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Ford Focus ST-2 review

Enhanced exterior styling helps to boost its kerb appeal

Nov 2005

picture of car from the front picture of car's backside picture of car interior picture of car detail

Overall rating

4.5 out of 5 stars

Likes:

  • Exterior changes enhance the car's sporting appeal
  • Powerful engine is incredibly flexible and sounds great
  • Handling is predictable yet capable of being fully exploited by a keen driver
  • Offering both three and five-door variants helps to broaden the car's appeal

Gripes:

  • It's a shame that changes to the interior are of the modest variety
  • High seating position can feel uncomfortable when pushing the car hard
  • Gearshift is a little rubbery and doesn't like to be rushed
  • Access to the rear of the three-door variant is a little awkward
The second generation Focus carries on the good work started by the first-gen model. Great handling, high levels of refinement and affordability have become the car's key attributes. These traits also form part of the performance ST's appeal – billed by many as the spiritual successor the Focus RS.

It's easy to take Ford's Focus for granted - many owners and drivers do so on a daily basis. This is no bad thing, though, as it only serves to highlight the car's ease of use. However, this was never the case with the Focus RS – Ford's first attempt to inject some much needed hot hatch magic into the range.

A difficult car to drive quickly, it became something you either loved or loathed. To compound the problem, it never warmed to mundane duties such as commuting, either. True to form, Ford learnt from its first effort and has made the ST more of an all-rounder. Crucially, Ford has chosen not to sacrifice that final tenth of driving appeal so loved by hard-core enthusiasts, though.

From the outside, the ST certainly looks the part. Although not as aggressive as Vauxhall's Astra VXR, Ford's offering boasts beefed-up bumpers and a racy front grille, a modest roof spoiler and a set of impressive and purposeful-looking alloy wheels. Inside, the changes are more restrained as much of the regular car's cabin is used. Differences include supportive front sports seat, different main instrument dials, sports steering wheel, a sporty-themed gearknob and handbrake lever and supplementary dials on the dash-top.

While the design changes might be modest, the car's behaviour on the road is anything but. Powered by a willing, tuneful and powerful 2.5-litre, five-cylinder turbo motor, the front-wheel drive ST displays excellent road manners even when pushed hard. The ride quality is never bone-shaker hard, yet the ST never feels soft or ponderous on twisty roads. It's a cliche, but the car is a great all-rounder and successfully banishes the ghosts of the RS.

Our verdict on the Ford Focus ST 2

Ford cars are designed and built for the masses – this crucial fact must never be forgotten. As such, the ST was always going to be easy for the majority to drive quickly yet be a capable car for everyday duties. That the serious enthusiast can hustle the ST without feeling detached from proceedings is a testament to the car's broad appeal.
Costs

In general terms the Focus ST is unlikely to cost you a fortune to run, but don't forget that fuel and insurance will be the two biggest drains on your finances. Servicing should be no more painful than if you were running a regular Focus, thanks in part to the Blue Oval's extensive dealer network and the car's basic underpinnings.

Space and practicality

As has been the trend for second-generation cars, this Focus is a little bigger than the one it replaced. This has meant a fraction more cabin and boot space. Occupants will struggle to find serious fault with the Focus interior, although space in the rear is modest, and most noticeable in the three-door variant. At the rear, the boot is a decent size, although the load lip could be lower.

Controls and display

There's nothing wrong with the standard car's main controls and, thankfully, Ford refrained from changing the basic package. It has jazzed up the main dials to impart a sportier ambience, and on the whole the new colour scheme works well. The three supplementary dials positioned atop the dashboard are largely there for effect, yet they don't look contrived or out of place. Elsewhere the usual Ford kit is evident, such as the useful remote audio controls and easy to understand ventilation console.

Comfort

All the usual Focus creature comforts are present in the ST, including high levels of sound deadening and supportive seats. Given the engine's vocal nature when pressing on, cruising in the ST is refined, calm and relaxed. The car's sports seats are excellent, and should accommodate a broad range of body sizes. The optional leather front seats add extra – and welcome – under thigh support. Head, leg and shoulder room up front is adequate, although rear occupants might want a fraction more leg room.

Car security

The usual alarm and immobiliser package applies to the Focus ST – and so it should given the car's looks and predictable desirability among both law abiding individuals and the criminal fraternity. Given the attention the old RS and Cosworth-badged fast Fords used to generate, it would be worth fitting an aftermarket tracking device for peace of mind – and to placate your insurer.

Car safety

All the usual airbags are in place in the ST's cabin, as you'd expect from a car costing more than the average Focus. Also present is ABS but, unusually in a car boasting such a high level of performance, ESP is lacking from the entry level ST. Ford claims the car is more than capable without it, although it is standard on the higher value variants.

Driver appeal

This is where the Focus ST excels. The serious enthusiast and the casual, brisk driver will both appreciate what Ford has achieved since the days of the raw and raucous Focus RS. Despite the considerable power generated by the engine, the Focus is remarkably vice-free and exhibits no discernable torque steer in the dry. The ride is not as stiff as some rivals, but grip and roadholding are first rate. The steering offers good levels of feedback, while the car's raw pace is outstanding. More user friendly than the old RS, the ST is a superb all-rounder. It even sounds great; the signature five-cylinder warble mated to a trick induction system will have heads turning.

Family car appeal

Ford has done the decent thing with the Focus ST and offers it in both three and five-door form, ensuring it appeals to both enthusiasts and families. In five-door form it's more than up to the task of accommodating a family and all its clobber. Although the rear seats can't be removed or reconfigured like a conventional people carrier, there's plenty of room for children. The boot is also big enough to swallow the weekly shop, but you might struggle with shopping and a pushchair.

First car appeal

In principal this Focus would make an excellent first car; it's easy to drive and total running costs are reasonable. In practice, it's a different matter. Although easy to drive, the ST's powerful nature could cause problems for the novice driver. At best, the insurance premium would force many to think twice.

Quality and image

The Ford Focus is, despite its admirers, viewed by many as nothing more than a conveyance. This view is often the one advanced by those in the fleet industry where the car is just another commodity. The ST helps to change that, as its personality is something you can easily become attracted to. And above all it's a fast Ford in the same vein as the infamous Sierra and Escort Cosworth models, a factor that boosts the ST's credibility no end. Quality-wise this Focus is streets ahead of the first generation car in all respects.

Accessibility

Pick the three-door car and access to the rear cabin will be a stretch for the tall and infirm, thanks in part to the car's sloping roofline and the need to clamber over the folded front seat. Predictably, the five-door option will be the better choice for a family. At the rear, the Focus' boot is a decent size and more importantly the tailgate requires little effort to raise and lower and the load lip is at a sensible height.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

The standard fit combined CD and radio unit works well, is easy to use and sounds good. Intuitive steering column-mounted remote audio controls are an excellent addition to the package. Save for a CD changer further up the range, you won't find any fancy extras in the audio department, proving that Ford engineers have focussed more on the driving experience than anything else.

Colours and trim

Opting for a bold colour is the key to making the ST stand out from the crowd – and from the many regular Focus variants. The ST looks best in orange, partly because it's the last colour you'd think of. It works well though, as does white, which is reminiscent of a stripped out rally car. Inside, you can specify selected colour inserts to enhance the car's sports seats. This is the only real high point, as the rest of the cabin is largely the same as that of a regular Focus.

Parking

This Focus – any Focus – is an easy car to park, and it's hard to find fault with its reasonable visibility, light power steering and easy to modulate throttle. The car's door mirrors are a decent size, as is the rear view mirror, and it's not difficult to judge where the rear ends because the tailgate doesn't slope away out of sight.

Spare wheel

Mousse kit replaces spare wheel.

Range information

Engine options – 1.4-litre (80bhp) petrol; 1.6-litre (100bhp) petrol; 1.6-litre Ti-VCT (115bhp) petrol; 2.0-litre (145bhp) petrol; 2.5-litre (222bhp); 1.6-litre TDCi (109bhp) diesel; 2.0-litre TDCi (136bhp) diesel. Manual, automatic and CVT transmissions are available depending on the various engine combinations. Trim levels: Studio, LX, Sport, Zetec, Zetec Climate, Titanium and ST. Latter is a sub-brand and comes as ST, ST 2 and ST 3. Sole transmission is a six-speed manual gearbox.