Without a replacement for the Focus RS, this Ford Focus ST is the hottest hatch in the Blue Oval’s next-generation lineup.
What is it?
The new Ford Focus ST is the fourth-generation to wear the badge and sits at the top of Ford’s hot hatch range now that the decision has been made not to pursue another generation of the Focus RS. No pressure, then.
Stefan Muenzinger, head of the European arm of Ford Performance and in charge of the ST’s development, suggested that with the new-generation eLSD and the increased performance from the 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, that the ST’s overall pace is very similar to that of the old RS.
Muezinger’s one caveat was that in standing start acceleration, the all-wheel-drive RS maintains the advantage but that the front-drive and lighter ST’s in-gear acceleration was a match for the ultimate Blue Oval hot hatch.
Muenzinger was at pains to point out that the biggest game-changer for the new-gen ST is the adoption of the eLSD. According to Muezinger, the Borg Warner-supplied eLSD is “the most expensive and most advanced option for front-wheel drive”. Unlike most electronic limited-slip diffs used in both front- and rear-wheel-drive applications, the Borg Warner eLSD is a mechanically locking diff with electronic control and the locking percentage can vary from zero (completely open) to 100 (locked).
Ultimately, power is delivered to the tarmac via a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres that were developed specifically for the ST and wear Ford Performance branding on the sidewall.
So, where does the power come from? The ST’s transversely-mounted 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is familiar but its outputs are new and impressive. Power is up 22kW to 206, a figure that makes the ST competitive with the rest of the hot hatch set but not the benchmark. But a 60Nm increase in peak torque, to a very robust 420Nm, gives the Ford a mid-range muscle advantage over most of the pack. It’s also just 20Nm shy of the RS’ output.
For the first time in ST history, there’s a choice of gearboxes – a six-speed manual that we tested and a seven-speed torque converter automatic. Interestingly, the seven-speed auto started life as an eight-speeder but the original second gear ratio was dropped to provide a better ratio spread and for weight saving. Expect a review of the auto ST, shortly.
What’s it like?
Ford Performance’s Stefan Muenzinger explained that the fourth-gen ST was benchmarked against numerous competitors, including the volume-selling VW Golf GTI, but explained that, “we wanted a much sharper character than the GTI”.
The other benchmarks mentioned by Muenzinger included the Hyundai i30N, Honda Civic Type R and Seat Leon Cupra, and the Focus ST feels like it slots into the gap between the i30N and Civic Type R. It’s not as sharp and focused as the Honda and perhaps not as useable as the Hyundai – it will make for an interesting group test.
The engine is very strong throughout the mid-range (that 420Nm is available from 3000-4000rpm) but it’s also willing to be stretched (despite peak power arriving at 5500rpm) and is matched with sharp throttle response and a stirring soundtrack. Of the various drive modes on offer (Slippery, Normal, Sport and Track), Sport is the pick for most road driving, though it does firm up the damping to the point that it won’t suit all roads. It also sharpens the response of the brakes and steering, and introduces a rev-matching function for downshifts in the manual gearbox. It can be disabled for those that want to heel-and-toe but it works well and covers the spaced-out pedals that makes the action slightly awkward.
One issue with the drive modes, and one that Stefan Muenzinger admitted was under review, is a lack of an individual mode that would allow you to mix and match parameters.
The chassis is entertaining and involving with quick steering and enormous grip from the Michelins. The brakes are solid and can combine with that sharp front end to three-wheel the ST into a corner – a hot hatch hallmark. Lift-off oversteer, the other hot hatch party trick, can be provoked and it transitions into and out of a slide with deftness.
Overall, the Focus ST delivers a driving experience that is fast, fun and possessing just the right amount of grittiness.
Ford claims that the launch-control equipped six-speed manual will accelerate to 100km/h in just 5.7 seconds, while the seven-speed automatic version takes 0.3 seconds longer. For the record, the best that we could do in the manual ST was 5.9 seconds, but there’s a caveat to that number. The manual runs to a fraction over 100km/h (100.4 according to our Vbox) so to achieve the quickest time, you have to leave it in second and let the engine run into the rev limiter. To achieve the best standing 0-400 metre time (15.1 at 176km/h) you have to sacrifice the 0-100km/h time and shift fractionally before 100km/h (which resulted in a 6.1sec time). But whichever way you cut it, the ST is properly quick.
The other important number is the sticker price, and the ST is $44,690 regardless of transmission. Only two options are available; a sunroof at $2000 and prestige paint for $690.
2020 Ford Focus ST specs and price Australia
Tested Sydney, Australia Price $44,690 plus on-roads On sale Now Engine 4-cyls, 2261cc, turbocharged petrol Power 206kW at 5500rpm Torque 420Nm at 3000-4000rpm Transmission 6-spd manual or 7-spd dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 1532kg 0-100km/h 5.7sec (claimed) 5.9sec (tested, manual) Fuel economy 6.5L/100km Rivals Hyundai i30 N, Renault Megane R.S, Honda Civic Type R