Facelift for the Focus ST brings with it an even sharper drive and a bargain price

What is it?

All the recent headlines on the Ford Focus ST have gone to the new diesel model, an addition to the hot hatch’s line-up as part of some comprehensive mid-life changes. But the staple petrol model has been revised, too, and this is our first chance to drive it on UK roads, albeit in European left-hand drive spec.

The powertrain is the same as before, meaning a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit with 247bhp and a hefty 266lb ft (on overboost), hooked up to a short-throw six-speed manual gearbox. An automatic engine stop-start system is a new addition, though. This reduces CO2 emissions to 159g/km and improves combined fuel economy to a claimed 41.5mpg.

Elsewhere, the changes are more significant. You can spot the visual alterations inside and out, including more aggressive exterior styling and bodykit, optional new 19in alloy wheels and a (thankfully) simplified interior that sheds a load of buttons in favour of a new infotainment system called Sync2 and adopts a handsome-looking new steering wheel.

The really interesting changes, though, are to the car's dynamics. The chap who led the development of the car at Ford reckons the changes should make the car “more enjoyable and rewarding to drive” and “more responsive, balanced and refined”.

To that end, the front-end body structure has been stiffened, new front springs have been fitted along, there's a sportier tune for the dampers front and rear and the bushes have been stiffened up. The electrically assisted steering system has also been retuned to match the modifications.

However, the Focus ST still does without a proper limited-slip diff, or indeed the torque steer-reducing RevoKnuckle front suspension system from the Focus RS Mk2, instead relying on electronic trickery through systems such as Electronic Torque Vectoring Control and a new Electronic Transitional Stability function built into the stability control system that predicts when a skid or loss of control is about to occur and brakes individual wheels as required.

What's it like?

They may share the same ST badge, but the Fiesta ST and pre-facelift Focus ST were very different propositions. The Fiesta ST could quite easily wear an RS badge, the way it darts around the place and completely immerses the driver in the experience. The Focus ST, as good as it was, never quite felt as good or as alive as it could have been, Ford perhaps leaving a bit too much room for an RS in the range.

That’s not the case now. The Focus ST is bursting with its own character, and feels more alive for more of the time. It feels much more in line with the Fiesta ST now, in other words.

A real high point is just how stiff and rigid the body feels, and the associated benefits this brings to the handling. Turn-in is very sharp, and the Focus ST is supremely agile, responding positively to different driving styles. You can chuck it into corners or tactfully glide through a sequence of them, and either way the car will corner without too much roll and raise a smile every time, albeit with predictable mild understeer if you overcook it or the road lacks grip.

The steering is about as sweet as electric set-ups get at this end of the market, the rack quickening as you apply more lock. It’s very precise and offers decent feedback.

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The Focus ST, by nature, is a firm-riding car, but never an uncomfortable one; indeed, even on the optional 19in alloys you glide over the most broken road surfaces and few potholes or patches of road scarring leave much of an impression in the cabin. It’s a supple ride, then, and one that commendably gets even more supple the faster you go.

No matter how clever the electronic systems are on the new Focus ST, though, there’s no getting away from the fact that it can struggle to get its power down. Floor it off the line or out of the corner on a dry surface and there will be a bit of play at the wheel. Do the same on a surface that’s damp or worse, however, and the Focus ST pulls you all over the place, and it can spin its wheels even up to fourth.

You’re never left fearing an accident, but you’re inclined to trust what electronic aids you do have in the absence of any mechanical assistance. It’s a car that demands respect, and as such is a challenge to drive truly quickly.

You won’t be surprised to hear, then, that the powertrain is the dominant force in this car. The engine makes the Focus ST feel every bit as quick as the figures suggest, with a broad spread of torque delivering hefty response to a prod of the right pedal, even if you're not in the optimum gear when you ask for it. As a result, there’s real fun to be had firing the Focus ST forwards in a straight line, thanks to the slick short-throw manual gearbox and a very nice, authentic-sounding exhaust note that is subtly pumped into the cabin. 

Also of note are the optional, beefier brakes Ford has fitted to the Focus ST, offered with the stylish 19in alloys you see here. These address a criticism of the pre-facelift car: the brakes faded after any mildly sustained period of hard driving on road or track.

The interior still lacks the class of a Volkswagen Golf GTI but is much simplified and easier to use than in the previous Focus, as well as more interesting visually. The optional Recaro seats of our test car also hold you firmly and are perhaps best avoided for those fuller of figure.

Should I buy one?

The Renault Megane RS 275 remains the finest front-wheel-drive hot hatch of the breed for that pure driving experience, suffering from none of the power delivery issues of the Focus ST.

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But the Focus ST is a car that can be highly recommended due to its breadth of abilities. It oozes character, from its involving drive, fine body control, agile and engaging handling and mighty powertrain. It’s more than refined and comfortable enough for motorway drives (where around 32mpg can be expected) and now gets an interior that’s much less cluttered than before.

The fact that it is also somewhat of a bargain cannot be overlooked in the final reckoning, the Focus ST undercutting an entry-level three-door Golf GTI even in range-topping, fully-loaded ST3 trim by more than £300. Do without a few creature comforts and it can be had for £22,195 - an even bigger bargain. 

It’s a proper diff away then from being transformed from a very good car to a very, very good car. But then Ford has got to leave us something to look forward to with the new RS…

Ford Focus ST3

Price £25,995; Engine 4 cyls, 1997cc, turbo, petrol; Power 247bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 266lb ft at 2000-4500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1437kg; Top speed 154mph; 0-62mph 6.5sec; Economy 41.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 159g/km, 26%

Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

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Add a comment…
Curly55 17 February 2015

Four and a half stars !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Unbelievable - severe torque steer and still gets such a high score. No thanks.
Please please autocar get a reality check, Ford may be good at lots of things but the accountants still rule, the torque steer could be solved but the headline ST3 would then cost more than it's arch rival Golf GTi. I know which I would buy if I wanted a FWD hot hatch
Tuatara 18 February 2015

Star signs

It was awarded four and a half stars before the facelift, and from memory the Megane was also given the same rating. But I'd like to know why the ST still trails the Megane when it is now said to be improved? It also mystifies me that despite being rated the better and even a brilliant car, the Fiesta ST is also given a four and half star rating. What stopped it getting five?
fadyady 17 February 2015

Bargain it is

The interior looks sorted. Happy days!
Peter Cavellini 17 February 2015


Apart from the rear(a bit Renault)it's ok,price isn't bad either.