Ford takes the Focus ST to the next level

2015 Ford Focus ST | Launch Drive Review

Written byMalcolm Flynn | Carsguide

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MyDrive | Ford Australia – How do you boost the drool factor of a hot hatch? Paint it grey.

Even if this was the only change Ford made to the refreshed Focus ST, the new Stealth Grey hue would cement its place as one of the coolest kids in the circa-$40,000 performance class. 

However, the ST’s improvements run far deeper than a few microns of Euro-grunge paint, with updated styling, new interior tech and sharpened underpinnings to make one of our favourite hot hatches even better – even though there’s no more power. 

It’s rare for a halo model to arrive before the bread-and-butter versions, but differing production schedules have brought the updated German-built ST several months ahead of the Thai-sourced mainstream LZ Focus range.

We’re happy to have our dessert before the main course on this occasion, and find out whether Ford’s changes can continue to take the fight to more recent $40,000-ish arrivals like the Mk7 Golf GTI, fourth-gen WRX and the supermodel-styled Holden Astra VXR

DESIGN

Looking beyond the new grey and Deep Impact Blue colours, the new Focus scores updated styling front and rear that brings it in line with the sharp looks of the new Falcon, Mondeo and upcoming Mustang

Slimmer tail lights and a more aggro rear bumper are complemented by a significantly reshaped front end with the gaping front grille moved upwards to sit between new headlights. 

The ST’s improvements run far deeper than a few microns of Euro-grunge paint.

On the inside, a revised dashboard drops the previous button-heavy centre stack in favour of a simpler design that incorporates an enlarged touchscreen with Ford’s excellent SYNC2 multimedia system

The previous ST’s heavily bolstered and body colour-coded Recaro front seats remain, and their boy-racer looks are now complemented by a flat-bottomed steering wheel.

European-spec STs score new 19-inch wheels with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport II rubber, but Australian models make do with grey-painted versions of the previous 18-inch design, with still-grippy Goodyear Eagle F1s. The 19-inch wheel is expected to become optional at a later date.

All updated Focus models also benefit from NVH reduction throughout the body, with revised seals and insulation. 

As before, the Focus ST’s family and daily credentials include ISOFIX child seat mounts in the rear, a reasonable 316 litres of cargo space with the seats up and a space saver spare beneath the boot floor.

VALUE

The Focus ST’s list price has shifted $700 upwards, but the new $38,990 figure matches the WRX, sneaks $1000 beneath the reintroduced and rebranded Astra VXR, and is a significant $3000 cheaper than a manual Golf GTI

Helping to justify the marginal price rise is the eight-inch SYNC2 multimedia system, which steps up from the previous five-inch unit.

This includes advanced voice, satnav and audio control and smartphone integration and brings a depth of functionality to rival premium systems. 

A six-speed manual remains the only transmission on offer to ST buyers

ENGINE/TRANSMISSON

The ST’s 2.0 litre turbocharged EcoBoost engine’s impressive 184kW/360Nm outputs are unchanged, but a new start/stop system has made a slight improvement to fuel consumption. 

The new 7.3L/100km combined figure is just 0.1 better, but our experience suggests this will likely make a bigger difference if you spend a lot of time in traffic. 

A six-speed manual remains the only transmission on offer to ST buyers, bucking the trend of most performance rivals with a choice of manual or auto. 

DRIVING

The previous ST was widely regarded as one of the sharpest, if not the sharpest steerer in its segment. 

This clearly wasn’t enough for Ford, with a revised chassis setup front and rear that includes stiffer springs and bushes up front, and retuned dampers all round. The electric steering and stability control systems have also been recalibrated to suit.

The looks, the noise and the loud interior trim create a sense of occasion that exceeds all immediate rivals.

We punted the ST through some of the best driving roads surrounding Victoria’s Yarra Valley, and its willingness to change direction, predictable cornering balance and entertaining rear-steer reaffirmed its reputation as an outstanding handler.

The differences are not immediately obvious to the driver, but even after recent seat-time in the lighter and cheaper Fiesta ST, the Focus is still a genuinely entertaining handler. 

There’s plenty left unchanged, but this doesn’t detract from what the ST does best. The EcoBoost engine already pushes the on-paper limits for a front-driver, particularly with max torque on tap all the way from 2000-4500rpm, but torque-vectoring stability control and clever calibration help to make the most of the Goodyears.

The manual gearbox is a delight to use quickly, with a short throw and well-defined gate, but the engine’s breadth of torque helps you rocket from point-to-point even if you hold a taller gear than ideal.

This thrust is once again accompanied by a fantastic, if speaker-synthesised, note that aims to mimic the growl from its XR5 predecessor, but also reminds us of the classic burble of a tuned WRX. 

The looks, the noise and the loud interior trim create a sense of occasion that exceeds all of the ST’s immediate rivals.   

Ford claims an impressive 6.5 second figure for the 0-100km/h sprint, but the way it makes you feel cannot be described in performance figures or handling prowess alone.

Anyone stepping out of a Golf GTI will be surprised by the Focus’s sharper ride, but hardcore hot hatch fans will appreciate the ST’s extra personality. 

SAFETY

Like all current Focus models, the new ST carries a five star ANCAP safety rating, with dual front, side and full-length curtain airbags, along with rear parking sensors. The ST’s SYNC2 screen also incorporates a reversing camera display and will dial 000 automatically if an airbag is deployed. Ford’s MyKey system is also standard. 

A $2000 Technology Pack adds AEB that functions up to 50km/h, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane guidance and departure warning, driver fatigue detection and auto high beams.

VERDICT

If your daily commute involves rough roads, the ST might a bit much for you. But if not, and you’re after something that’s practical during the week and an absolute hoot on the weekend, it’s still a cracking buy.

The Focus ST is definitely one of the more hardcore options, but isn’t that what hot hatches are all about?

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Price From $38,990
  • Thirst 7.3L/100km Tank 62L
  • Safety 5-star ANCAP
  • Seats 5
  • Warranty 3yr/unlimited km
  • Service Interval 12 months/15,000km
  • Engine 1.999L turbo 4-cyl premium unleaded, 184kW/360Nm
  • Transmission 6-spd manual, FWD
  • Spare space saver/temporary
  • Turning circle 11m diameter
  • Dimensions 4358mm (L), 1823mm (W), 1484mm (H)

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Excellent front-drive handler
  • Puts power down well for big outputs
  • Plenty of personality per $

WHAT WE DON’T

  • No auto option
  • Harsh ride on rough surfaces

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