Ford Focus ST-3

August 2012

picture of car from the front

The sleek, muscular and pretty ST is a masterpiece of styling

Ratings

Overall Rating 9Overall rating

Value for money Rating 8Value for money

Space and Practicality Rating 7Costs

Space and Practicality Rating 8Space and practicality

Controls and display Rating 9Controls and display

Comfort Rating 8Comfort

Security Rating 9Car security

Safety Rating 8Car safety


Likes

  • Eager, balanced driving experience is fun but stable and confidence-inspiring
  • Noise-enhancing technology maintains much of the old ST's aural charm
  • Relatively broad and deep boot offers good levels of practicality
  • Much-improved build quality is impressive for day-to-day use

Gripes

  • Rear visibility is impaired by the modest rear windscreen and rising shoulder lines
  • Linear power delivery is usable but not as explosively exciting as before
  • Acceleration stats not as impressive as power figures might suggest
  • Steering wheel is quite large and some may find it awkward

Ford's first Focus ST was a big hit in Britain. So big that the country quickly became - and stayed - the model's most important market anywhere in Europe. Unfortunately for its many fans, emissions laws and rising fuel prices put an end to the ST as we knew it, but with this model it's back, albeit significantly changed.

The biggest difference to emerge following the ST's hiatus from showrooms is that the characterful but inefficient 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine has been replaced with a more ordinary 2.0-litre unit, but one that has been heavily and cleverly turbocharged to produce even more power than the old model. It's much more efficient, though, and achieves much higher fuel economy.

The unfortunate but unavoidable loss of inherent aural quality has been addressed with a 'sound symposer', a membrane between cylinders three and four that effectively amplifies a natural off-beat note within the combustion cycle and channels it into the cabin. It works surprisingly well and it's good enough to placate keen ST fans who miss the old 2.5 unit.

Build quality is another area that Ford's engineers have worked on. In the ST-3 model the full leather seats are supple and supportive, the leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear lever knob feel thick and plush, and the dashboard looks impressively modern. Whether or not it will age well will be seen in due course.

The ST comes in three trim levels with good levels of equipment. It's designed to be a better all-rounder with greater environmental performance making it more affordable to run. While it maintains excellent balance and handling poise, the new ST is aimed straight at the everyday user.

Our verdict on the Ford Focus ST-3

The ST is a convincing everyday performance car that blends performance, practicality, handling and running costs. Its emissions are low enough to undercut off-putting tax costs and its fuel economy means that potential buyers' heads can freely agree with their hearts, which will certainly be swayed by this version's simple, stylish lines. This is a car that satisfies almost every need a modern hot hatch buyer could list.

Costs
Costs rating 7

While the ST isn't the cheapest car to run, Ford has made huge strides in making it cheaper than the old one. It consumes less petrol, emits less CO2 and costs both less to tax and run as a company car. Insurance should also be lower than before. While the greater economy and usability of this generation ST will help maintain value, the old one remains a highly sought-after model for its character.

Space and practicality
Space and Practicality Rating 8

There isn't a great deal of in-cabin storage, but the compartments that are there do a reasonable job. The door pockets could and arguably should be bigger, though. Two central cupholders are useful and the glove box is adequate. Better news comes from the boot, which is large and evenly shaped. There are vertically-mounted straps to restrain items like a first aid kit between the load lip and the wheel arches.

picture of car from the rear

A large, single exhaust divides opinion but is uniquely recognisable

Controls and display
Controls and Display Rating 9

The main instrument cluster is one of the most stylish around, but there are more dials on top of the dashboard displaying turbo boost, oil pressure and oil temperature. They're small and positioned away from where they need to be to be useful while driving, but they're still welcome. The ancillary controls are laid out in predictable fashion and the stalks feel chunky and robust. The one incongruous element is the centre console screen, which is styled quite differently to the rest of the car's instruments.

Comfort
Comfort Rating 8

Naturally the ST has a stiffer chassis and suspension setup than the standard Focus. That said, it isn't uncomfortably so, and even on its large alloy wheels it tends to ride very well. There is some wind and road noise, but nothing unusual and less than in the old model. Legroom is generally adequate for five occupants, but the rear passengers can feel too enclosed by the thick rear pillars and the doors' high shoulder line.

Car security
Security Rating 9

The Focus is among the safest of modern cars, with security experts Thatcham awarding high marks for both resisting theft from and theft of the car. It also performs well in the overall insurance rankings. An advanced alarm and immobiliser combination is standard.

Car safety
Safety Rating 8

Stability control and ABS are standard, while a host of systems like lane departure warning and lane keeping assist are optional. A solid crash test performance should help generate added peace of mind, along with the car's inherent stability at speed.

Driver appeal
Driver Appeal Rating 9

The new model has a lot to live up to in the shape of the old five-cylinder ST, but it doesn't disappoint. With the benefit of some technical trickery to enhance a particularly interesting element of the engine noise, it sounds good. There's a relatively neutral balance to the chassis and it's very forgiving, making it an extremely easy car in which to build up a head of steam along a twisty road. But it's also quiet, easy-going and relaxed at low revs.

picture of car interior

Much higher quality materials have been used in the new ST's cabin

Family car appeal
Family Appeal Rating 7

Young families were firmly in Ford's sights when they designed the Focus and the ST inherits almost the same degree of family usability. The boot is big and well shaped, there are Isofix child seat mounts, the safety systems are very effective according to the official tests, and this incarnation is cheaper to run than the old version. The coloured trim on the seats could count against its durability, though, and ultimately a lesser model would be more cost-effective.

First car appeal
First car Rating 5

Hot hatches are a model of attainable performance, and there's every chance that a young driver, particularly a male one, would lust after the ST. But while the car is exceedingly easy to drive at low speed, looks fantastic, has many cutting-edge safety features and isn't as thirsty on fuel as you might think if it's driven gently, the performance on offer and the associated risk, insurance premiums and purchase price are prohibitive factors for a first car.

Quality and image
Quality and Image Rating 8

A more immediately tangible change from the last car is a much higher standard of materials quality, which is a theme that runs right from the leather trimming the steering wheel and seats to the solid, thick feel of any plastics occupants are likely to touch. Big gains have been made here and the car feels much more complete as a result.

Accessibility
Accessibility Rating

A big part of the ST's remit is to be practical and usable every day. In this case the ST is a five-door model. Accessibility is therefore very good, and the doors are long enough to allow easy access but short enough to make getting out of the car in typical bay spaces simple enough. The front doors are longer and need more care in car parks. The boot is large, but the load lip may restrict ease of access to heavy loads.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

Some of the stereo operation buttons are quite small, with notable space in between them. It can be difficult to put your finger on the right one without taking your eyes off the road for a second or two, and it may take a little longer to become fluent with than some other systems. There is a typical range of adjustments available to be made to the sound output, and an integrated iPod socket allows full control over your music.

picture of car in detail

Three supplementary gauges provide extra information for the driver

Colours and trim

The colours available with the ST are split, with some being bold and bright, and others being understated. While the latter are fine and will help to hide the car's performance leanings, it really does look better in the brighter shades. A special orange option is a costly one, but for some it will be definitive. The interior trim is also very attractive. The shiny black plastic centre console cover will divide opinion, though.

Parking

The scale of the restriction to rear visibility is only clear when you actually try to reverse into a space. There's very little view at either of the rear corners, so drivers need to use the wing mirrors as well. Reversing safely is a slower process than would be ideal. The variable-assistance power steering works well to lower the effort needed to turn the wheel at low speed, and rear parking sensors are standard on this range-topping model.

Spare wheel

Emergency tyre repair kit supplied as standard.

 

Range information

Petrol engine options - 1.0-litre (99bhp, 123bhp); 1.6-litre (84bhp, 104bhp, 123bhp); 1.6-litre turbo (148bhp, 179bhp); 2.0-litre turbo (247bhp). Diesel engine options - 1.6-litre (94bhp, 113bhp); 2.0-litre (138bhp, 161bhp). Transmission options: five and six-speed manual gearbox depending on model, plus automatic gearbox (1.6-litre 123bhp petrol and 2.0-litre diesels only). Trim levels: Studio, Edge, Zetec, Zetec S, Titanium, Titanium X, ST.

 

Alternative cars

Volkswagen Golf GTi version has similar performance and a better image but less excitement

Vauxhall Astra Aggressive-looking, sporty trim options mate with punchy engines

Skoda Octavia Sporty vRS model is more spacious than the Focus with a great petrol engine

Citroen DS3 Special 'Racing' edition is brasher and less compromising than the Focus but a smaller proposition



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August 2012