► CAR lives with a hot Focus
► New ST is top of the shelf, no RS
► Here are our regular hot hatch reports
News of the Focus RS's demise hit hot-hatch enthusiasts like myself pretty hard. For the last few years, I've enjoyed jumping in and out of anti-social weapons like the Honda Civic Type R, Renault Megane RS and Hyundai i30 N – and the Focus RS might've been the most brutal of the lot. Like the Type R and now the Mercedes-AMG A45, it knocked on a performance threshold usually occupied by supercars and weighty super saloons – and the forthcoming RS was set to push the boundaries even further.
Tipped to feature four-wheel-drive with a helping hybrid hand, and capable of more than 400bhp like the A45, it was going to be beast. Until it was cancelled. So, with the RS in the history books, it's now time to look at my new long-term test car, and the newly crowned king of fast Fords, if only by default: the Focus ST.
To truly understand the Focus ST badge, it's first worth purging your mind of the RS, and instead looking at the Fiesta ST. One of the most enjoyable new cars to drive, Ford's iconic supermini brings enough power to light the front wheels, and combines it with a lively chassis, telepathic steering and rally-esque soundtrack. Think of the Focus ST as its big brother, and you're pretty much there.
It follows the same formula, too; the Focus ST gets a four-cylinder, 2.3-litre EcoBoost with 276bhp and 310lb ft of torque, and after a quick drive it's clear the Focus ST's steering is just as fingertip-direct as its smaller significant. Wind the window down, and the Fast Ford trifecta is completed with a fruity, popping engine note. Tick.
So, it might not be an RS but it's still a hot hatch, and there's no confusing it with the Focus Estate I've spent most of the lockdown in. Finished in Orange Fury, the Focus ST glows in the dark – and in the sun – and there's a neat rear spoiler and ST-specific front-end, but there's little else to offend the eyes. Red calipers and two exhausts at the rear – moved to either side to make space for a tow bar – make the ST more eye-catching, but this is no Type R.
Inside, the ST is more like the regular Focus Estate Tim Pollard had until recently; plastic inserts have been replaced with carbonfibre(ish) ones, and the steering wheel features the same button layout. We've also spec'd my three most wanted features: wireless charging for smartphones, adaptive cruising for motorway journeys and a head-up display.
The latter will be the most useful for the time being, because this car is lightning quick – and much faster than the 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds and 276bhp figures would have you believe. In addition to the chassis, which we'll cover another time, the ST uses anti-lag to give acceleration a relentless and soon addictive feel.
A low-inertia twin-scroll turbocharger converts waste gases to energy faster, while separate exhaust channels for cylinders 1/ 4 and 2/3 minimise pulse interference for a consistent flow of energy. Most importantly, anti-lag tech holds the throttle open for up to three seconds after it's disengaged by the driver. This keeps your powder dry and your boost primed, so when you do want the power again, it's right there where you left it. It's this immediacy that sets the ST apart from the still impressive 1.5-litre EcoBoost in the Pollard Estate, and the reason why the ST's in-gear acceleration is comparable to the outgoing RS's.
Without the looming shadow of a forthcoming RS, the Focus ST now shines like an orange tic-tac, but whether or not it's enough to fly the flag for Ford is another matter. The new Merc A45 pushes the hot-hatch envelope, with the A35 in a rearguard position, and now Honda is launching a trio of Type R variants to fight back. And in a world of Trophy Rs and Type S trims, is the traditionally warm-labelled Focus ST enough to keep Ford on the hot-hatch map? We'll find out in the next few months.
Options on our Focus ST
Head-up display: £400
A head-up display is useful in any car, but it'll come into its own in the deceptively fast Focus ST. It'll allow me to keep my eyes on the road, and my driving licence in my wallet.
Blind Spot information system: £400
The Focus comes with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping as standard, so we've added the optional blind spot information system to make motorway driving even easier.
Wireless charging £100
A wireless charging pad does exactly what you'd expect, and its positioning means I'll almost always use it without thinking. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay both require a wired connection, though.
Performance pack £250
Essential for this car, it adds a little zip to the ST formula. Shift lights, rev-matching and a stubby manual 'box help you get the most out of the Focus ST's potential.
By Curtis Moldrich
Ford Focus ST: logbook
Price £32,510 (£34,460 as tested)
Performance 2261cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 276bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 35.8mpg (official), 30.5mpg (tested), 179g/km CO2
Energy cost 15.6p per mile
Miles this month 268
Total miles 346