A very entertaining compact hatch with a few really annoying things.
Editor’s Note: No, the Ford Focus ST still isn’t coming to the U.S. market. But if you’re like us – and let’s face it, if you’re reading Motor1.com, you are – you’d like to know how the new Focus ST stacks up. Enter our intrepid German counterparts, who have been testing Ford’s latest hot hatchback.
What Is It?
The hot hatch segment is booming in Europe. Once again, people love capable, affordable compact hatches, probably because there more entries than ever before. The Peugeot 308 GTi, Renault Mégane RS, Hyundai i30 N, and the Honda Civic Type R mean competition is everywhere.
And with the 2019 Focus ST, Ford continues a streak the last Focus RS (a.k.a "the drift machine") started, the sensational new Fiesta ST reinforced, and now the new Focus ST has continued. Its predecessor wasn't as technically sophisticated as you might have wished, but you can’t level the same charge against this new hot hatchback.
Oh, about everything. The old Focus ST was a relatively simple car, but simple doesn’t sell in today’s market. The new ST packs adaptive dampers, an electronic limited-slip differential, various driving modes, and absolutely gigantic Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. You can also order a Performance Package that adds a Race driving mode, an automatic rev-matching system, launch control, and a shift-indicator system like you get on a Shelby GT350. Oh yeah, there’s a lot more power, too.
What’s In It?
A diesel-powered four-cylinder engine. Wait, what? Ha, admit it, you were briefly stunned. While you can have a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel with 190 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque – enough to get the ST to 62 miles per hour in 7.6 seconds and grant it a top speed of 137 mph – the real ST experience comes with the turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder.
The EcoBoost engine packs 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. That puts the ST on even footing with the Megane RS, i30N, and (likely) the next Golf GTI. The Civic Type R has a bit more power, but the ST is king of the hill with its epic torque output.
Operate the pleasantly short and richly clacking six-speed transmission with sufficient skill and the ST pops to 62 mph in 5.7 seconds, a whole eight-tenths of a second faster than its predecessor. Ford Performance Europe boss Leo Roeck adds that the ST can get from 50 to 75 mph faster than even the last Focus RS, thanks in large part to easily accessible torque and power whenever you want it. Like it is in the Mustang, Explorer, and the last Focus RS, this engine is pretty great. It’s extremely potent at idle, and impressively potent up to 6,800 rpm (don't worry, you don't need any more here). The Focus ST really doesn't take any prisoners – just step on the gas and get full speed for it, anytime.
The sound is less thrilling, but that’s surely a matter of taste. Just as it has in the past, Ford is pumping a lot of intake and exhaust noise into the cabin. The ST is boomy and artificial, like something you’d hear in a video game, especially in Sport mode, which at least elicits pops and bangs from the exhaust.
Does It Drive As Well As Hoped?
You could say that. The Focus ST instantly feel reminds us of the Fiesta ST and that's a very good thing. This larger model is also extremely energetic, almost hyperactive when pushed. But it also shows character. The front axle is incredibly hungry for bends, and the rear is pleasantly light. Like its little brother, the Focus also likes to lift the inside rear tire, and it’s willing to move to make mid-corner corrections. The traction is absolutely outstanding thanks to the front axle lock and the incredibly sticky Michelin rubbers.
The car looks more nervous, fluffier than an i30N, and more natural and relaxed than the slightly stuff Mégane RS, with its overactive rear-axle steering. The ST gives you many options: Very stable and neutral when you drive it clean, but willing to have a lot of tail-happy fun when you want it to.
But the Focus ST is occasionally too overactive, which can sometimes be a little exhausting. Compared to the Civic Type R, the ST definitely needs less speed to make a scene. But the ST doesn't come close to the smoothness, superb polish, and perfect damping of the Honda. On the one hand, this is due to the ST’s arrow-quick, super-precise steering. But with so much weight, that huge pile of control is wasted. The (somewhat large) steering wheel turns heavily and snaps back aggressively. The car seems mega agile, but totally nervous. When accelerating out of the bend, the steering dances around between the fingers wildly and pulls the Focus in all directions.
The suspension doesn’t help matters. Now, yes, this is an ST and it should be more dynamic than the standard Focus. The body sits four-tenths of an inch lower and rides on 19-inch alloys, but it’s too tight despite the adaptive dampers. In Normal mode, all is well. But on a rougher road or in Sport or Race mode, the firm ride grows tiring. Maybe most hot-hatch fans want it that way, but for us, we’d like a better balance between ride and handling.
How’s The Cabin?
Worlds better than its predecessor. Finally, you don't feel squeezed in the front seat like a dangerous roller coaster. The driver and especially the co-driver have much more room. And the Recaros are now also suitable for people who aren’t as fit as a Formula 1 driver, while still offering plenty of lateral support, not to mention an unusually low seating position for a Ford. It’s good.
Other ST treats come in the form of aluminum pedals and a clunky flat-bottom steering wheel with grey stitching. Should you ever find the well-hidden start button, special ST graphics will appear on all existing displays. The quality of materials and workmanship is very decent, as is the space. If you need much more room, the Focus ST is also available as a station wagon.
Should I Buy It?
Let me start today with the reasons against a purchase. The new Focus ST is quite typical of Ford performance cars of the recent past. It’s extremely focused on driving dynamics that can be experienced at any time. It's always entertaining but is also a little nervous and overactive. In everyday life, a Golf GTI or Hyundai i30N is probably a bit more relaxed.
But, if you appreciate these attributes, hardly anything in the segment offers such easily accessible fun. The extremely well-designed engine, a playful chassis, and competent driving dynamics are all we could ask for from a compact hatch.
And it comes at a very competitive price, too. The ST petrol engine starts at €32,900 (about $36,900 at today’s rates), but already has almost everything you need on board, including Recaro front seats, a nav-enabled touchscreen infotainment system, parking aids (finally also in front) and the front limited-slip diff. Add €1,200 ($1,345) for the performance package. If – for whatever reason – you want an automatic, a seven-speed automatic transmission will be available for the petrol engine starting in October. For comparison, the Renault Mégane RS starts at €34,980 ($39,215), the Hyundai i30 N Performance from €33,100 ($37,100) and the Honda Civic Type R from €37,590 ($42,550).
- Very powerful
- Light-footed and extremely agile
- Crisp transmission
- Plenty of traction
- Very tight chassis
- Overweighted steering
- Grumpy, artificial sound