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Ford Focus ST 2020 review: Auto

More mild than wild, the Focus ST still looks tough.
EXPERT RATING
7.6
Now with the hardcore Ford Focus RS hot hatch gone, is the Focus ST going to be enough for those looking for both performance and practicality?

The Ford Focus ST is a hot hatch, but just how spicy is it? Well, if it was a curry it would have two little, red chillies next to its name on the menu. Listed directly below would be the Focus RS accompanied by three chillies, but there’d be a line drawn through it with a marker pen because sadly Ford doesn’t serve that any more.

So, is the Ford Focus ST hot enough for you? And does it also offer the practicality that goes with performance which has made hot hatches popular through the decades?

The new-generation Focus ST launched in 2020, soon after its smaller sibling the Fiesta ST (one chilli). We’ve already tested the Focus ST with the manual gearbox and this review is of the same car with the automatic.

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

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The 2.3-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine is the heart of the Focus ST and it’s a thumping, noisy one, making plenty of power at 206kW and oodles of torque at 420Nm.

The Focus ST is a front-wheel drive car and while a six-speed manual gearbox is offered, the car tested here had the seven-speed automatic transmission.

Manuals can be tiresome to use daily in heavy traffic, but if driving is a real passion for you then you’ll know how much more engaging it is shifting gears yourself.

The 2.3-litre turbo-petrol produces 206kW/420Nm. The 2.3-litre turbo-petrol produces 206kW/420Nm.

Driving enthusiasts might also be disappointed by the auto transmission in Focus ST, which is eager to shift up to higher gears and then quick to change its mind. Meaning I had to keep the car in 'Sport' or manual mode to stop it shuffling cogs incessantly.

So, good marks for the engine but the score is brought down by the auto transmission.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

The Focus ST lists for $44,690 with the automatic transmission and manual version being the same price, which is $10K more than a top-of-the-range Titanium Focus.

The 8.0-inch touchscreen features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 8.0-inch touchscreen features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

My test car was fitted with the optional panoramic sunroof which looks amazing but during a hot Australian summer this type of roof makes me sweat like an ant under a magnifying glass.

Is the Focus ST good value? Well, you’re not being ripped off and nobody is going to say you’ve paid too much. Not when you factor in features like the B&O audio and high-performance engineering. The Focus ST is also priced close to its rivals. The Volkswagen Golf GTI lists for about $47K, while the Hyundai i30 N is around $45K.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

The Focus is up there with the best-looking small hatches on the market with its low-slung body and sleek profile, the long bonnet and the hungry looking grille. The ST version toughens the look without going over the top.

ST enhancements include the 19-inch ST wheels with 235/35 R19 tyres, the mesh grille, front and rear bumper treatment, the side skirts, roof-top spoiler, and the twin exhaust.

The Focus is up there with the best-looking small hatches on the market. The Focus is up there with the best-looking small hatches on the market.

Inside there’s the ST steering wheel, aluminium gear knob, ST metallic pedals, the Ford Performance scuff plates, a dark headliner and ST floor mats.

Want the look without the price tag? The ST-Line Focus could be the answer because it shares many of the same body kit features, but doesn’t have the ST’s performance credentials to go with it.

ST owners might find the almost identical looks to the ST-Line a bit disappointing. Maybe Ford should have made more features ST specific? But ultimately, there are enough differences, including the wheels, the exhaust and diffuser, to signal to those in the know that this isn’t an ordinary Focus.

The cabin styling in the Focus ST is underwhelming with all its black plastic surfaces. The cabin styling in the Focus ST is underwhelming with all its black plastic surfaces.

A nice touch which will make owners happy is the ‘debadging’ of the Focus lettering across the tailgate. Now, not every Focus can boast that.  

Fancy Recaro two-tone seats aside, the rest of the cabin styling in the Focus ST is underwhelming with all its black plastic surfaces and a steering wheel which not only has an overly busy design (with buttons galore), but looks old for a new-gen car.

An interesting cabin feature is the rotary gear shifter, which looks cool and helps create that spacious cockpit feel. What’s it like to use? I’ll cover that in the driving section below.  

The dimensions of the Focus ST are: 4378mm long, 1825mm wide and 1458mm tall.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

My colleague Matt Campbell reviewed the manual version of the Focus ST back in May 2020, and said he couldn’t wait to pilot the automatic, but I think he may have tested the better option when it comes to sporty driving.

I say that, though, not having tested the manual ST, but I’d bet my gear-shifting arm it’s more fun to drive, and that’s because the automatic seven-speed was constantly leaping up to higher gears and the only way to restrain it was by choosing Sport mode.

Even then the transmission kept changing its mind about which gear it wanted. But really, that's the only bad news when it comes to driving. The rest is all good.

Yup, the Focus ST not only does everything else right, it does it superbly. There’s the steering which is accurate and has great feedback, although plant the right foot and you’ll feel it squirm with a smidge of torque steer.

The dimensions of the Focus ST are: 4378mm long, 1825mm wide and 1458mm tall. The dimensions of the Focus ST are: 4378mm long, 1825mm wide and 1458mm tall.

There’s the acceleration: 0-100km/h in six seconds. That’s not going to rip your face off, but it will put a smile on it.

Traction is also good, especially for a front-wheel drive car with this much grunt. And the chassis is taut and offers a great connection to what’s happening underneath you.

I was especially impressed by the ride. Sure, potholes could unsettle it, but for the most part in 'Comfort' or Sport mode the ride was composed, planted and almost comfortable (some family members felt it was a bit firm).

Helping pull the ST up are big brakes – 330mm rotors at the front and 302mm at the rear. I agree with Matt, in his review of the manual version, that while adequate, this set-up doesn't deliver the stopping power expected from anchors this big on a small car.

The ST rides on unique 19-inch alloy wheels. The ST rides on unique 19-inch alloy wheels.

Now the rotary gear shifter – impressive to look at, just not to use. Ergonomically, I find it’s easier to pull or push a shifter than to turn a dial.

You may get used to it over time, but I never have despite driving various cars with them for a decade. Dials are great for adjusting things in small increments like the volume of the radio or climate control temperature but not for important stuff such as selecting Reverse or Drive.

The rotary gear shifter is impressive to look at, but just not to use. The rotary gear shifter is impressive to look at, but just not to use.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

The Focus ST is four-door hatchback with five seats and that makes it far more practical than a coupe sports car, but keep in mind it’s still small.

Legroom is great for me in the second row (I’m 191cm/6'3" tall, though) and when sitting behind my driving position my knees touched the seat back. Headroom back there is good, and I was impressed by the large apertures on those rear doors which made climbing in and out easier than most hatches.

Front occupants get Recaro seats. Front occupants get Recaro seats.

The boot in the Focus ST isn’t the biggest in the class at 273 litres. That’s 68 litres less than the cargo area in the regular Focus because the ST has a subwoofer stereo speaker and a space saver spare wheel living under the boot floor.

  • Boot space is rated at 273 litres. Boot space is rated at 273 litres.
  • The ST's cargo area is 68 litres less than the regular Focus. The ST's cargo area is 68 litres less than the regular Focus.

Is it big enough to use as a family car? Well it was for our little family with one small child, but only just – the size of the boot really limited what we could take with us.

The lack of directional air vents in the second row isn’t good news for passengers, although there are two cupholders, decent-sized door pockets and a 12V power outlet back there.

Up front has two center cupholders. Up front has two center cupholders.

Up front there are another two cupholders, big door pockets, a wireless charger and USB port in the hidey hole under the dash, and another USB port in the centre console bin.

If you’re only occasionally going to have people in the back the Focus ST will suit you well with a spacious cockpit that has good head-, leg-, shoulder-, and elbowroom.

Legroom is in the second row. Legroom is in the second row.

A note about those Recaro seats – they have broad backs but a small seat area which I found a bit little for my backside. So, for anybody with a big back and small bottom, this is the seat you’ve been looking for.

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

ANCAP gave the Ford Focus the maximum five-star rating when it was tested in 2019.  

There’s a high level of advanced safety technology onboard such as AEB which can detect and brake for cyclists and pedestrians, along with vehicles of course, and there’s also rear cross alert with braking, lane departure warning and corrective steering to keep you in your lane, adaptive cruise control and blind spot warning.

A reversing camera is also standard, so too are front and rear parking sensors.

For child seats you’ll find three top tether points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Ford says that over a combination of open and urban roads the Focus ST with the automatic transmission will have used 8.8L/100km. I more than doubled that serving suggestion.

Starting with a full tank (52 litres) I drove 134.4km and needed 23.46 litres of petrol to top the tank back up to full. That works out to be 17.5L/100km. The car’s trip computer reckoned I used an average of 16.8L/100km.

Either way that’s thirsty, but not surprising because the ST has a high output four cylinder and my driving was mainly urban based, with a dash to the bush for some twisty roads.

My colleague Matt Campbell tested the manual version of the Focus ST and saw better mileage.

Anyway, who’s buying a high-performance hatch thinking it will be economical? Talking of fuel and money, you’ll need to feed the Focus ST premium unleaded petrol.

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

The Focus ST is covered by Ford’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. There’s seven years of roadside assistance, too, provided you service it with Ford.

Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km and capped at $299 for the first four services.

Verdict

The Focus ST is going to be the perfect hot hatch for many – quick, practical, affordable and driveable every day, much like the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Others will want something hotter, sharper and wilder looking, but for the foreseeable future the ST is the most hardcore hatch Ford has to serve up.

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, 7 SP AUTOMATED MAN $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
7.6
Engine & trans7
Price and features8
Design8
Driving8
Practicality7
Safety8
Fuel consumption7
Ownership8
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$44,690

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

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