Ford Focus ST Review: hands-on

Posted: 13 October 2020 10:39 am

Ford’s spicy Focus ST tested

Who doesn’t love a good hot hatch?

They merge performance and practicality in a way other vehicles just can’t. They allow you to test the limits of the car, where others with their larger engines only allow you to scratch the surface.

The Ford Focus ST is perhaps one of the best known hot hatches (with the exception of the Volkswagen Golf GTI) and with the latest model they have made a German-built vehicle (yes, Ford assembles the Focus in south-west Germany) accessible to more people. They have done this by offering up, for the first time, an automatic gearbox – which I’m sure excites a lot of people.

But is the new Ford Focus ST a serious rival to the well-established Golf, or the relative newcomer, the Hyundai i30N? How do you decide between them? We’ve reviewed both the manual and automatic versions to find out.

What’s it like inside?

If I were to describe it in one word, it would be mature.

Take a look at the Hyundai i30N for instance. There are big blue buttons on the steering wheel that make the engine do loud things. Different coloured piping and accents make you feel like you’re back on your P-plates again. It is fun – don’t get me wrong, but it does take you back to that time.

The Ford Focus ST by contrast is understated inside. The majority of the interior is black. You get some body-hugging Recaro seats and in the automatic version, they adjust electronically. 

Once you’re settled in, look up at the steering wheel. There are no big, gaudy buttons – just a straightforward, leather-wrapped steering wheel with your standard controls for audio and cruise control. On the right-hand side, there is a small “S” button, but it isn’t massively obvious.

Let's talk specifics

Both the automatic and manual Focus ST come loaded with Ford's SYNC 3 infotainment system. It is designed with chunky buttons and is highly intuitive. We found it a piece of cake to navigate on the move. Not only that, Ford also equips the Focus with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, should you prefer those.

Linked up to the SYNC 3 software is a 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system which also has a subwoofer. I guess Ford is retaining some of the boy-racer vibes after all.

You will notice that the eight-inch infotainment screen is ever-so-slightly tilted towards the passenger. It annoyed me a little, but I’m sure it isn’t going to be an issue for most drivers.

There are two USB points in the front – one under the infotainment unit and the other in the centre console storage bin. And there is also a wireless charging bay for your smartphone.

Moving to the back, there is a decent amount of room for passengers. Headroom is quite good too. If you have the sunroof installed like we did in the manual version, it does impede headroom a smidge in the back – food for thought if you cart around taller passengers regularly.

One thing that took me by surprise was how cheap the trim on the rear doors felt. The thin plastic had a lot of flex in it and was not expected considering the Focus ST’s German origins. 

There are no USB points in the back, but apart from that it is business as usual. 

There are all the typical standard inclusions too, like:

  • Dual-zone climate control
  • Power front and rear windows
  • DAB+ radio
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Two ISOfix mounting points

Boot space

The ST lands 375 litres of storage space in the boot which can be expanded to 1,250 litres by folding down the rear seats.

This means that the Focus is ever so slightly behind the Volkswagen Golf GTI, which can store 380 litres and has 20 litres less than the i30N which measures in at 395L.

What is the Ford Focus ST like to drive?

The Ford Focus ST lives up to everything we expected when we heard this vehicle was Australia-bound.

There is a lovely weight to the steering wheel, a bit heavier than most, but it gives you a sense you are really moving this vehicle around. Once you get up and going though it does lighten up a bit.

Then there is the 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, which is an absolute gem. It produces 206kW and 420Nm of torque, all of which is sent to the front wheels and this little hatch does a great job of translating that power to the ground. You do get a little bit of torque steer, but I guess it wouldn’t really be a FWD hot hatch without a little wriggling.

Looking at those numbers, the EcoBoost engine in the Focus ST has a higher output than both the i30N and VW Golf GTI.

You have two options when it comes to transmission and neither of them will affect the price of the vehicle. You can opt for a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed automatic, both costing $44,690.

Having driven the two back to back, I would have to say that audibly the manual is better. It was much easier to produce the cracks and pops that really put a smile on your face when shifting. Speaking of which, the manual transmission gets a rev-matching feature that turns on automatically if you are in “S” mode, race track mode or have launch control turned on.

While these are great fun, the manual version of the Focus ST misses out on autonomous cruise control with full stop and start. If you are driving around the city a lot, you have a difficult decision on your hands.

Which is only going to get more difficult…

Because in terms of fuel economy, Ford states that the manual will consume 8.1 litres per 100km on a combined cycle while the automatic will drink 8.8 litres. That’s quite a difference.

Both variants get the same “continuously controlled dampers” which analyse all sorts of information to assess the road surface, based on driver inputs. Using this information, it will make adjustments every two milliseconds. 

That is 30 thousand adjustments every minute!

Both also get a limited-slip differential and Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres to help hook up the car. Michelin designed and developed the Pilot tyres specifically for the Ford Focus ST.

So it will grip and give you confidence going through corners, but you might find that the ride is on the harsher side on some of the roads around Sydney. Perhaps it could be slightly more forgiving, but this isn’t something that would make me hesitate about buying this vehicle. If you want comfort, get a normal Focus.

How safe is the Ford Focus ST?

Which transmission you opt for determines which safety features you get. If you opt for the automatic you will get adaptive cruise control with stop and go, above and beyond what the manual gets.

However, as standard both have:

  • Automatic headlights with automatic high beam
  • Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
  • Automatic emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection
  • Blind spot monitoring
  • Rear cross-traffic alert with braking
  • Forward collision warning
  • Speed sign recognition with speed limiter
  • Rearview camera with 180-degree split view
  • Lane keeping aid with lane departure warning 

Cost of owning a Focus ST

The Focus ST comes with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty for peace of mind and this is in line with what Hyundai and Volkswagen offer on their performance hatches.

Servicing costs are capped at $299 for the first four years or 60,000km, whichever comes first.

The verdict

Let me preface the verdict with this: the Ford Focus ST is a great little hot hatch and transmission-wise, whichever way you opt to go, you are going to be happy.

In terms of value for money and a daily driver, you would have to opt for the seven-speed automatic. The extra safety features at the same price point make it the way to go.

If you are looking for a smile-inducing ride, and plan to use it for the odd track day, launch control and automatic rev matching make the manual a no-brainer.

Ford has covered all bases with the new ST.

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