Tuesday, 15 December 2015

REVIEW – Ford Focus ST-2

I recently drove this exact vehicle at an SMMT Test day, but half an hour is not enough time in a car to really get to know it. I reviewed a Focus ST a couple of years ago, and rated it very highly indeed. So with the facelift model out it seemed only fair to get back behind the wheel. I’m in a slightly different position to review the car this time around though, because we now own its little brother; the Fiesta ST. What’s more, it has the Mountune MP215 upgrade on it, so would driving that every day affect how I saw the Focus? I was curious to find out…

Looks – 10/10

The facelift on the Focus has given it a much more premium image. The more angular grille and sleeker tailgate go a long way. On the ST Ford have got the styling just right. The honeycomb grille gives a sporty feel. The daytime running lights are small but effective, and the centre exhaust still looks good. For the new model the optional style pack has been re-defined. For a mere £750 you get red brake callipers, rear privacy glass, illuminated kick plates and alternative 19-inch alloy wheels. I think this is definitely worth the money, especially considering all this costs the same as the Tangerine Scream paint (£745). I’m still not sure how I feel about the colour. It’s really nice on a press vehicle that you drive around in for a week. It turns heads; there’s no doubt about it. But should I be walking into a showroom to part with my own money, would I tick the Tangerine box? I just don’t know.

Inside there have been a few minor tweaks, but the cabin was already a wonderful place to be. You get big body-hugging Recaro seats, and in the ST-2 these are half-leather, two-tone. I’d personally go for the ST-3 with its full leather trim. The new SYNC 2 media system sits pride of place with an 8-inch touch screen, and there’s a new flat-bottomed steering wheel which looks a lot better than the previous model. The gear stick is short and stubby for faster changes, and you get aluminium pedals too. The dials are simple in white and red, and the multifunction display brandishes the ST logo when you switch the car on. The build quality is as you would expect from Ford, and nice plastics are used throughout.

Handling/Performance – 10/10

For the first time ever the Focus ST is available with a diesel engine. The market was crying out for a car with all the sporty styling but with diesel economy, and the 185PS diesel is selling well. However, I am aware that certain petrolheads will be slamming their iPad on the table in disgust at the thought of a diesel hot hatch. My car had the 2.0-litre petrol engine, which is a bit more traditional. It offers 250PS and 360Nm of torque, resulting in a 0-62mph dash of 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 154mph. From a standstill, the Focus doesn’t exactly set your hair on fire. But the mid-range power is brilliant; you can just watch the speedo climb up to speeds you probably shouldn’t be doing.

It’s surprising how nimble the Focus feels. For what is a sizeable hatchback it changes direction rather well. The new car has variable steering, which means that full lock is less than a full turn in either direction. On the road this translates into a sharp turn-in and direct feel to the steering. The ride is spot on. On the motorway the Recaro’s counter the firmness of the suspension to make for an excellent cruiser. Then when you head to an A-road the firmness comes in handy, because the Focus absorbs bumps extremely well. It feels planted and stable, but never seems skittish. It’s a perfectly balanced setup that is testament to the effort put into performance vehicles by Ford. You only need to watch the Focus RS development documentary to see this.
Economy – 10/10

The Focus ST has start stop technology, to show that Ford engineers have thought about minimising running costs. It seems to have worked too. CO2 emissions are 159g/km on the new model, which is 10g/km less than the previous model. That’s important, because it moves the ST into VED band G. Road tax costs £180 in the first and subsequent years, which I think is perfectly reasonable for a hot hatch. Combined fuel consumption is 41.5mpg and if you can control your right foot you will get good returns on a motorway run.

Practicality – 10/10

The Ford Focus is one of the best selling cars in the country, with good reason. As a family car there aren’t many better. It’s 5-door only now, and has a spacious cabin front and back. The boot is extremely large, and the depth is surprising. For £85 you can have door edge protectors too, which retract mechanically (and very cleverly I might add) when you close the door. Useful for if the kids get over excited when getting out of the car. The new SYNC 2 system is brilliant, and the optional nav for £500 and reversing camera for £165 are reasonably priced extras. Ford now offer a Blind Spot Information System (£525) and heated steering wheel (£95).

Fun – 8/10

There is an underlying expectation that a car such as the Focus ST will be fun. In many respects the car doesn’t disappoint. Ford has redesigned the ‘symposer’ system on the new Focus ST, opting for a digital system in favour of the old mechanical one. So the engine note is now fed into the cabin through speakers, and although in principle that doesn’t sound as good (pardon the pun) in reality you really can’t tell the difference. Where I take slight issue with the Focus ST is in the safety gadgets. Take the “Driver Assistance Pack”. Yes, it’s an optional extra. And yes, at £450 it’s inexpensive. But Active City Stop, Lane Departure warning, Lane Keeping Aid, Traffic Sign Recognition, Driver Alert and Auto High Beam? I mean really. The driver should be alert with 250PS at his right foot. And how can you take the racing line on an open country lane if the computer wants you to stay between the white lines. It’s all a bit sensible for me, and I don’t like it. I’d much prefer a ‘Hoonigan’ pack…

Concluding Remarks

So that’s the Focus ST then. It’s still very good. The facelift has worked wonders, and it still packs a decent punch. On the face of the figures the Mountune Fiesta ST is as quick, but the torquier Focus is more impressive once you’re already moving. Not forgetting that there is a Mountune kit to be had on the Focus too. The price for the ST-2 petrol is £23,995 and I think that represents good value. Be careful with the options though, because my loaded test car came in at £27,660. For more information pop into a dealer or visit the Ford Website. The ST-3 would be the one I’d have, although the decision isn’t that easy anymore, because order books are open for the badass Focus RS. I’ll withhold judgement until I drive the RS. Ford Press Office… we need to talk.

Total Score – 48/50

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