2018 Ford Focus ST Review
Isaac Bober’s 2018 Ford Focus ST Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: Little brother to the Ford Focus RS might lack the firepower of its sibling, but it’s still able to entertain when the corners start flying.
2018 Ford Focus ST
Price $38,990+ORC Warranty three-years, 100,000km Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol Power 184kW at 5500rpm Torque 360Nm from 2500-4500rpm Transmission six-speed manual Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4362mm (L) 1823mm (W) 1484mm (H) 2648mm (WB) Boot Space 316-1101L Spare space saver Fuel Tank 62L Thirst 7.3/100km (combined claimed)
THE FORD FOCUS ST is the forgotten hot hatch. Maybe that’s because it’s been around for so long. I mean, I remember driving, albeit a left-hand drive version, but the same car that’s parked on my driveway, at its launch in 2015. And Ford selected a bunch of very tasty roads in Spain. After one spirited stint behind the wheel I remember my colleague and I discussing this car’s rivals and how it did everything better than them. So, why will enthusiasts fall over themselves to get to something with G…T…I on the back of it, rather than S…T? I don’t know the answer.
What is the Ford Focus ST?
It’s much more than just a stickered up Focus and its lineage goes right back to the 1980s and the Ford Escort XR3. That car was turbocharged and front-drive and a mid-sizer, and so is this one. Beyond this, I’m sure most people are familiar with the Focus ST…
Not quite as hardcore as its mental brother, the Focus RS, the ST was developed by the same engineers at Ford’s Special Vehicle Team and is intended to be a fast daily driver rather than a weekend warrior. More than that, the Focus ST was Ford’s first One Ford performance car, meaning like the Ranger and Everest, the vehicle was designed for all world markets, meaning its suspension and steering, etc had to work as well in the UK as it does in Australia or Germany. But, unlike other markets, the Focus ST in Australia is only available as a hatchback, in the UK, for instance, you can also buy it as a wagon and in diesel form. It’s a shame we don’t get those other variants here as it would have opened the Focus ST to a wider group of buyers and seen it go head to head with things like the Golf GTD or the Skoda Octavia RS in wagon form.
It’s interesting to note that the RS will end production in April this year, leaving the ST on its own to carry forward the fast Ford hatchback flag. It’s more than up to the job.
Under the bonnet, it’s a got a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder making 184kW at 5500rpm and 360Nm of torque from 2000-4500rpm (with overboost). That’s a lot more power than the Golf GTI (169kW) although torque is closer with the GTI making 350Nm from 1500rpm. In terms of pricing, the Focus ST which is only available with a six-speed manual transmission lists at $38,990+ORC while the Golf GTI lists from $41,490+ORC. So, it’s cheaper than the perceived benchmark hatch hottie and more powerful.
What’s the interior like?
Much of what I wrote about the Focus RS can be applied to this Focus ST, although the materials used don’t stand out as much because you’re judging the thing at a different price point. That said, there’s still too much hard plastic inside the cabin; it’s just lucky for Ford that despite the stuff being hard, the texture and grain is enough that at least it feels okay if you touch it.
Again, like the RS, there are instead ST badges scattered about the cabin, on the scuff panels, the seats and on the welcome screen of the 8.0-inch infotainment screen. The infotainment runs Sync3 which is Ford’s very clever infotainment and connectivity system (that said, I had an issue with it during my week where it would intermittently fail tor recognise my iPhone was connected)…there’s plenty to unpack with it, particularly its sat-nav which offers a breadcrumbs feature allowing you to retrace your steps. It also offers voice control which works very well, certainly better than the voice recognition via Siri on an iPhone… Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is also available via Sync3 as is emergency assist if you’ve got a phone connected and you’re involved in an accident; the system will automatically dial emergency services.
Like the Focus RS, though, the touchscreen looks like it sits at the end of a tunnel making it seem smaller than its 8.0-inches would suggest. Climate control functions sit below this and are easy to use and effective, although on all but the lowest setting the fan is noisy and drowns out conversation from the back of the vehicle. First-world issues.
In all, the dash is well designed and easy to use, if it’s not quite as exciting to look at or premium to the touch as, say, a VW Golf.
The seats are Recaros but the garden-variety adjustable ones… indeed, the ones in the Focus ST are the same ones in the STI Spec.R. They offer good side bolstering without being restrictive and there’s good support in the sides of the seat base, with the base long enough to provide good underthigh support for those with longer legs. Getting out can be a pain, literally, as the side bolstering can catch on your, ahem, bits… There are cupholders and enough storage bins to keep those who travel heavy happy.
The back seats are comfortable with enough leg, knee, foot, head, and shoulder room that even six-footers like me can sit comfortably in the back. There’s really only room for two adults in the back, although you can get three kids who’ve outgrown booster seats; the middle seat really is just a perch.
The boot is bigger than the one on the RS because the ST doesn’t have to accommodate an all-wheel drive system or tricky diffs. The boot’s a decent size and additional room can be liberated by folding forward the 60:40 split-fold rear seats.
What’s it like on the road?
This is where the rather plain interior falls away into irrelevance, although the grippy seats are a constant reminder that the Focus ST is more than just a sticker pack. The engine isn’t particularly noisy, and I mean noisy in a good way. And what you can hear when its hard-charging is largely being piped into the cabin.
There’s no pop and crackle on overrun when you’re taking it for a decent run, a stark reminder that this thing is intended as a fast daily driver rather than a hooligan. And I think that’s a good thing. It means you can slip around town and do the shopping without worrying about people constantly straining their necks to see if you’re about to take off on a Special Stage… something they do when you’re in the grumbly and showy-looking RS.
Let’s go back to what’s under the bonnet, though. The ST runs a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder making 184kW at 5500rpm and 360Nm of torque from 2000-4500rpm (with overboost). This is mated to a six-speed manual transmission only and it sucks down around 7.3L/100km (combined claimed)… In my week, I managed a respectable 7.5L/100km but if you lived in town you could expect to see that go higher.
The Focus ST weighs 1464kg so it’s not featherweight, but you wouldn’t know it when you’re rolling along. Even though, the ST at anywhere from 80km/h-100km/h wil lope along in sixth gear pulling just under 2000rpm all that’s needed to get going is a flex of the toe. Even in sixth gear at 80km/h you can feel the grunt swelling and a gear change back to fifth or even fourth is all that’s needed to go from steady accumulation of speed to reeling in the horizon at light speed.
Out on the Practical Motoring road loop the Focus ST felt strong thanks to its steady and healthy stream of torque from very low down in the rev range. Meaning that this is a car that you don’t have to constantly fiddle with the shifter to keep it charging hard from corner to corner and, often times you can arrive at a corner in too high a gear and just grunt your way out the other side. The transmission is excellent and well mated to the meaty clutch.
And then there’s the chassis. This thing lacks all the trickery of its bigger brother, the Focus RS, and while it’s taking corners at a lower speed and lacks the finger nails dug into the bitumen mid-corner sensation, the Focus ST is still incredibly impressive. On a dry road only an idiot could out drive the grip and force it into understeer; even when one wheel lightens up when you’ve really hurled the thing into a corner and then stood on the throttle you can feel the front end moving torque around to counter the spinning inside wheel. None of that forces the thing off-line or slows down your progress through the corner.
I had more fun driving the Focus ST than the RS and I think that’s because it gives you more earlier; meaning, to get the benefit of the RS you’ve got to be going 20km/h quicker than in the ST. Indeed, the ST offers the chance to have a lot of fun and stick to the speed limit.
And the ride is a little softer too than the Focus RS, as you’d imagine. Sure, it’s firm as you’d expect from a hot hatch but even around town you’d never consider it ‘hard’ and as the speed builds and the road surfaces, the ST deals with them all nicely. There’s minimal body roll through corners and out of nowhere bumps are smothered without upsetting the stance or steering.
The steering is meaty and designed to be slower in the straight-ahead so that there’s less darting when you’re loping along the highway, but it speeds up once you start to move the wheel. There’s perhaps not as much feels as you might expect, but there’s enough that you won’t be disappointed. And despite little filtering the 184kW and 360Nm at the front end, the Focus ST does a sterling job of resisting torque steer.
In all, this is an accurate and fast hatchback that you could easily use everyday; and when you do let it off the leash it’ll bring a smile to your face.
What about safety features?
The Focus ST runs the same five-star ANCAP rating as the rest of the Focus range and offers things like six airbags, traction and stability controls, reversing camera and park sensors are standard as is a tyre pressure monitor and dusk-sensing headlights, but you only get a space saver spare. It can be optioned with active city stop (autonomous emergency braking) and blind spot monitoring as part of the Technology Pack.
So, what do we think?
Okay, the Focus ST might miss out on standard safety items like AEB which is fast becoming as necessary as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, but the thing is getting on a bit. Indeed, there’s a new Focus just around the corner – you’ve probably seen the pictures of it leaked onto the Internet, but I digress. There are newer hot hatches on the market, but few offer the same ability the Focus does and that is that it doesn’t shout that it’s a performance car and is happy grunting around town and on the school run but, when the time is right this thing’s as exciting as anything else in this price range and its ride and handling on the road see it at the head of the hot-front-driver pack.