► ST-Line trim means sporty looks
► But not sporty performance
► Testing most powerful petrol version
It's a trick the Germans are playing a lot these days, and Ford has joined in too: ST-Line signifies that this is a Focus with much of the appearance of the hot ST, but not its dynamic enhancements.
The appeal is simple and strong: it looks and feels really good – if your preference is away from chrome and leather and towards black detailing and red seat stitching – but it has much more emphasis on comfort and refinement than an actual ST (let alone an RS).
Read our new Ford Focus review: we drive the latest hatchback
The Focus ST-Line can be had as a hatch or estate, with a diesel or choice of petrol engines, and with manual or automatic transmission. The car we're driving here is the more powerful of the two petrols, in a five-door hatchback body with the six-speed automatic gearbox.
Just what makes this an ST-Line?
The Focus line-up ranges from the basic to the swank, and then on to the sportier ST and RS. What distinguishes the ST-Line is that it has similar bodywork to the ST, and compared to the similarly priced Zetec and Titanium X it's largely de-chromed: the grille, window surrounds and other details are in black.
Inside, the roof lining is also black, and the seats (sportily shaped in the front) have red stitching.
It runs on 17in wheels as standard, or optional 18s.
Equipment fitted as standard includes sports pedals and suspension, keyless start, front foglights, stainless steel ST-logo'd scuff plates, a quick-clear windscreen, Hill Start Assist, cruise control, an 8in touchscreen and Ford's Sync3 infotainment system. The options list includes a blind spot warning system, reversing camera, parking assistance, lane departure warning, privacy glass and much more.
A quietly classy interior
Depending on what you've been driving lately, you might be struck by how neat, simple and comfortable the cabin is; or you might wonder why there are so few of the mode switches, head-up displays and multifunction controllers that proliferate in many newer cars.
That's partly an illusion – the ST-Line is a well-equipped, modern car, with an ergonomically well resolved cabin layout that avoids clutter and over-complication – but also a sign that this is at heart a car developed before the traditional handbrake was declared obsolete and a cluster of buttons related to crash avoidance became de rigueur.
The flat-bottomed, leather-trimmed steering wheel is on the large and chunky side, but it feels like a quality item. The soft plastics on top of the dash feel particularly good, too.
It's comfortable for four adults, five at a pinch, with rear legroom the limiting factor. Luggage space is OK but unexceptional; the Honda Civic has similar external dimensions but a much bigger boot when the rear seats are up. The front seats are a good mix of comfort and support, and there's a general air of calm and relaxation.
It's sounding a little bit dull…
Calm and relaxation aren't, of course, the top priorities for everyone in the queue for a sporty looking hatchback. We all know that Ford does agile and rapid really well – with the Fiesta and Focus ST, and with the GT if your budget and tastes stretch a little further – but here the priorities are very different.
Even though this is the more powerful of the two petrol engines at 148bhp (there's also a 1.0-litre turbo, peaking at 123bhp; the diesel makes 118bhp and a sturdy 199lb ft of torque), there's nothing perky about it. It may be an unfair comparison, but it feels leaden next to the small, lighter, more powerful and barely less comfortable Fiesta ST, which is also cheaper.
The Focus ST-Line's ride is good on pretty much all road surfaces, and it's composed in corners if you're not pushing hard, but all too often the steering feels artificial and distant.
The fuel consumption's not great, either, for a car that's not particularly quick. The official test cycle gives a combined figure of 46.3mpg, but our mixed-use test gave just under 35mpg.
A bit more zip to the performance would definitely be welcome; we know the chassis can handle it. But so long as you approach the ST-Line knowing that the ST part of the deal isn't about its performance, then there's much to enjoy here. It's a stylish, well made, comfortable, refined, grown-up car.
If you judge a car solely by its performance figures, then there are less expensive ways to get more. But the ST-Line scores on quality, looks, comfort and the general sense of wellbeing it exudes.