Ford Focus ST EcoBoost23 | 01 | 2015Scotcars rating

    Ford has given its Focus ST something of a midlife makeover ... and the result is impressive

    WHAT, EXACTLY, IS a hot hatch? Ok, originally it was the likes of the original VW Golf GTi and Peugeot 208 GTi, but what qualifies for the prized badge in today's motoring world? Interestingly, ask the people at Ford whether its Focus ST is a 'hot hatch', and the answer is a rather categorical, "No".

    The bosses at Ford prefer, instead, to visualise its ST models — including the Focus and Fiesta — as falling into a less potent sub-division: let's call it 'warm hatch'.

    Pushed on the subject, the category — according to Ford — includes models with a bit more power and a slightly sportier ride, but crucially without the negative attachments of increased financial commitments and being labelled a 'boy racer'.

    Right: so that's cleared that up. Or does it?

    It appears to be a strange response from Ford, especially in light of the Blue Oval badge unveiling a 'new' Focus ST.

    Oh, and before we go any further, it's worth highlighting that the use of the word 'new' is to slightly overstate the presence of the latest Focus ST. It is, to all intents and purposes, more akin to a midlife facelift. It does though boast a number of added refinements over the model it replaces.

    But what is significant — and was blatantly obvious from the second I sat in the cabin and fired-up the potent 247bhp, 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder petrol engine, which also delivers 266lb/ft of torque on overboost — is the latest Focus ST is definitely more 'hot' than 'warm'.

    Frustratingly for Ford, they flew a posse of journos to Barcelona to drive the car, expecting — as you would — late winter sun and, most importantly, dry roads.

    Related: Ford Focus ST — First Drive ... in the gloom

    Yup, you're one step ahead of me. What we got was lashing rain, temperatures around 3-degrees, and the threat of snow high up in the mountains where the spectacular route should have been a driving delight.

    Hey-ho! The best laid plans ….

    Worth mentioning, perhaps, at this stage that in addition to the traditional petrol hatch we're covering here, Ford now also offers not only a diesel ST — thankfully they haven't badged it as an STD — and an estate.

    The 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine pumps out 182bhp and covers the 0-62mph sprint in 8.1secs, 1.5s off the pace of the petrol which hits the benchmark in 6.5s. Not surprisingly, where it does win is at the pumps, where the diesel returns 67.3mpg compared to the 41.5mpg of the petrol. It also wins the CO2 comparison, emitting 110g/km against the 159g/km of the petrol).

    And while both models, in tandem with the petrol hatch, get stop-start as standard, the estate offers owners 476-litres of stowage capacity: that though is markedly down on the 610-litres of the Skoda Octavia VRS and diesel Peugeot 308 SW GT’s 660-litres.

    Externally, the updated ST range gets a new honeycomb grille, which sits perfectly with its more aggressively sculpted headlights, wings, spoilers and optional 19in wheels.

    Inside the cabin, things have been tidied up, with the dash looking less cluttered — primarily thanks to a reduction in the number of buttons — and an 8in touchscreen.

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    And while the ST's traditional trademark of three gauges — for oil pressure, boost pressure and oil temperature — remain prominently on top of the dash, perhaps there should be something of a health warning about the Recaro seats.

    Now I'm not what you'd call large — 5ft 8in and 11st 3lbs — but even as I settled into the cosseting Recaros, I could sense my shoulders, sides and thighs being firmly hugged by the seats. That's not a criticism: that's the way they should be, and at all times I felt comfortable and secure.

    But — and it's a big but — what if you're closer to 13st, 14st, or even larger? I suspect you might almost find yourself perching somewhat on the aggressive bolstering and feeling near claustrophobic once you've wedged yourself in.

    Me? I loved the seats, basking in the belief they'd almost been custom made for me.

    Hunkered down in the car, resplendent in its “Tangerine Scream” paintwork — there's no way you'd ever miss this Focus ST on the road — it was off into the mountains.

    Like the rest of the Focus range, thicker structural brackets, whose the aim is to reduce body flex and improve agility, help stiffen the front of the ST's body. The front suspension now also benefits from new springs and bushes, plus retuned dampers.

    The benefits of retuning the power steering is also immediately apparent, and the torque vectoring has been modified to reduce understeer. Worth highlighting that there remains evidence of torque steer, and traction can easily be broken in the wet … conditions I certainly experienced in abundance.

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    The big positive though is the ST communicates these slight vagaries immediately to the driver allowing him, or her, to readily make corrections. And that's great, because it highlights exactly how much character the Focus ST has.

    The latest version also gets some clever new technology, Enhanced Transitional Stability. ETS can predict when a skid is about to happen and then brakes individual wheels to give the driver the best possible chance of staying in control.

    The ride is firm, but isn't that what you would expect. Some fellow hacks bemoaned the fact they thought it almost harsh. I'd argue against that. Even in town and at speeds up to around 50mph it's more supple and pliable than you might think. That said, it's not ideal for cruising the motorway, where the suspension's firmness will have you bumping around. Stick to the A- and B-roads.

    Shod with its bespoke Michelin rubber, the Focus ST has, without question, one of the most fun chassis configurations you’ll find on a car of this size. And that's liable to improve even further when the new all-singing, all-dancing, all-wheel-drive Focus RS arrives next year.

    There's hardly even a hint of body lean through corners in the ST, and the car's balance can be easily adjusted by playing with the throttle through corners.

    It's a car you'll quickly attune yourself to, and before you know it you'll be dancing the Focus ST powerfully and delightfully through your favourite twisty roads maxing the slick-shifting six-speed gearbox and meaty brakes. It's a sheer, unadulterated joy.

    And here's the best bit: in base-level ST1 trim, the Focus ST starts at £22,195. That must make it the bargain of the year.

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    Jim McGill

    Quick Stats
    Price OTR/As Tested £22,195
    Engine / Power: 1997cc four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive/ 247bhp
    How fast?: 0-62mph 6.5sec; / Max 154mph
    How big/heavy?: Lmm Wmm Hmm / kg
    How thirsty/CO2?: 41.5mpg combined / 159g/km CO2
    InsGP/Road tax: n/a / Band G (£180)
    Alternatives: VW Golf GTi, Peugeot 308 GT, Skoda Octavia vRS

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