The 2020 Ford Focus ST arrived in Australia two years after going on-sale OS, we took it for a fang on our favourite roads to see if it was worth the wait.
The Focus RS is DEAD. We will never see it’s like again. And, no, this isn’t Ford playing possum with us…there will never again be a Focus RS.
This is staggeringly shocking news because, and I’ll go out on a limb now, the Focus RS was, in my opinion, the most exciting performance car of the decade. Big call but I stand by it. When I drove the Limited Edition Focus RS back in 2018, I said, according to my notebook, “oh my, there are few vehicles on the planet that can get close to its corner carving capability…” the rest is illegible because I was shaking so much with excitement.
So, yeah, for me, the Focus RS is/was da bomb… do the kids still talk like that?
And that brings me neatly to the Ford Focus ST. Now, historically, ST models haven’t necessarily been what you’d call HOT. More warmed up. So dropping the Focus RS and leaving the ST in its place could be seen as being a little, well, disappointing.
No need to worry, though, because Ford Performance made sure they pilfered enough of the good bits and pieces from the Focus RS parts bin to give the ST a fighting chance of grabbing hot hatch fans by the short and curlies.
This starts with an embiggening of the engine, a 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission (or automatic) and thumping out 206kW and 420Nm of torque at 1800rpm. The engine is actually the “same” engine that’s in the Focus RS with a couple of mechanical differences like a different turbocharger, for instance.
Then there’s an electronically controlled limited-slip differential as well as brake-based slip control, there’s lowered suspension with adaptive dampers, and the brakes are boosted with an electric pump to compensate for fade on the track, the steering is quicker than the old ST and there are now driving modes accessible via an S button on the steering wheel. Oh, and the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres are a joint development between Ford and Michelin to suit the Focus ST.
What’s it like to drive?
The Focus ST isn’t a car that you need to rev hard or continually row the transmission (but because it’s such a short and inviting throw that’s no hardship if you do). You can thank both the engine size and turbo for that. There’s bucket loads of mid-range grunt and the thing is singing once you’re beyond 3000rpm.
While it’ll happily spin to 6000rpm there’s really no point in revving it out. You’re better off shifting earlier rather than trying to squeeze the last little bit out of it as it nears 6000rpm and letting it ride the wave of that 420Nm of torque.
As mentioned, the six-speed manual is a delight to use with a short, snickety and positive throw that only the most ham-fisted will fluff. And the clutch has a nice positive action too, making fast positive shifts a cinch. Even better is the flat-shift function which means you don’t need to lift off the throttle when upshifting, and it’ll blip the throttle on downshifts for rev matching (something we used to have to do ourselves).
We sampled both the seven-speed automatic and the manual variants and they both have their own unique character. While, here at MotoFomo we’re all about ‘saving the manuals’ we wouldn’t be disappointed if you went for the automatic version of the Focus ST. Indeed, Ford itself reckons around 75% of all Focus ST buyers will go for the automatic. But thumbs up to them for keeping the manual dream alive; plenty of brands would have dropped it.
Some might wonder why Ford didn’t opt for a quick shifting dual-clutch type transmission like the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Well, Ford reckons its automatic is just as clever and quick when shifting. Sure, it’s one of those rare vehicles where the automatic is slower than the manual but only by three-tenths of a second to 100km/h (5.7 Vs 6.0) but it never feels slower on the road. And into and out of corners the automatic is a delight.
Where the automatic steps ahead of the manual version is when you’re launching it from a standing start. Where the manual will tug at the wheel thanks to torque steer (an occupational hazard when you’re asking the front end to handle 420Nm of torque and steer) it’s much less noticeable in the automatic-equipped Focus ST.
The Focus ST, no matter the transmission, sounds lovely with a grumbly growl at idle growing to a hard-edged roar when you’re galloping and enough pop and crackle on overrun to make you grin like an idiot. Sure, there’s an element of noise being piped into the cabin but this is actual exhaust noise rather than synthesised noise.
The adaptive dampers are genius and offer up a ride that’s a rare combination of sporting firmness and bump absorbing comfort (even when you’re going for it on a patchwork country backroad). Indeed, they can even tell if you’ve hit a pothole, well, the sensors can detect rapid wheel movement on the rebound and tweak the compression damping to avoid the sensation of collapsing into the pothole. Clever.
Body roll is well controlled and the grip level is immense. Tip into a corner and the Focus ST locks onto the apex and holds on for dear life. Select Sport mode and the diff will be more ‘locked’ than in Normal mode (according to Ford the diff can either be 0% unlocked or 100% locked and anywhere in between) and even across our tight and twisting test roads the thing never missed a beat. No spinning no nothing, just grip seemingly for days.
The steering is nice and meaty with good weight in the straight ahead and a direct action beyond with a consistency to the weight that builds confidence. There’s enough feedback through the wheel that you get a good picture of what’s going on with the front wheels.
What’s the interior like?
Too many hot hatches want to make the daily drive a bit of chore by making their cabins too ‘hot’. Not so the Focus ST. There’s enough sport in the cabin, via things like the buttressed Recaro seats that are just about perfect, the metal pedals, the flat bottomed steering wheel and the chunky gear shifter.
We now only get the Focus ST and Focus Active in this country, so there’s no chance you’ll feel like the Focus ST needs a little more bling. And it doesn’t. The materials are good quality with soft-touch stuff just about everywhere you touch.
The controls all fall easily to hand and are easy to read/use on the fly; I wish more brands would copy Ford’s easy-to-read-and-use climate control system. The infotainment screen sits proud on the dash without getting in your eyeline when you’re driving. It offers Ford’s clever Sync3 infotainment as well as Apple and Android connectivity and wireless phone charging at the base of the dash.
The thing about the Focus ST is that it doesn’t feel like backseat passengers were an afterthought. It would make a practical family-friendly vehicle with its roomy backseat. I’m six-feet tall and can comfortably sit behind the driver’s seat set to suit myself with plenty of foot wriggle room, knee and headroom. Two adults will fit across the back. Three would be a pinch because although the middle seat is broad enough, it lacks the shape of the two outboard seats.
And the boot is a decent size offering 375 litres of storage space which will be enough for most families.
How safe is it?
As far as safety is concerned, the Focus ST is a high achiever with a five-star ANCAP and EuroNCAP rating with a host of active and passive safety features. There’s low-speed autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and assist, collision warning front and rear and road sign recognition with speed limiting capability, airbags for the front and back, as well as rear cross traffic alert.
2020 Ford Focus ST Specifications
Price $44,690+ORC (for both manual and automatic) Warranty five years, unlimited kilometres Service Intervals 12 months or 15,000km Safety 5 star ANCAP/EuroNCAP Engine 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power 206kW at 5500rpm Torque 420Nm from 3000-4000rpm Transmission Six-speed Manual/Seven-speed Automatic Dimensions 4378mm long; 1825mm wide; 1458mm high; 2700mm wheelbase Boot Space 375 litres Fuel Tank 52 litres Thirst 8.1L/100km combined