Ford cranks up the power for ST versions of its Focus
The return of the ST is something in which Ford-lovers can revel, suggests Iain Robertson, especially as the power is up, in a car that is unflawed dynamically, provides vastly improved interior space and looks pretty good into the bargain.
As a schoolboy, when Ford launched its ‘RS’ programme, within which were hot versions of (then) Escort model, followed in short order by the Capri, the RS badge stood for something punchy and aimed at serious drivers. The company’s subsequent rally programme reinforced the sporty appeal and set a standard by which any rivals would be judged.
When ST was launched as a sub-brand, first on the Focus and then on Fiesta models, it was a potential half-way house between the regular offerings and the more overt RSs. Over the years, it has become an important profit-earner for Ford, especially as costlier RS derivatives have always been more limited in numbers. When the new Focus model range was introduced last year, it was hoped that both RS and ST versions would follow in short order. The former remains an unconfirmed memory in the designer’s eye but the latter will soon be available.
The revived Focus ST builds on its class-leading status in both five-door hatch and estate body versions of the ‘Mark Four’ variant. Enhanced with unique suspension settings, braking and powertrain configurations for an even more responsive and agile driving experience, the new engine line-up creates up to 12% more power and 17% more torque than before. The aluminium 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol engine now develops a cool 276bhp, while the 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engine kicks out a useful 187bhp.
While diesel has been demonised by governments, it is worth highlighting that demand remains high, which warrants its inclusion in the line-up. It is a ‘clean’ diesel, meeting future exhaust emissions’ legislation, while providing the greater fuel economy potential, even though the per litre price carries a premium. Naturally, despite gutsier performance and worse fuel economy, the petrol version will be the bigger seller, not least because of its brisker figures.
Ford’s first application of a Borg-Warner developed, electronic limited-slip differential (eLSD) on a front-wheel drive vehicle enhances the ST’s cornering and stability using computer-controlled pre-emptive actuation. In other words, it is of a reactive type that splits engine torque between left and right driven wheels instantaneously, on demand. Gearbox choice of six-speed manual, or a new, quick-shifting, seven-speed automatic transmission, is offered, and Selectable Drive Modes technology is introduced to the ST for the first time. Continuously Controlled Damping (CCD; standard on EcoBoost petrol models) enhances the independent rear suspension for maximum refinement.
The most free-revving Focus ST petrol engine can blitz from 0-60mph in around 5.6s (7.7s for the diesel) and engine responsiveness is enhanced by the use of a low-inertia twin-scroll turbocharger. Innovative anti-lag technology, developed for both Ford GT supercar and F-150 Raptor pick-up model, is introduced to the Focus ST, for zestier performance in Sport and Track drive modes. It can be a little unnerving until familiarity builds but it works, accompanied by customary exhaust ‘pops and bangs’. Needless to say, the compression-ignition diesel cannot play the petrol’s cheeky soundtrack.
On the other hand, the most potent diesel engine ever fitted to a Focus, delivers peak power at 3,500rpm for immediate, linear acceleration. Ford has improved the snappiness of its manual gearshift, with an even shorter shift throw and less torque reaction. It can even feature rev-matching, if the optional Performance Pack is chosen for petrol models. Rev-matching enables less-experienced performance drivers to benefit from the seamless, momentum-maintaining gearshifts delivered by a ‘heel-and-toe’ driving technique, while also allowing experienced drivers to deactivate the system and do it for themselves, if preferred.
Adaptive Shift Scheduling features on the auto-box and drivers can also select gears manually, using the steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters. The ST demands only two turns from lock-to-lock of the much-revised steering system that is also virtually devoid of annoying torque steer. The similarly revised suspension settings that are designed to maximise the ST’s focus (sic.) also provide one of the most-connected front-ends of any car in the class. Even though the firm’s much-revered Richard Parry-Jones retired around four years ago, the engineering team he established at Lommel, in Belgium, has lost none of his dynamic touch. I reckon that the new ST will establish a fresh standard in handling for the class.
As has become customary, the new Focus ST is packed with ‘electrickery’ that includes active cruise control, lane-centring, adaptive front lighting, active parking assist, evasive steering assist and even a head-up display. Connectivity is also on-point with simple linking to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Destined to go on sale this summer, prices have not (as yet) been established, although you can reckon that the petrol model will be priced at around £32,000, with the diesel carrying a small premium.
Ford no longer produces cars in the UK and its current US management team has even contemplated stopping car production, in favour of SUVs and pickup trucks. Personally, I am glad that a shard of performance illumination still exists within Ford of Europe. As long as it does, we can look forward to progressive and enticing motorcars and Ford’s repute will remain moderately untarnished.
Conclusion: Few mainstream hot hatches will be as desirable as the forthcoming Ford Focus ST, past models of which also seem to generate a mild form of ‘collectability status’. It is a cracking compact machine, capable of outstanding characteristics in either petrol, or diesel forms. We shall have a more in-depth test in a few months’ time.