Ford once came up with a soundbite that said the old Focus ST had the character of a dolphin (friendly, playful, not threatening) and the Focus RS was more of a shark (similar kind of thing except pointier, angrier and more liable to take your arm off if you didn’t show it some respect). And indeed, the torque-steer generated by the old 5cyl Focus RS could dislocate road tester shoulder sockets like an angry child with an action figure.
So, I asked boss of Ford Performance Europe, Leo Roeks, what’s hopefully the most bizarre question he’ll be set this week: what sort of animal is the Focus ST now?
“It’s a cat”, he smiles. “Because you know, even a house cat that is usually calm and quiet can be very aggressive and agile when it needs to be.”
Right. Which animal is the next Focus RS going to be? Leo’s eyes flash with enthusiasm.
“A wildcat, I suppose!”
According to Ford engineers who politely asked to remain nameless, the benchmark cars for the new Focus RS were:
1. The VW Golf GTI (obviously, because it’s properly easy to live with and pretty much defines the regular hot hatch game).
2. The Honda Civic Type R (because Ford’s engineers rightly recognise that it’s a marvel of fast front-wheel drive car-building, and is one of the best-handing hot hatchbacks ever made).
3. The Hyundai i30 N. Yep, the n00B. The Korean upstart. Sure, Ford’s guys are quick to point out it’s more a German car than a Japanese one, having been developed at the Nürburgring by BMW M’s old boss, but they admit the i30N’s blend of easy-to-access fun, decent pace and aggressive pricing are a great combo. They’re also confident the new Focus ST has better steering and a more comfortable, controlled ride than the sometimes unruly Hyundai.
Notice anything? Yep – nothing French there. No Renaultsport Megane. Why would Ford ignore the newer Megane, with its rear-wheel steering party-piece, rally car hydraulic bump-stop damping, and years of pedigree?
Ford hasn’t come over all boring and decided the bigger, more expensive Focus ST needs to behave much more maturely than the brilliant little Fiesta ST.
In fact, the engineers have worked to make the hot Focus drive with “the same DNA” as its little brother. Which is a good thing, as the Fiesta ST is Top Gear’s reigning Car of the Year. It’s ace So, similar techniques have been lobbed at the Focus ST. It’s got mega-fast, pointy steering – just two turns lock-to-lock, like a Ferrari 488 Pista - with a hugely powerful electric power steering motor on-board to keep the steering wrist-flick agile.
It wears bespoke Michelin tyres, rides 10mm lower, and the car is 20 per cent stiffer up front and 13 per cent at the rear versus the old Focus ST. All in the name of making it tri-wheel and slide around roundabouts with the childish vim of its kid brother.
Thanks to new laws banning active exhausts (no more ‘flaps closed at town speed, big noise when you put your foot down’ loophole), Ford needed to be clever to make the Focus ST sound rorty’n’naughty.
Instead of employing the stereo speakers to fake engine roar (oi, you listening, BMW?), a sound symposer harnesses actual engine noise and amplifies it into the cabin. So, passengers get their kicks without the exhaust blaring illegally.
It still sounds fairly growly from the outside, but the canny bit is this: you get to enjoy more burbles and hiccups from inside, without disturbing the peace. It sounds way, way more exciting than a Civic Type R or RS Megane, without being silly.
Ready? Here goes. Auto rev-matching, launch control, a gearshift light, multi-mode suspension, a Track mode for lairy driving, red brake calipers (and, weirdly, multi-colour ambient lighting) are all heaped into the Performance Pack option. No word on price yet.
As standard, you get goodies like an electronic limited-slip differential and variable damping, but the road-reactive suspension doesn’t stiffen up in the harder modes unless you tick the Performance Pack box.
*well, it’s quicker through the gears, says Ford, thanks to heaps of torque and not having to drag along a heavy four-wheel drive system. The quarter-mile times are on a par, and we’re told the beefier brakes stop it better than the old RS too.
Much has been learned from our friend the Drift Mode hero, the old Focus RS. The new Focus ST borrows its 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo engine, in an ‘evolved’ (read: detuned) form. It’s good for 276bhp and a Civic-busting 310lb ft, which is a 12 and 17 per cent rise over the old Focus ST, if some way off the Focus RS’s 345bhp and 350lb ft. Understandably. Sleep easy, Focus RS owners.
Ford promises the five-door hatchback ST will do 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds – a whopping 0.8sec quicker than before. The diesel (a 2.0-litre TDCI with 187bhp) takes 7.6 seconds to do the sprint.
The Focus ST’s manual six-speed lever has, believe it or not, a 7 per cent shorter throw than the old Focus ST. Seven per cent! Just think how much time that’ll save you in gear-shifting over the course of a year. Weeks, probably.
In case you weren’t listening earlier, the manual also features rev-matching for downshifts if you spec the Performance Pack, and like the Fiesta ST, there’s a built-in flatshift system. So, if you’re really on it/have no mechanical sympathy whatsoever, you can dip the clutch and bang another gear home without lifting the throttle.
Being driven along by Ford Performance powertrain engineer Ian Eyres – who specialises in gearshifts – he explains that while the enthusiasts in Ford would love to have gone after the Civic Type R’s ultra-precise shift action, the serious suits demanded a lighter action so it didn’t feel too racey to buyers who aren’t as obsessed with shift quality as, well, the likes of us. Some wiggling of the lever later while no-one’s looking seems to confirm it’s a peach of a shift anyway – very similar to the Fiesta ST’s, funnily enough.
You want driving modes? You got ‘em.
Press the ‘S’ button on the steering wheel - yes, Ford has learned from the Fiesta ST that leaving the mode toggle out of sight next to the handbrake is a dumb idea – and the Focus ST defaults to Sport mode. Press the ‘Mode’ button next to it, and you can cycle into the other choices: Slippery, Normal, back into Sport, and then Track mode.
Slippery mode calms down the front diff, throttle mapping, and makes sure the traction and stability control nannies are on red alert. Normal is the default setting.
Sport adds noise, adds weight to the steering, makes the engine feel zestier and so on. If you’ve specced the Performance Pack, then you unlock Track mode, which means a stiffer ride, more steering weight (which isn’t necessarily a good thing), and loosens off the ESP for slip’n’slide cornering.
To answer your questions: yes, you can turn all the nannies off and try for a really big accident. And no, there is no Individual or Custom setting. You can’t mix’n’match a plush ride with an angry engine, loud exhaust and lighter steering. In all the new Focus ST’s spec, that’s the main decision that looks like a mistake.
The engine is pleasingly keen to rev out, despite all the filters and CO2-swallowing gadgets that it must breathe out through. It’s agile, it’s playful, and in Normal mode, the ride is freakishly luxuriant. That alone might tempt plenty of folks to trade up from the boisterous Fiesta.
Yes, there’s a big range. Ford’s engineers say the hatchback with petrol and manual is obviously the best, but you can have a wagon if you like, and there’ll be a diesel, albeit manual only. With 275bhp on tap, you’d expect there’s headroom for Mountune to tease that up to 300bhp.
The range is simple too: one trim level, and the only options are 19-inch wheels, the Performance Pack, and the colours. You can have black, white, red, grey, the Performance Blue from the Fiesta ST – which is a touch dowdy – or Orange Fury, which is a touch too Renault Megane.
Bring back the blue from the old Focus RS Mk1 and Ford Racing Puma please, guys. Preferably before we drive the Focus ST on 1st July.
We’re giving our lucky Peoples Ford social community the chance to win a track day experience in the fastest Focus ST yet and bring a friend along with them.
The prize includes: