Ford Focus ST Review 2023 | Top Gear
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Advertisement feature
eBay's Guide to Thrifty Motoring
Read it all here
Wednesday 29th March
A big-hearted engine in an otherwise sensible car. The perfect seven-tenths hot hatch

Good stuff

Fun when you need it, civilised when not. Good performance and chassis balance

Bad stuff

Touchscreen-obsessed interior is another Tesla copycat we didn't need


What is it?

In a world of turmoil, we're not quite seeing the upturning of everything we hold dear. One of the great constants is holding steadfast. The Ford hot hatch. Quick, useable, fun. Just maybe not priced as keenly as once upon a time. 

The 2.3-litre turbo engined Focus range-topper has been revised for 2022 with a new nose (spot the badge in the middle of the grille instead of on the leading edge of the front bumper), and a revised interior. Hmm. We'll come back to that later. But very little has changed on the driving front: you still get a meaty 276bhp and 310lb ft of torque to lean on. You want the standard six-speed manual gearbox, not the seven-speed auto option. 

Advertisement - Page continues below

It doesn't look overly special...

The ST is, if you avoid the Mean Green paint (orange is no longer an option) actually rather subtle. It's barely different from a regular one-litre Focus ST-Line. The optional 19-inch wheels do help, and the lowered suspension too. But really the new Focus's panels are too billowy for the road-sucking stance and taut purpose we want in a hot hatch.

But that belies a head of engineering bespoke to the ST. Stuff like an electronically controlled limited-slip diff, not merely brake control of a slipping wheel (though it has that too). Adaptive damping is standard. The brake servo is energised by an electric pump, so can compensate for fade when you're going for it on a track, or down a mountain pass. Suspension is of course lowered (-10mm) and stiffened. The steering is quicker too.

What do I get to play with?

No sporty car these days can have any self-respect without a mode button, and here it's mounted on the steering wheel. Choices: 'slippery/wet', 'normal', 'sport' and 'track'. It affects the usual stuff: throttle map, ESP threshold, sound enhancement. Add the performance pack and this unlocks more damper bandwidth too. 

Because the diff is electrically controlled, you also get more lock-up (and hence more torque-steer) in the sport and track mode. The new servo also allows sharper brake response in the upper modes. 

Advertisement - Page continues below

What's new inside?

Well, Ford's looked at VW's idiotic decision to bin all the buttons and hide every function in a touchscreen and thought 'wow, what a complete disaster from a once sensible brand. Let's copy all of it.' 

So, in addition to fully digital dials behind the steering wheel, the climate control buttons have all been binned and there's a new widescreen atop the dash that's about twice as big as the previous mode. It makes the Focus look much more modern inside, which the designers must be jolly pleased about, but designers never seem to bother testing cars in the real world. And it shows. 

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

Great powertrain, good handling, spoiled interior. We'd go Hyundai i30N or Civic Type R

Got plenty going for it, the Focus ST. Loads of pace, loads of space, a soulful engine, pleasing manual gearbox and gameful chassis. We can’t help feeling the interior is a step backwards for safety and usability just because some designer was fantasising about working for Tesla, but the result isn’t quite as shiversomely, hatefully awful as the latest VW, Seat and Skoda hot hatches, which is a blessing.

All told the Focus ST remains a quietly great all-rounder, but one that’s no longer a conspicuous bargain or the most rambunctious car in its class, which may mean it struggles to stand out from a talented crowd. 

The Rivals

compare car finance
Powered byZuto Logo
more on this car
Take one for a spin or order a brochure
Powered byRegit Logo

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

Get your first 5 issues for £5