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Ford Focus ST 2012 review

EXPERT RATING
8

Looking tougher and with more firepower, Ford’s Focus ST might just be the new king of hot hatches...

Set to go on-sale in around 40 countries, the Focus ST is billed as Ford’s first global performance car. It’s also, and apologies for getting all gushy so soon, flipping marvelous.

My seat of the pants impression after a spirited drive along the Route Napoleon in the mountains around Nice is that it’s more flexible, more thrilling, and better sounding than its key rivals (Volkswagen Golf GTI, Renault Megane RS, and Mazda3 MPS).

While there’s no word on pricing just yet (we can expect that to be announced in the next couple of weeks), or how many Ford Australia expect to sell, you’d be reasonably safe betting on it costing around the $40k mark (about the same amount as a VW Golf GTI). And at that price, it would represent excellent value for money.

Fitted with a weapons-grade 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost (184kW and 340Nm), this engine, is, more or less, the same engine nestled beneath the bonnet of the Falcon EcoBoost.

Value

As mentioned there’s been no word on pricing, but the Focus ST is Ford’s attempt to steal the crown from Volkswagen’s Golf GTI (priced from $40,490+ORC) and so a price point of around $40k should be expected.

Final specification, also, hasn’t been finalised for Australian-delivered cars, but there’s a fair chance our cars will have figure-hugging, partial leather, Recaro seats and dual-zone climate control, an alarm, sat-nav (that will hopefully be recalibrated for Australia, as, at the international launch it proved notoriously slow), auto headlights, auto-dimming rear vision mirror and rain-sensing wipers.

Technology

Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine which makes 184kW and 340Nm (overboost to 360Nm) from 1750rpm, is mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed manual, and returns 7.2L/100km.

But what really impresses about this engine is, and it’s the same as the 1.0-litre EcoBoost, its off-idle, diesel-esque drivability - a signature trait of the EcoBoost family. And it doesn’t fall away either; the gearbox, which is well matched to the clutch, offers rifle-bolt precise shifts and a near seamless pouring-on of power.

Plant your foot and while it doesn’t exactly snap your head off it does, as it reels in the horizon, leave you thinking it could happily keep on accelerating into next week... The Focus ST will get to the legal limit in 6.5 seconds, but it feels faster than that, and its in-gear punch is truly impressive. Indeed, it happily hauled itself out of tight corners in fourth-gear from 1500rpm.

Design

Looking more muscular but not tacked-on aggressive than a standard Focus, the ST gets a one-piece version of the trapezoidal grille featured on the rest of the Focus range. More than that it gets a bodykit and 18-inch alloys wrapped in 235/40 Goodyear Eagle rubber.

There’s a subtle reworking of the interior, too, with darker headlining and trim on the pillars, the figure-hugging Recaro seats, which offer the perfect blend of grip and comfort, a specially-designed steering wheel, gearshift and pedals.

Up on top of the dash is a set of three guages displaying water temperature, turbo boost, and oil pressure - they seem a little tacked on, and if they weren’t there we wouldn’t be disappointed. Other than that, the interior is typical Focus, with quality materials and impressive fit and finish.

Thanks to reach and rake on the steering, and plenty of adjustment on the seat, it’s a cinch to get comfortable behind the wheel. There’s plenty of room in the front seats, and decent room in the back. In terms of luggage space, and Australian-spec cars will most likely be fitted with a space saver spare wheel, you’ll get around 316 litres, drop the 60/40 split-fold rear seats and this grows to 1062 litres.

Safety

Like every other Focus, the ST is eligible for a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating, and it gets a raft of active and passive safety systems. There are front and thorax-protecting airbags for driver and front-seat passenger, as well as side curtain airbags for front and backseat passengers.

It also features stability and traction controls with three-stage settings (Normal, Sport and Off), ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, and Enhanced Dynamic Cornering Control, and much more.

Driving

Our drive route (as well as some excellent mountain roads) took in a considerable amount of suburban roads and, ordinarily, these highly-strung hot hatches can leave you shaken and stirred, but not the Focus ST. The suspension is sporting, sure, but it’s got just enough compliance to knock the hard edges off any and all bumps and ruts, and there were plenty of those on our drive - it’ll have no problem on our roads.

The electronic power assisted steering (with variable ratio steering rack) is direct (you can go from lock to lock without taking your hands off the wheel), well-weighted and consistent, and while you do get a slight tug at the wheel (courtesy of torque steer under hard acceleration) it’s minimised thanks to Ford’s Torque Steer Compensation... And so grippy is the front end, and so flexible is the car that you’d have to have fists of ham and fingers of butter to get the nose to run wide out of a corner.

Thanks to its off-idle grunt it feels just as rapid as the Ford Focus RS, but is much more refined and drivable in all situations. It leaves both the Mazda3 MPS and Renault Megane RS250 in the dust and, in my opinion is better balanced and with a lot more low-down oomph than a Golf GTI. Indeed, it’s just plain better than that car.

Verdict

We’ll be able to offer a final judgment once we’ve been able to test the Focus ST (it arrives Down Under in October) back-to-back with its key rivals but, if my seat of the pants experience is anything to go by, then I think, and here comes a big call, we’re looking at the new king of the hot hatches.

It looks good, inside and out, gets plenty of gear, has bucket loads of oomph, sounds fantastic, and is fun to drive... other than the slow sat-nav, there’s nothing not to like about the new Focus ST.

Pricing Guides

$9,990
Based on 447 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$5,500
Highest Price
$19,999

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Ambiente 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $6,800 – 11,500 2012 Ford Focus 2012 Ambiente Pricing and Specs
RS 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $25,080 – 31,020 2012 Ford Focus 2012 RS Pricing and Specs
Sport 2.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $8,990 – 11,990 2012 Ford Focus 2012 Sport Pricing and Specs
ST 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $14,999 – 19,999 2012 Ford Focus 2012 ST Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8