Ten Point Test

Auto Trader Ten Point Test Rating – 83%

Ford knows a thing or two about building performance cars, including various Escorts, Sierras and Fiestas. They’ve even built a couple of Ferrari-bashing supercars.

So expectations are high with the Focus ST, but does a plain-looking hatchback with a Volvo engine make the grade?

1. Looks 9/10

Gone are the days where Ford would fit a ‘whale tail’ wing to the back of their cars. They looked great in their day, but it would be considered vulgar in today’s car climate. Subtle is the way forward.

But it isn’t. Tick the Electric Orange box on the order form and you’ll get retina-destroying orange paintwork that can be seen from space. Shrinking violets will probably plump for one of six other hues – like our black test car. But in a way, orange suits this lairy car, with its huge 18 inch alloys and its vents, scoops and two bazooka-like exhaust pipes at the back.

2. Looks inside 8/10

At first glance the interior is identical to a lowly 1.4 LX, but squint a bit and you’ll see plenty of bits to keep performance junkies happy. A trio of gauges sit atop the dash, giving information on turbo boost, oil pressure and temperature, while silver bits emblazed with ‘ST’ sit on the steering wheel and gear knob. The leather Recaro seats were some of the comfiest I’ve sat in, but I did find myself sliding around when cornering hard. The matching orange and black cloth seats which come with Electric Orange models provided more grip.

3. Practicality 7/10

There’s plenty of space for your gear in the Focus; after all, it’s primarily a practical family hatchback. The door pockets and glovebox were decent sizes, while the recess provided if you don’t specify the smokers pack was good for coins and bits. The boot floor wasn’t as deep as we would expect: most cars have a six inch drop of the lip to the floor, but with the Focus there’s still the lip, but the floor looks like its risen up to meet it. That said, with the seats up there’s still more space than a Golf or Astra would offer.

4. Ride and Handling 8/10

Once big wheels with stiffened suspension are fitted, ride quality goes out the window with most cars. But the ST is different. We drove from London to Yorkshire and back in a day and can report there’s minimal wind noise, the ride is firm but supple and was a pleasure. But when you want to wind things up a bit, the ST comes out to play. The only detractions were over-light steering at speed and a tendency for the back to go light on bumpy roads under heavy braking, which was particularly disconcerting. That said, the stability control kept the wiggling to a minimum.

View our Ford Focus ST slide show

5. Performance 10/10

In a word, staggering. A 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds doesn’t sound that quick, but its in-gear overtaking potential is phenomenal. Regardless which of the ST’s six gears you choose, floor the throttle and the 225bhp, 2.5-litre will launch the car up the road at the kind of speed the police would feel your collar for. Ford says the top speed is 152mph, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it was even higher. Unusually, the ST has a five-cylinder engine, which emits an offbeat warble – very nice, and when you’re high in the rev range, pleasantly loud.

6. Running Costs 7/10

Given the comments in the previous section, it’s no shock to find economy isn’t at top of the priorities list. Ford says the ST will manage 20.5mpg around town, 41.5 on a motorway run, which equates to 30.4 overall. We were clocking 10 less than this; probably due to a heavy foot and the need to feel the surge of acceleration and listen to that engine note. At 12,500 miles, service intervals aren’t as frequent as some performance cars and group 17 insurance is about what we’d expect.

7. Reliability 8/10

The ST runs on proven mechanicals, so there shouldn’t be any worries here. It has traditionally scored well in the Reliability Index, and it certainly feels well built. All Fords come with 12 months warranty, which can be extended to 3 years/60,000 miles. We tried Ford’s breakdown cover too, after a football was kicked under the moving car, crushing a brake line in the wheelarch. The service was excellent, with the AA arriving ten minutes later.

8. Safety 9/10

The Focus scored top marks for occupant protection in the EuroNCAP crash test programme, and only dropped one star for child occupant protection. Don’t hit a pedestrian though: they’ll come off second best, with only two stars being achieved. Our test car came with driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags, with an optional deactivation switch for the passenger ‘bag. The steering column collapses in the event of a crash to avoid the driver colliding with it.

9. Equipment 8/10

The top-of-the-range ST3 comes with pretty much everything you’d want, apart from sat-nav; although we tried it in another test car and found it slow and the directions unclear. Go for the regular CD/radio and pocket the £2,000 the nav costs. As with most Fords, there’s a useful heated front screen, electric windows and mirrors. Our test car had the £500 ‘KeyFree System’, which uses a sensor to detect when the key fob is in range, meaning the driver can unlock the doors and start the car without touching the key. This worked fine, but the ‘key’ that stays in the ignition slot proved cumbersome.

10. X-Factor 9/10

The Focus ST is one of the best hot hatches around at the moment. The Golf GTi is a little dull, while the Astra VXR is too rough round the edges. It looks sensational – particularly in orange and offers more performance than any sub-£20,000 car has the right to.

Key Facts

Model tested: Ford Focus ST ST-3
On the road price: £20,745
Price range: £17,795 – £20,745
Tested: June 2006
Road tester: Stuart Milne