Ford Focus ST - long-term review - Report No:4 2023 | Top Gear
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Tuesday 3rd October
Long-term review

Ford Focus ST - long-term review

£31,995 / £34,940 as tested / PCM £377
Published: 09 Mar 2020


  • SPEC




  • BHP


  • MPG


  • 0-62


Why the Ford Focus ST is better in winter than summer

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that the TG Garage’s Focus ST, EW19 OJN – is the very same example that starred at our TG24 Hours of Speed extravaganza down in Portugal last summer. It wilted. Poor thing.

As Portimao sizzled in a 40-degree scorcher, the poor Focus didn’t half feel out of sorts. Its Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres – pretty much the go-to everyday performance car rubber right now – overheated within a lap, before distributing chunks of their sidewalls on every missed apex afterwards. The brakes went long and squidgy, and the car seemed to heave about and huff and puff under duress, like a charity ParkRunner turning up to a Sunday jog to find out they’d accidentally entered an IronMan triathlon. Even the stripped-out and specialised RS Megane Trophy-R struggled with engine temperature on the day, which indicates just how overawed the Focus was. Happiest at ferrying sunburned photographers back to the pits, it was. 

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What’s been surprising is – living with the ST since October – how adept it’s been as a winter car. You’d image a front-wheel drive, heavily-boosted hot hatch wouldn’t much care for ice, drizzle, leaf-mulch. The old Focus ST certainly didn’t – if the torque-steer didn’t pull you off a roundabout before the exit you were aiming for, the bump steer would vault clean over the flowerbeds in the middle. This one’s immeasurably happier in the gritty, slippery real-world.  

The electronic differential Ford’s installed is the star here – it summons enormous, confidence-inspiring traction but with so little interference through the steering wheel. Horsepower totals are now totally potty, and the real currency of greatness is ‘how much of that can you actually deploy’. Everything from a BMW M3 to the peerless Civic Type R struggle here, but I’m not sure I’ve driven any two-wheel drive hot hatch that can claw so much purchase – and waste so little grunt – in slimy conditions. 

The tyres are magic too – I’ve not bothered with a switch to winters because these Michelin’s ability to clear standing water and maintain bite even when it’s below freezing outside has been sensational. Over 6,000 miles in, they’re still well-treated, and despite the weekly cacophony of 19-inch rim-into pothole impacts, so far so good on the puncture front. Slowly, the Focus has built up this air of unflappable toughness, of winter invincibility – a world away from the stay-indoors-with-a-wet-flannel way it handled a heatwave.

Now, I’m being a bit unfair here – Portimao is a grown-up circuit and even the more specialised likes of the Aston Martin DBS and Toyota Supra also melted back at TG24. The Focus, like those unlikely comparables, is a road car first, and a track car very begrudgingly. That makes the way Ford’s set up the ST’s rigid modes all the more galling. There is a Track mode – which automatically disables the stability control, and comes with a warning not to deploy it on public roads – but you’d never venture into it at all, because it ramps up the steering weight to maximum porridge. 

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The suspension, meanwhile, feels like it’s had three-day old, baked-on oatmeal poured into the dampers. So, why a frustration? Because the engine mapping in Track mode is hilariously naughty – the full suite of exhaust fireworks, and a dangerously Group B Audi warble from the 2.3-litre torque-monster up front. I’d love to have that mixed with a cushier ride, but if configurability’s your thing, you’ll need a Hyundai i30N. 

Winter’s a war of attrition on cars, but the ST is based on a fundamentally sound family car, so it’s aced the little things too. I’ve only had to top up the generous washer fluid reservoir once. The heated front windscreen remains a frosty-morning godsend. The heated seats are world-class. Almost dangerously, arse-griddling hot, while the heated steering wheel I scoffed at on the spec sheet has become the default next-button-press after the stupidly placed starter button, which needs a triple-jointed wrist to locate. The Focus’s sinfully dreary cabin is never a welcoming cell to inhabit, especially on a dark, miserable Monday morning, but within a mile or so every surface is piping hot and it’s as cossetting as an Aga in a landed gentry kitchen. The floor mats are standing up resolutely to an onslaught of muddy, wet shoes. The seat bolsters remain upstanding. 

The only winter duty the ST’s been flummoxed by is illuminating the road without blinding my fellow motorist. The ST, as standard, is fitted with Ford’s adaptive LED headlights, featuring the steadily more familiar ‘matrix beam’ tech that turns off individual LEDs to create a tunnel of dimmer light when facing oncoming cars, while keeping the verges bathed in illumination. 

The power of the beam is so strong I sometimes wonder if I can Morse Code-message the International Space Station, but the frequency with which other drivers angrily blip their own main beam to indicate the Ford’s not cut them out of the glare has forced me to turn the feature off. Ironic, really. The latest ST is a cracking winter weapon, but when it’s dark and misty, even the most unflappable car is only as quick, and as composed, as far as it can see. So, in the heat of summer, it runs out of tyres, and in the dark of winter, it outruns its lights. Whoops.

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