The Auto Trader expert verdict:
The Ford Focus has long been regarded as the most complete car in its class and the sporty ST version adds a dose of fun.
Reasons to buy:
- Great engine, handling and performance
- Well priced next to other hot hatches
- Practical and well-built
How good does it look?
Early STs built up until May 2008 had a slightly boxy look to them, but now have a sharper nose. Stand-out colour schemes like bright orange, big alloy wheels, body kit and a sizeable rear spoiler set the ST apart from the standard Focus. You’re left in no doubt that the ST is a performance special. The only downside is that the Focus is so popular that anyone seeking a car with a unique exterior should look elsewhere.
What's the interior like?
As with the exterior, cabin quality was improved when the Focus was facelifted in 2008. Coloured sections of seat fabric that match the exterior paintwork add to the sporty effect and the seats themselves have high bolsters that tuck you in during fast bends. Turbocharger gauges on the top of the dash let you know what’s going on beneath the bonnet and add to the sporty flavour.
How practical is it?
The ST is based on the standard Ford Focus hatchback, which is renowned for its practicality. It has a 385-litre boot, which is about average for the class, but the rear seats split and fold in a 60/40 configuration and there are plenty of storage areas for both front and rear passengers. The Easyfuel system incorporates a special nozzle on the filler cap that prevents the driver from filling up the fuel tank with the wrong fuel.
What's it like to drive?
The standard Ford Focus shines in this area and the ST is even better. Obviously it has a sportier set-up, which comprises lower and firmer suspension, so you will be more aware of the road surface than in the standard car, but the ride isn’t unpleasant. The steering is extremely accurate and there’s more feedback through the Ford’s steering than you’ll find from most cars. Grip is plentiful, but all that power going through the front wheels means the Focus can feel a little skittish under initial acceleration. It soon settles down, though.
How powerful is it?
A 222bhp engine is not to be sniffed at in a humble family hatchback and the 2.5-litre turbocharged unit is certainly very potent. It makes a wonderful warbling sound and, powerful though it is, the ST is quite easy to drive quickly because the performance is spread very evenly throughout the rev range. The six-speed gearbox has a short, snappy throw and complements the engine well. Though the Focus ST isn’t quite as extreme as hard-edged hatchbacks like the Renaultsport Megane, it’s easier to live with and fun at the same time.
How much will it cost me?
Running costs are the ST’s only downside, really. If you believe the official figures, then you can expect 30.4mpg from the Ford. The stark reality is that, when you use the performance, the fuel economy drops significantly and you’ll see nearer 20mpg. Emissions are high too, as the Focus sits in tax band K with 224g/km of CO2 emissions. Insurance group 34 is also quite high, but that’s to be expected from a powerful hot hatch.
How reliable is it?
The Focus has been associated with good build quality in all of its previous guises and the current version is even better. The 2.5-litre engine in the ST has been used in Volvos before and has a proven reputation for strength, as does the gearbox. An overall position of 70th in the 2010 JD Power Satisfaction Survey wasn’t brilliant for the Focus, but it finished ahead of key rivals like the Vauxhall Astra and the Renault Megane.
How safe is it?
Under the old EuroNCAP regulations, when the Focus ST was tested, it scored a maximum of five-stars for adult occupants. Electronic stability control is standard and all cars have six airbags.
How much equipment do I get?
All Focus STs, which start at ST-1, are well-equipped and come with 18-inch alloy wheels, Recaro sports seats, a body kit, sports interior trim and extra dials over and above the standard Focus. The ST-2 version includes a heated windscreen, an mp3 stereo and xenon headlamps, while the top-spec ST-3 model gets a CD-changer and leather seats as standard.
If the fuel economy is bearable, then the Focus ST is one of the best all-round hot hatchbacks on sale. The 2.5-litre engine is a great performer and the handling is even better than that of the standard Focus. There’s no loss of practicality and the cabin is a pleasant place to be.