parade.

But Ford has tried hard with this mid-life refresh to give the Focus a solid shot in the arm without simply copying what Volkswagen does. And nowhere is that more obvious than in the stove-hot ST.

Imperfect as it may be, itís the Focus STís defiance to toe a mannered line that makes it genuinely appealing. From its more aggressive snout and new Audi RS-inspired Stealth Grey hue to its huggy Recaro buckets and lairy dynamics, this is a family sized hot hatch with attitude.

New front springs, stiffer lower front control-arm bushes and rear spring mounts, and firmer dampers result in a sharper, more sporting chassis that loves to hit the dancefloor, regardless of how messy it gets. Retuned electric steering assistance delivers consistently solid weighting that combines with the STís rapid 1.8 turns lock-to-lock for incisive directional control.

While the STís steering doesnít quite achieve the desired level of feel at straight ahead, itís impressive once you start to add some lock. Combined with a super-keen chassis that truly carves, you find the ST corners tighter than you expect for the first few bends. Get your head around its terrific adjustability, however Ė via throttle, brakes or steering inputs Ė and you can hurl a Focus ST down a windy road with abandon.

Where it falls down a little is when the surface deteriorates.

Some bumps expose a chink in the front endís body control, while a wet surface is a pertinent reminder that the ST doesnít have a mechanical LSD. Its 184kW/360Nm 2.0-litre ĎEcoBoostí turbo four is so strong that thereís plenty of torque steer if you ask for too much too early. Even on a dry, straight road, the STís ballsy donk still reminds you of its muscle through the steering wheel.

But it makes the car. Incredibly flexible, with an almost frictionless desire to rev, its useable power band spans 1400rpm to the 6800 cut-out, supported by a silky induction growl plumbed from the airbox to the firewall. And the slick-shifting manual íbox is a fine companion.

Thereís only one major option Ė a $2K Tech Pack that includes a meal deal of safety gadgets and auto high beam for the adaptive bi-xenon headlamps. But itís the fire in the STís belly that rings loudest. This little animal knows what constitutes a good time.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Ford Focus ST 1999cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 184kW @ 5500rpm 360Nm @ 2000-4500rpm 6-speed manual 1389kg 6.5sec (claimed) 7.3L/100km $38,990 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Front end a bit overwhelmed on wet surfaces; huge turning circle Out standing engine flexibility; adjustable handling; neater interior; seats

Want a hug?

THE STís Recaro front seats are extremely intimate Ė arguably too much so for anyone over 100kg Ė but their support is unquestionable, and the cross-hatched, mixed-material upholstery looks classy and feels expensive. The STís rear seat is similarly generous, though itís the freshly reskinned dashboard that grabs attention. Itís easier to use, less challenging to look at and, even though itís still no Golf VII in terms of tactile luxury, the facelifted Focus no longer feels like itís a generation behind.