The Focus has left the United States as part of Ford’s general retreat from the unfashionable part of the market that some of us still refer to as “cars.” But in Europe, the Focus is thriving, with both a new generation and now the sport-oriented ST model to make us properly jealous.
The old ST’s turbo 2.0-liter inline-four is replaced by the brawnier but detuned 2.3-liter from the Focus RS. It makes 276 horsepower and drives the front axle through a torque-vectoring differential. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but there will also be a seven-speed automatic.
Although it’s more muscular, this ST is less aggressive than the last one. The engine delivers strong torque low in the rev range with little lag. Despite having a quick, electrically assisted rack, the steering feels slower than before and lacks the alarmingly abrupt turn-in of the old car. Adaptive dampers are standard on the gasoline-powered model, and its low-speed ride is markedly better in the Normal driving mode. Driven gently, this ST feels more grown-up than its predecessor, but also a little less exciting.
We drove the car on the Route Napoléon in the South of France, an asphalt encyclopedia of interesting corners. In Sport mode, the car’s character is transformed, with sharper throttle response, heavier steering, and molasses for dampers. Grip level from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires is huge, but it is the poise of the ST’s chassis that really impresses. Adhesion between the front and rear axles is almost perfectly balanced, and the Focus is about as throttle steerable as a street-legal front-drive car can be. The clever differential helps in slow turns, transferring torque to make the best use of available grip and reacting quickly enough to counteract torque steer over rough surfaces.
The new engine has more torque than the 2.0-liter diesel that Europeans can also buy in the ST. It’s a revver, too; peak power comes at 5500 rpm, and the 2.3 spins freely until a 6750-rpm redline calls time. Ford’s claim that the ST is quicker around most circuits than the Focus RS sounds plausible.
It’s not perfect. An electrohydraulic brake booster leaves the pedal feeling slightly artificial when pushed. The accelerator pedal is also poorly placed for heel-and-toe rev matching; although, on Performance-pack-equipped cars, there is an auto rev-matching feature in Sport and Track modes. But the Focus ST’s greatest sin is one of omission: failing to come here.
front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
BASE PRICE (U.K.)
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter diesel inline-4, 188 hp, 295 lb-ft; turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.3-liter inline-4, 276 hp, 310 lb-ft
6-speed manual, 7-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 106.3 in
Length: 172.8 in
Width: 71.9 in
Height: 57.4 in
Curb weight: 3350–3450 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 5.5–5.7 sec
¼-mile: 14.2–14.4 mph
Top speed: 155 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)