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Ford Focus ST 2020 review

The Ford Focus ST hot-hatch has grown up a bit. But that doesn't mean it's no fun anymore!
EXPERT RATING
8.3
The Ford Focus ST has always been an edge player in the hot-hatch segment, particularly in Australia. But the latest generation model has a lot going for it - it's bigger, better, more mature, safer, faster, more powerful and easier to drive and live with day to day. Is this the Goldilocks Zone?

Hot on the heels of the excellent Ford Fiesta ST 2020 model comes its bigger brother, the all-new 2020 Ford Focus ST.

Smarter, more thoughtful, faster, more powerful, and finally with the option of an automatic transmission, the new Focus ST is now the go-to grown-up’s hot-hatch from the Blue Oval brand, with a different temperament to its predecessor but plenty of temperature on offer, too.

This review focuses on the manual model because the auto wasn’t available for us to drive at launch. We’ll get in the auto soon, though, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, read on to find out all about the new Focus ST - and how it could be the best all-round hot-hatch on the market right now.

Ford Focus 2020: ST
Safety rating
Engine Type2.3L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency8.8L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$44,690

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   9/10

The Focus ST has a trick up its sleeve - you can get the manual or the auto at the same price.

Most brands ask a few grand more for their auto option, but Ford Australia has bucked that trend with the Focus ST, which is $44,690 plus on-road costs no matter if you get the six-stick, or seven-self-shifter.

The Focus ST has a trick up its sleeve. The Focus ST has a trick up its sleeve.

And that’s even more curious when you consider that the auto gains a little extra goodness over the manual: automatic Focus ST models have smart adaptive cruise control that can adjust your speed based on the traffic around it or even adjust to the speed limits using sign recognition, plus it has lane keeping assist that will centre you in your lane. The manual gets plain old standard cruise control, and misses out on lane keeping tech.

Both have plenty of other kit besides. We’re talking 19-inch alloy wheels, model-specific exterior badging, honeycomb grille, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights, sculpted side skirts as part of its rather subtle body kit, dual exhaust tips, and a rear spoiler.

The cabin has heated Recaro sports seats up front with manual adjustment, aluminium pedals, wireless smartphone charger, push-button start, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, a flat-bottom leather steering wheel, Ford’s 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Sync3 operating system, satellite navigation, voice activation and Bluetooth connectivity as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech.

Ford’s 8.0-inch touchscreen media system comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Ford’s 8.0-inch touchscreen media system comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

There’s also two USB ports (both up front) and a 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, a dark headlining, electronic park brake, front floor mats, configurable ambient lighting, and Ford Performance sill protectors, auto headlights, auto wipers, and a digital driver information screen with digital speedo.

There are just two options available for the Focus ST. There’s a panoramic sunroof option, at $2500, and the choice of premium paint.

What colours (or colors, depending on where you’re reading this) are available? Frozen White and Race Red are two that won’t cost you extra, while Orange Fury (seen here), Ruby Red, Ford Performance Blue, Magnetic (grey) and Agate Black Metallic will all add $650 to the price.

The cabin has heated Recaro sports seats up front with manual adjustment. The cabin has heated Recaro sports seats up front with manual adjustment.

What about competitors? How are they priced? Well, the (soon-to-be-replaced) VW Golf GTI is $46,690 (auto only), while the Honda Civic Type R is $51,990 (manual only), the Renault Megane RS range starts at $45,990 (manual and auto available), and the Hyundai i30 N Performance is $40,990 (currently manual only). So the Ford is well priced, and very well equipped.

We’ll cover off the standard safety gear in that section, down below.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

The Ford Focus hatchback is a nice size for buyers who want a practical hatchback that is still small enough to park in the city with ease. Want an even smaller performance hero from Ford? Save yourself some cash and get the Fiesta ST, which is arguably an even better hot-hatch than this car, for the cash.

But if you need space and comfort as a priority, the current generation of Focus will meet your needs. The dimensions of the Focus ST are close to its rivals: 4378mm long (on a 2700mm wheelbase), 1825mm wide and 1458mm tall. Read all about the space in the cabin in the section below, where you’ll find interior pictures, too.

You’ll make up your own mind about the styling of the Focus ST. There are bits I wish were even more outlandish: the rear spoiler, for instance, is about the same size as what you see on the Toyota Corolla ZR hatch. This generation of Focus ST is a more subtle design upgrade compared to the regular Focus models than its predecessor, and that might appeal to you, or, like me, you might wish for just a little more exterior pizzazz.

You’ll make up your own mind about the styling of the Focus ST. You’ll make up your own mind about the styling of the Focus ST.

This has been a bit of a trend for the European-designed hot hatches of the last couple of generations - the lines are more subtle, the aero treatments more generic, and the difference over the “Line” model (a variant below the hot-hatch that looks similar and offers mild performance enhancements) may not be discernable at a glance. 

There’s a Focus ST-Line, and a Focus ST. Both have a mesh grille with aggressive blades on their front bumpers, LED daytime running lights and headlights, large alloy wheels, a rear spoiler and a lower rear bumper diffuser of sorts. You could say that makes the ST a bit of a wolf in ST-Line’s clothing.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

The front cabin of the Focus ST is a nice place to be, with welcoming and body-hugging Recaro seats (which aren’t as hip-squishing as the last model), and a couple of other highlights to speak of.

The 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Ford’s Sync3 software is mostly quick to react, easy to use and it also features standard sat nav, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the screen even controls things like the ambient lighting in the cabin, too. It’s hooked up to a solid sound system (10 speakers plus subwoofer) from Bang & Olufsen. We had a couple of moments where the screen had bad lag, though.

There’s a digital screen for the driver flanked by two analogue dials, which are starting to look a bit old in 2020. The screen for the driver has a digital speed readout, trip meter, and there’s a shift indicator for eco-minded drivers - but it appears you can’t set it to have a ‘current gear’ indicator, which is a shame.

The front cabin of the Focus ST is a nice place to be. The front cabin of the Focus ST is a nice place to be.

There are decent storage options, with deep lined door pockets with bottle holders, adjustable cup holders between the seats, a covered centre storage bin with a USB port, and there’s a storage tray with a second USB port and wireless phone charger (Qi) in front of the gear selector. 

The material quality could be better, though. The door trims on the front doors is passable, but not nice. In the rear it’s terrible. Some cars a third of the price of this one have better plastic quality and finishes on their back doors. 

That might matter to you, or it might not. At least that shiny, horrible plastic will be easy to wipe down if you have grubby jam-fingered kids. 

In the back there’s plenty of space for kids and adults alike. With the driver’s seat set for my position (182cm), I had ample toe, leg and head room in the back, and the shoulder space was okay, too. Three of me across the back would be a squeeze, but it’s pretty accommodating in terms of space.

In the back there’s plenty of space for kids and adults alike. In the back there’s plenty of space for kids and adults alike.

And the amenities are okay, too. There are dual mesh map pockets, lined bottle holders in the doors, and a flip-down armrest with cup holders. There are no rear directional air vents, and no USB ports either - but there is a 12-volt outlet so you could plug in an adaptor.

The cargo capacity/boot space volume for the Focus ST is just 273 litres, which is not outstanding - that's down to the fact our cars have a subwoofer and a space saver spare wheel under the boot floor. We only managed to fit our largest (124L) and smallest (36L) suitcases in. The boot wasn’t big enough to also fit our mid-size (95L) case. You should be able to fit a smaller pram or stroller, but don’t think of this as the king of practicality.

Under the boot floor is a space saver spare wheel and a subwoofer.

  • The cargo capacity/boot space volume for the Focus ST is 341 litres. The cargo capacity/boot space volume for the Focus ST is 341 litres.
  • We only managed to fit our largest (124L) and smallest (36L) suitcases in. We only managed to fit our largest (124L) and smallest (36L) suitcases in.
  • You should be able to fit a smaller pram or stroller, but don’t think of this as the king of practicality. You should be able to fit a smaller pram or stroller, but don’t think of this as the king of practicality.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

Powering the Focus ST is the engine that used to be found under the horsepower hero RS model.

At least, it’s the same engine in terms of its capacity, but not its engine specs. Instead, the 2.3-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost turbo petrol engine is capable of a little less when it comes to power and torque.

But let’s just remember that we’re talking about 206kW of power (at 5500rpm) and 420Nm of torque (from 3000-4000rpm). Those aren’t numbers to be sneezed at! The last Focus ST had 184kW/340Nm, so this is a big step up.

The Focus ST remains front-wheel drive (2WD/FWD) only, and it doesn’t look like there’ll be an all-wheel drive (AWD) RS hero model this time around, either.

Powering the Focus ST is the engine that used to be found under the horsepower hero RS model. Powering the Focus ST is the engine that used to be found under the horsepower hero RS model.

But for the first time, the Focus ST is available with a choice of transmissions - there’s the hands-on option of a six-speed manual gearbox, or a newly added seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle-shifters. We haven’t driven that yet - stay tuned for more.

And the performance on offer from this Ford Performance product is pretty impressive - the claimed 0-100km/h time is 5.7 seconds for the manual model. The auto is said to do the dash in 6.0sec.

Wondering how the Focus ST stacks up against its main rivals? Well, the outgoing Golf GTI had 180kW/370Nm (but the TCR flagship version came with 213kW and 400Nm). The Hyundai i30 N Performance offers 202kW/373Nm - but at the time of writing still doesn’t come with an auto option. The Honda Civic Type is manual only too, with 228kW/400Nm. And the Renault Megane RS has 205kW/390Nm in manual or auto, unless you’re spending about $80K on the Trophy-R.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

The claimed fuel consumption of the Ford Focus ST is 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual model, while the auto is said to use a little more (8.8L/100km).

On test, we saw a return of 10.1L/100km for the manual. Not bad, not terrific.

The fuel tank capacity is 52 litres, and it requires 95RON premium unleaded minimum.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

Not as refined as a Golf GTI. Not as extroverted as a Honda Civic Type R. Not as snappy as a Hyundai i30 N. Is this the Goldilocks Zone of hot-hatchery?

It could well be, because the Focus ST is an absolute charmer, a hoot, a fun machine that you don’t want to stop driving, an entertainer, a go-getter and a heavy hitter all in one. And despite all of that, it’s a much more mature offering than its predecessor.

I should point out before I go much further that these remarks are related primarily to Sport mode, one of four Ford drive mode choices: Normal, Sport, Slippery and Race. I didn’t drive in Race mode - which limits traction control, rock-hardifys the suspension, notches up the steering speed and proffers more belches and flatulence to the driver - because I was on public roads. 

I did, however, use Sport mode for my spirited driving stints, which adjusts the throttle, intake/exhaust noise, suspension damping and steering. And it makes things very enjoyable, though I wouldn’t mind a bit more exhaust blatting and popping. 

I would have also liked the opportunity to set a “Custom” mode up - but there’s no such option. That would have been ideal, because - like in the i30 N - I’d have set the suspension to be softer but all the other things to be more on-edge. Normal mode is a little more, say, adult contemporary than trap or dubstep.

The steering is very communicative, with good bite at the front end and superb feel to the drivers hands. The steering is very communicative, with good bite at the front end and superb feel to the drivers hands.

In Sport, it has the trademark super-involving steering we’ve come to expect from the Focus ST (just two turns lock to lock), with great weighting to the steering, and super direct reactivity at pace. Sometimes you might even think the steering is too quick. 

The steering is very communicative, with good bite at the front end and superb feel to the drivers hands. There’s a teeny bit of torque steer to contend with, but the clever front electronic limited slip diff, which will apportion torque to the wheel that has the most grip to help you get yourself out of corners without tyres being fried, means it’s quick point to point, too.  

I had one moment where the e-LSD didn’t do what it should have. A corner with a killer camber change saw it apportion the torque incorrectly and lead to the steering wheel flicking the opposite way in my hands, but luckily I had a decent grip on the steering wheel. The twitch was rather unexpected.

That steering is combined with an ultra communicative chassis, which definitely makes you feel as though you are part of what is happening on the road and underneath the tyres. It’s one of the most engaging cars I’ve driven in years.

The ride in Sport mode is sharp, but I think that’s to its advantage because it’s never clumsy. The suspension really does cope well with direction changes and it’s superbly balanced.

The engine? Well, it’s epic.  

There’s a lot of potential driver’s licence damage to be done here. It’s very quick, and Ford’s claim of 5.7 seconds from 0-100 seems entirely doable using Launch Mode, provided you nail the gear shifts. 

Ford has some form of magic anti-lag tech in this engine that helps eliminate the moment of hesitation that an engine with these sort of outputs should theoretically exhibit. It’s quick to take off from a standstill, and builds pace rapidly. 

The grip from the front end is immense. The grip from the front end is immense.

It has a much wider operating window than the last Focus ST, in which you had to pick your moment between the turbo lag and torque steer to get the power to the ground. This new car is much more mature. 

The shift action is mostly very good (aside from no “current gear” indicator), and the clutch is very well weighted. Light enough, but also with nice feedback for the driver.

The grip from the front end is immense, and at times it grips down on the road ahead as though by the scruff of the neck. Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres will do that for you. 

Braking performance is good, though I wouldn’t quite call it excellent - which is surprising, given there are 330mm front and 302mm rear discs. There were a few moments that I pushed a lot harder on the stoppers than I thought I should have.

In more regular driving situations (I did about 600km in the Focus ST), I can attest that it is very good for the most part. 

There is road roar to contend with, plus the front end can be upset by potholes. But generally the ride was good (it’s a hot-hatch after all), and it was comfortable enough to do long drives in.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

The fact the Focus ST builds upon the already solid standard of safety set by the regular Focus is to its advantage.

The Focus scored the maximum five-star ANCAP crash test rating in 2019, achieving high scores for Adult Occupant protection (96 per cent) and Child Occupant protection (87 per cent).

The ST’s safety equipment hit list includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind-spot monitoring with cross traffic alert and “Active Braking” (rear AEB), lane departure warning and auto high beam lights.

All models have a reversing camera, as well as front and rear parking sensors. All models have a reversing camera, as well as front and rear parking sensors.

The automatic model adds adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, which includes a lane keeping assistance system that manual models don’t get. 

All models have a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), and dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points along with three top-tether points.

Where is the Ford Focus made? Germany, and that's the case for every model in the range.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

As with all Ford models, the Focus ST is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. If you service it at Ford, you’ll also get up to seven years of roadside assistance included.

In terms of service intervals, they’re set at 12 months/15,000km, and just like all the other Focus models there’s a capped-price service plan. And the service costs are decent, too: at the time of writing, Ford is offering the first four services (four years/60,000km) at $299 a pop, which is cheap - especially for a hatch this hot.

As with all Ford models, the Focus ST is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. As with all Ford models, the Focus ST is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Verdict

The impressive overall score you see here is for the manual 2020 Ford Focus ST. I simply can’t wait to drive the auto to see if it lives up to the nameplate. 

Either way, the new-generation Focus ST has what it takes to offer a credible alternative to its hot-hatch rivals. It’s fun, fast, and finally a little bit more mature, too. 

Pricing guides

$34,090
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$23,490
Highest Price
$44,690

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
ACTIVE 1.5L, ULP, 8 SP AUTO $29,990 2020 Ford Focus 2020 ACTIVE Pricing and Specs
Ambiente 1.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $23,490 2020 Ford Focus 2020 Ambiente Pricing and Specs
ST 2.3L, PULP $44,690 2020 Ford Focus 2020 ST Pricing and Specs
ST-LINE 1.5L, ULP, 8 SP AUTO $28,990 2020 Ford Focus 2020 ST-LINE Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8.3
Price and features9
Design8
Practicality8
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption7
Driving9
Safety8
Ownership8
Matt Campbell
Senior Editor

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Pricing Guide

$44,690

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

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