It's way too early to call time on the 'hard stuff' from Ford. The Blue Oval 'home brew' – making cars in Australia – may be about to go down the gurgler but there is still plenty of spirit there.

For example, the new Mustang is selling its socks off here; the Falcon is duking it out with arch rival Holden in the V8 Supercar Championship – and the new Focus ST is taking it up to the hot hatches of Europe.

The LZ series Focus ST, is the latest in a line of Ford performance hatchbacks and comes with a host of new and reworked features including chassis control technology combined with a re-tuned suspension; sporty looks and revised interior; and Sync2 connectivity with high-resolution 8.0-inch colour touch screen, all for less than $40,000.

Our road test car had the Technology Pack available as an option for an extra $2000, as wells as sporty 19-inch alloy wheels for $1999 more.

Design

The Focus ST visually carries many accoutrements of a European hot hatch. As well as a lower, wider stance, Race Red paintwork of the test car put the finishing touches to it. Red front and rear brake calipers peek out from behind new-colour spokes of 18-inch alloy wheels.

A new sculpted bonnet, slimmer headlamps and rectangular foglamps are augmented by body-coloured side skirts, and a rear diffuser flanking twin hexagonal centre exhausts, and a rear roof spoiler.

Focus ST tradition remains: the three-dial set-up on the top of the dashboard giving the driver info on turbo boost pressure, plus oil pressure and temperature.

There is a new, flat-bottom sports steering wheel with a soft-feel leather covered rim, a satin chrome-capped gear lever and ST pedals.

Satin chrome extends to door grab handles, while illuminated aluminium scuff plates add a nice touch, and sports seats were developed jointly by Ford and Recaro.

Multimedia

Ford's Sync 2 connectivity system offers access to audio, navigation, climate control and mobile phones using voice control and a high-definition, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen. The screen divides into quadrants for quick access to information.

Engine

Focus ST's 2.0-litre GTDi EcoBoost turbocharged engine pumps out 184kW of power and 345Nm of torque (360Nm for a few seconds with overboost). It's mated to a six-speed Durashift manual transmission.

The Focus ST front seats are tight even for a Joe of average girth

Safety

Six airbags are part and parcel of a passive safety package, while active safety calls on ABS anti-skid brake system with electronic brake-force distribution and dynamic stability control and traction control. Ford also lists hill start assist as a safety item, frankly we feel that anyone who needs this shouldn't be behind the wheel of any high-performance machine.

Ford's enhanced Active City Stop (autonomous emergency braking), designed to avoid or minimise the impact of a collision, now operates at speeds of up to 50km/h. It readies the brakes if a potential impact is detected and, if the driver does not respond, automatically applies the brakes. This was not needed during out week's test, but welcome all the same.

Clever adaptive front lighting, on offer for the first time on Focus ST, adjusts the intensity and angle of the Bi-Xenon HID headlamp beams according to vehicle speed, steering angle and distance to objects to provide optimal illumination.

Enhanced transitional stability system, as part of the vehicle's advanced dynamic stability control system, is designed to sense vehicle stability and driver inputs, then predicts when a skid or loss of control might occur and intervenes using individual wheel braking.

Owners can also take advantage of the aforementioned optional Technology Pack which features autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, driver impairment monitor and auto high beam headlamps.

Driving

Ford/Recaro Sports seats, trimmed in contrasting leather, are all very well but there's a difference between lateral support and cramped conditions. The Focus ST front seats are tight even for a Joe of average girth. They are also too tightly sprung. On test, during an extended run, they received an almost universal thumbs-down from more than one front-seat passenger.

It is a sharp and responsive performer

If seating was squeezy, the unbelievably wide 12 metre turning circle made parking in tight spots a waltz of to-ing and fro-ing to fit the car in.

On the whole, the engine worked well with the six-speed manual transmission with shifts recommended on the instrument read-out directly in front of the driver.

The Focus ST also showed its mettle with attractive fuel consumption of 11.6L/100km shuffling around in town traffic and 6.3L/100km if given its legs on the open road.

It is a sharp and responsive performer. New front springs and sportier new shock absorber tuning front and rear, with stiffer suspension bushes on the front lower control arm and rear spring links, combined with anti-roll bars and rear springs from the previous generation ST doing the trick.

Calibration of the Electronic Power Assisted Steering and electronic vehicle control systems also has been revised to meet the sporting requirements of the new model.

There was much praise for rear cross traffic alert, especially from the back seat, warning the driver when reversing from parking spaces when it detected other vehicles about to cross behind.