Ford Focus ST first impressions: look out Golf GTI

The range

There are no trim packs, options or choice to speak of with the ST — well, okay, you can choose the colour, but only if you ask nicely. The five-door only ST is priced at a VW Golf GTI baiting A$38,290 and comes loaded with a good amount of kit.

On the outside the ST features a unique bodykit, a single gaping mouth grille (it looks a little too much like a fish gasping for air to our eyes), 18-inch XR-style alloy wheels, large rear wing, centrally mounted dual exhaust pipes, self-levelling bi-xenon headlights, LED tail-lights and a unique colour choice (tangerine yellow).

Step inside and you’ll find a set of wonderfully grippy Recaro sports seats trimmed in leather with highlights to match your choice of exterior paint, drilled aluminium pedals, shiny scuff plates, leather covered wheel and gear knob, an extra set of boost and oil gauges tacked on to the top of the dashboard, keyless entry and start, auto folding wing mirrors, LED mood lighting, auto power windows, self-dimming rear view mirror, rain sensing wipers, auto headlights, dual-zone climate control air con, reversing camera and ST-branding everywhere.

The audio system is a Sony unit with 9 speakers, iPod compatible USB port, auxiliary jack, Bluetooth for music streaming and hands-free, 5-inch high-res display, steering wheel controls, sat nav and voice commands. While the Ford Sync voice command system works well with phone contacts and one’s audio collection, it unfortunately doesn’t include any navigation support. Speaking of the nav system, it suffers from a slightly confusing interface; a complaint shared with the rest of the entertainment system. For instance, there’s no option to switch between 2D and 3D map views, rather you flick the main controller up and down between different map views and nav screens.

Driving impressions

In the mountains around Albury, the ST was in its natural habitat. So much so we half expected Sir David Attenborough to step out and start talking about the car in his husky, revered tone.

Cornering (aggressive or otherwise) results in well controlled body roll. Thankfully the flat handling doesn’t come at the cost of rock hard ride. In fact, the suspension feels (after just one day’s driving, mind you) wonderfully well calibrated. It soaks up bumps big and small with ease, lets you what’s happening underneath, but doesn’t ever feel the need to slam your lower jaw through your skull to emphasise the point.

The ST’s electric power steering features variable assistance and is razor sharp at low to middling speeds, giving the car a fantastic feeling of agility — in fact, the ST requires just 1.7 turns lock-to-lock. At more motorway friendly speeds the steering is heavier and stable. On the downside, the amount of feel through the wheel is almost zero.

Not only has Ford ditched the previous generation hot hatch’s XR5 nameplate, but gone too is the wonderfully sonourous Volvo-sourced turbocharged 5-cylinder engine. And while the carefully crafted sound symposer allows through a good, but not deafening, amount of turbo burble, it lacks idiosyncratic tone of the old five pot. In gentle driving, you could almost be lulled into thinking you were driving a rather less powerful Focus.

To compensate for the 5-cylinder’s axing, the 2-litre EcoBoost-branded turbo 4-cylinder has 184kW (247hp) of power and 360Nm (265lb-ft) of torque on automatic overboost at its disposal. That should be good for a 0 to 100km/h time of 6.5 seconds and fuel consumption of 7.4L/100km, in official testing at least. With so much torque heading to ground through the front wheels, Ford has fitted a Torque Steer Compensation system, which nullifies much of the nastiness unless you’re going hell for leather or the car’s on a broken surface. When the limits of its abilities are reached there’s a gentle tugging from the wheel and a slight moment of squirming to let you know that the electronic nanny is stepping in.

The 6-speed manual transmission shifts quickly and neatly between gears, but the tall centre arm rest hindered our shifts into even numbered gears. This driver’s lack of height, at just 1.6-something metres, is partially to blame, as is our refusal to ratchet the seat up. No automatic or dual clutch transmission is offered and will no doubt lose the ST a few sales.

Last thoughts for now

After a day’s hard driving through roads similar to which it was developed on, we’re hooked. We can’t wait to put the Focus ST through its paces in something closer to the real world and for a longer period of time. At first blush, the ST seems to be a well sorted, nicely refined, better equipped Golf GTI competitor. The only thing that could hold it back from absolute success is the lack of an automatic transmission.

Derek Fung attended the launch of the Focus ST as a guest of Ford Australia.

Derek Fung

Derek Fung

Derek has a lifelong love for all things automotive, from the dullest Camry to record shattering Bugattis. Prior to starting up Between the Axles he was a reviewer for CNET Australia and the founding editor of its Car Technology channel. [Read more]