For over 17 years now, the Ford Focus ST has been a popular enthusiast choice. The series started with a Volvo 5-cylinder, and through many changes, has grown in popularity through the decades. It’s positioned itself as a rational sports car. While the 3rd generation is fantastic, is the new 4th generation version worthy of the name?
When Ford releases a new car with the ST name, there’s a certain expectation that’s set. Ford’s record with performance cars is prestigious. From the Cortina to previous Target generations, including the many Escorts, their record is remarkable. They’ve shown they can make great cars, both on the track and road. Since the advent of the Ford Focus RS, the Focus ST is not the highest performance model.
The Ford Focus represents a bit of a styling change. The proportions do not change from the previous edition. The lines seem to have softened a little bit. The fenders are more prominent, the bonnet’s curvature rounded off a bit. The lines have been modernized, but the general style remains the same. The biggest visual change is, of course, the grille. It sacrifices the Aston Martin like stying in favor of a “smiling” style. I liked the previous style more, as I found it more aggressive. The new design is more effective for a less sporty edition. The effect is the opposite at the rear. The 3rd generation Focus was blander than this new model.
The car we tested is the sedan. We also saw the station wagon up close, and they knocked it out of the park with that too. Especially with the beautiful candy red paint. It’s less discrete than the orange, which is still nice. Funny detail about this classic Focus ST color, depending on the lighting, it looks very different. It looks very vivid in the early daylight but pale yellow and even white in the sunset.
A point of interest if you’d like to tow anything, the new Focus is swapping its main exhaust for two side outlets on either side of the bumper. A crucial detail if you’d like to tow a small camper or a trailer with a track toy. I’d consider this new Focus ST seriously if looking for a practical family car.
The interior architecture, like all sporty compacts, is, at best, an upgraded version of the more practical models. It has upgraded seats and steering wheel, with nicer trim. The dashboard doesn’t burst with originality, and the infotainment screen put on top of the dashboard isn’t the most elegant. Yet, the interior is much nicer than the previous generation. Cost efficiency must take precedence over design in places.
Compared to the 3rd generation Focus ST, the seats have been overhauled, and that is a wonderful thing. The previous seats were not the most comfortable. Now both are gentle on the rear while giving excellent support all around.
The Focus ST ‘s driver comfort doesn’t suffer from any particular criticism. The settings for the seat and steering wheel are broad enough to allow all sizes to find their place.
Driving on the road
The Focus ST has set the tone right from the start. Until recently, the 2.3L 4-cylinder was shared with the Mustang and the previous Focus RS. The deep sound is flattering, and it almost sounds like a Subaru boxer engine. The Focus does not sacrifice too much comfort for its sportiness. The damping is very soft on the passengers’ backs for a sports car. This, along with the seat comfort, would almost make you doubt the capabilities of this car. And yet, as soon we start to put our foot down, the beast’s 280hp is obviously there.
The engine’s capabilities are obvious, while those of the front axle are confirmed when it can take power with minimal torque steer. With the damp conditions the test was performed in, the Focus ST did not suffer from traction loss. On a straight or in a curve, the steering wheel remains easy to control (thanks to the limited-slip differential). It is easy to point the car exactly where you want it. The car is reassuringly steady in wide curves, as it is in small turns. It’s possible to shift the car’s weight and end up in a drift. In short, the Focus ST, like its predecessor, succeeds in performance and being fun to drive.
I get the feeling that the newest model has slowed down a bit compared to the previous ST. It remains playful but turns out to be a little more sloppy, which can be explained by its increased weight.
If the road check highlights the flexibility of the Focus ST, then a few laps around the track strengthens its sportiness further. When the car is engaged in Sport mode or Track mode, the suspension stiffens and the engine gets louder. In this setting, the Focus doesn’t let up. It remains easily maneuverable. The driver can choose between sliding through corners or keeping traction with a lift of the foot. The Ford shows itself, in all cases, to be an excellent driver’s car.
Ford has secured its bet once more with a Focus ST worthy of its legacy. On a daily driving basis, and enjoyable when it comes to driving on the track. It is definitely less revolutionary than many of its rivals, but it does it all well and still helps you to have fun at a fair price.