THE Focus ST has been treated to a facelift for 2008, gaining the nearly-all-new body restyle of other Focus models, plus an interior makeover that improves perceived quality. They haven’t messed with the fantastic high-backed Recaros, though.
They are still a bit high, but clamp you firmly in front of a well-packed, better-quality dash still featuring, joy, a brace of extra dials. The most significant of which is the turbo boost dial. It monitors a 2.5-litre capable of 150mph and 60mph in 6.8secs, which remains a delight.
Yes, it’s thirsty, but 225bhp, five-cylinders, a turbo and a ‘symposer’ to filter through the delicious Audi Quattro-like burble into the cabin help you forgive a lot.
There’s a mass of torque, at low revs, while performance is both considerable and very refined. There’s little of the Astra VXR’s rush, for example, or its torque steer.
Ford has even improved the six-speed gearbox for 2008, making the shift even easier. But if it all sounds a bit too refined for you, take to the wheel. All Focus’ have brilliant handling, but what the ST does is enhance this, taking it to an even higher plane. Finesse is in abundance, there’s no stodge or stuffiness, while the steering is pure and unflustered. The ST takes all the approximation out of driving, delighting you with beautiful balance and still the sort of compliancy that has no trouble with a British B-road.
It takes time for you to appreciate the Peugeot’s damping quality, but with the Ford it’s clear it has just as much ability, but doesn’t hide it behind a stiff initial ride. It’s taut, but not harsh. Even being a hooligan won’t faze it (particularly now ESP is standard on all).
Large cars with heavy engines up front can get distressed if you really muscle them, but not the ST – capable, incidentally, of an 8min 35sec lap time around the Nurburgring. That’s fast. Indeed, our only grumble was a slightly soft set of brakes when worked hard. Oh, and the need to keep refuelling it… regularly, during a fuel crisis.
We like the Focus ST. It’s measured, but very effective, and extremely satisfying. From £18,250 almost looks a bargain, too, despite its thirst. Praise be, the hot-hatch Ford remains a force to be reckoned with.
by RICHARD AUCOCK