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Ford Focus ST (2013) long-term test review
the CAR road test team
Long Term Tests
23 May 2013 09:00
Month 3 running a Ford Focus ST: should the ST have four-wheel drive?
Interesting one, , this: Ford won’t sell you the punchiest diesel Kuga SUV in front-wheel-drive guise, instead ensuring that its 251lb ft of torque flows through all four tyres. But our Focus ST channels 265lb ft through the front wheels alone, with none of the trick limited-slip diff or specialised suspension struts employed by the similarly torquey and front-drivey Renaultsport Megane. The difference is telling: the Kuga and Megane RS put their power down with minimum fuss but, on slippery winter roads, the ST is a bit rampant, spinning up its wheels and tugging the steering wheel around – even when you’re accelerating hard in third gear in a straight line. You just hit a spike of torque and briefly bonfire the front rubber, causing the traction-control light to strobe. And, yes, I’ve checked, the front tyres.
Now, I love the ST and its punchy engine, but it’s all too much for the torque-vectoring tech that Ford uses to channel the torque to the tyre with most grip, mimicking a slip diff without the weight or expense. I’d be intrigued to try an ST with an aftermarket diff, or with the brilliant new four-wheel drive system that Ford recently debuted on the Kuga. Also new on the front-drive Kuga is a torque-steer neutralising gadget, which could work wonders here. It’s a shame for all that power to go to waste.
By Ben Barry
Month 2 running a Ford Focus ST: considering the steering of our Focus long-termer
If thethe test of a true hot hatch is that there’s never a dull moment, then we’re onto something here. Driving the Focus ST in a hurry leaves you feeling breathless like a Star Wars X-wing pilot after a final-reel run-in with the Death Star.
Gotta say it’s addictive. The steering’s so direct it’s as much as you can do to avoid neat apices morphing into kerbtastrophes, but once you’ve adjusted to the hair-trigger turn-in the package really flows. The four-cylinder turbo engine sounds great and hurls its 247bhp at the front wheels so hard they struggle to keep up – the resulting torque steer exaggerating the Jedi vibe.
Slow down, however, and the cracks open. The turning circle is so woeful I misjudged my own driveway, and went on to greater crimes against parking in a once familiar multi-storey. There are fewer turns lock-to-lock than on the 50p-a-ride Postman Pat van outside Tescos. A proper drawback.
Final thought for the optional pop-out door protectors: save yourself £50 by actually leaving a loose Biro in every door bin.
By Greg Fountain
Month 1 running a Ford Focus ST - why we're running Ford's hottest hatch on the CAR fleet
Recognise this fast Ford? It’s the same Focus ST that took on Pagani, Lotus et al in our recent end-of-year performance car extravaganza (CAR magazine, December 2012). That was a baptism of fire for our new long-termer, which had an understandably tough time against the purebred sports cars as they cruelly but perhaps predictably exposed its humdrum hatchback underpinnings.
But now, away from the long shadow of Huayras and Exiges, it’s impressing the CAR office. We love the punchy 247bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, its rorty soundtrack, and a chassis that’s well-suited to the bumpy, twisty country roads that make up most of our daily commutes. And those humdrum hatchback underpinnings mean it’s practical, able to carry rotting Christmas trees to the dump and kids back to school. It’s a proper hot hatch, and a very good one at that.
Can it continue to shine? There’s no doubt it’s dynamically impressive, but when we’ve previously pitched the Focus ST against a VW Golf GTI (CAR, August 2012) and other key rivals (CAR, November 2012) we found it wanting elsewhere. For starters, it hasn’t exactly got the classless subtlety of a Volkswagen, has it? The detailing is crass, everything a bit big and blocky, like the designers weren’t allowed intricate, expensive shapes. And although our car’s Spirit Blue paint is more understated than the yellow Tangerine Scream seen on most ST press cars, the general consensus from the team is that the Focus looks a bit boring without a lairy paintjob. So it’s damned either way.
No matter, you’re thinking, because prices start at just £21,995, you get Recaro seats, air-con, keyless start, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity as standard, and that makes the Ford Focus ST a cracking bargain against £26k RenaultSport Meganes and £27k Astra VXRs.
Yet most customers actually opt for the more expensive ST-2 and ST-3 trims. ST-2 STs, which come with part-leather trim, dual-zone climate control, a Sony radio, auto wipers and lights, and Ford’s patented Quickclear windscreen, are £23,495. And our car is an ST-3, so it’s also got bi-xenon lights, keyless entry, electric mirrors, rear parking sensors and heated, full-leather Recaros. Which means I never need to take the key out of my pocket, my screen clears quickly on icy mornings, and my bum need never be cold. But it’s £25,495.
On top of which there are some options… That Spirit Blue paint is £525, a gaggle of driver aids are £850, pop-out door protectors are £50, sat-nav, an upgraded stereo and a rear-view camera are £750 all-in, privacy glass is £150, and finally, grey wheels, red brake calipers and illuminated kick-plates are sardonically bundled together as an ‘ST Style Pack’ for £275. Total: £28,095.
That’s a lot cheaper than a similarly specced Vauxhall Astra VXR, but a long way from that headline-grabbing entry level price – and less than £2k shy of BMW’s 316bhp M135i.
Worth it? Not on initial encounters with the interior, which is a bit of mess, a seemingly random mix of angles and ideas and one factor that counts against the ST (and indeed any Focus) on every group test. Yet after a couple of weeks I’m warming to it. Change the clock? A doddle. Store my favourite radio stations? The work of seconds. Fold the back seats and take stuff to the local tip? Simple. No hassle, no fuss – and then a whole lot of fun to hoon to work each morning.
So it’s a burgeoning relationship, and so far it’s going well, though it’s early days. Let’s hope things stay that way: a few years back I ran a Focus RS and its hard ride, dreadful interior, attention-seeking styling and colossal thirst constantly frustrated. The ST is much more rounded – and off to a much better start.
By Ben Pulman