Car Reviews

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

Paul Horrell’s 2019 Ford Focus ST Review with Specs, Performance, Ride and Handling, Interior, Safety, Verdict and Score.

In a nutshell: Practical and relaxed for daily chores and long cruises, but up for an absolute blast when the mood takes you. In other words, just what a hot-hatch should be.

2019 Ford Focus ST Specifications (Europe)

Price N/A Warranty 5 years/ unlimited km Engine 2.3L petrol turbo Power 206kW at 5500rpm Torque 420Nm at 3000-4000rpm Transmission 6-speed manual Drive front-wheel drive Body 4388mm (l); 1825mm (w exc mirrors); 1979mm (w inc mirrors); 1458mm (h) Turning circle 11.3m Towing weight 1600kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked) Kerb weight 1508kg (manual) Seats 5 Fuel tank 52 litres Spare No Thirst 7.9l/100km combined cycle

The Focus ST is coming to Australia in early 2020. Like the rest of the new Focus range, it’s taken a step ahead in sophistication and is now one of the more complex cars in its class. And it’s huge fun because of it.

On the outside, you’ll recognise it initially by special Performance Blue or Orange Fury paint colours, and 18-inch wheels – 19s are optional. The body kit hits a smart note, as it’s more striking than a Golf GTI’s, but stops short of the brazen show-off Civic Type R mods. Adaptive LED headlights are also part of the package.

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

The engine is a 2.3-litre turbo hulk – none of your downsizing here. It’s related to the Mustang unit, but of course turned transverse for this front-drive car. As well as solid power output, it’s also got an anti-lag system for the turbo, which allows some air past the blower when you lift off, to keep it spinning and ready for the next burst of throttle.

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

Between the front wheels is an electronically controlled diff that can send torque to the wheel that has the traction to make best use of it. It doesn’t only do this in reaction to wheelspin, but also proactively according to your inputs of steering, throttle and so on.

Some months after launch there will be an seven-speed auto version, as well as the six-speed manual tested here.

The suspension is lowered by 10mm and specially tuned for the car, of course, using as its basis the multi-link rear chassis of the up-spec European Focus models. The steering is quicker, but not absurdly so. Specially formulated Michelin Pilot 4S tyres and big brakes complete the chassis set-up. It also has an option of adaptive dampers, as part of a Performance Pack, bundled with a ‘track mode’ and launch control.

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

That track mode is just the ultimate fourth mode – the standard car gets three called slippery, normal and sport. Cycle through them and you’re getting progressively sharper throttle map and engine-sound boost (this comes by amplifying existing engine frequencies, not synthesising false ones), anti-lag on the sport and track modes, more aggressive shift pattern on the auto, more steering weight, looser ESP, tighter operation of the limited-slip diff and even the initial brake response, plus stiffer damping on the adaptive car. They don’t fundamentally alter the character of the ST, but they certainly do caffeinate it.

What’s the interior like?

The Recaro seats are terrific, and really set up the ST as a car for serious driving. They support in all the right places and look the bizzo, whether the cloth standard or leather optional versions.

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

A chunky steering wheel rim and gearknob give you solid handshakes. Pedal faces are metal, and there’s a hex pattern for the garnish plastic across the dash. Contrast stitching for the soft parts of the dash and doors and centre console adds to the atmosphere.

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

In the dial cluster, a few extra readouts are there for the having, such as boost and oil pressure. A flap-type head-up display keeps your eyes on the road, but the standard dials are clear enough that it’s not vital.

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

The climate controls and dash ergonomics are entirely sensible and easily used too. Fortunately the big seats don’t actually steak space in the rear, so the ST has all the room and visibility that makes the standard car a good family proposition.

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

What’s the infotainment like?

The ST has Ford’s Sync 3 screen system, which is comprehensive, clear and easy to master. And if you don’t like the way it works, it’ll do phone mirroring too, for Apple and Android. Plus it’ll act as a wifi hotspot. A wireless charge pad is provided as well as 12V and USB sockets. Normal enough stuff.

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

As standard, the ST comes with a sound system done with B&O. It’s not brilliant, but it’s better than the hatch norm by some margin. And the tyres engine and wind aren’t so noisy that it has to battle to overcome them.

What’s the performance like?

In bald numbers, it’ll bungee itself to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds. That’s not the very fastest hot-hatch time, but it puts the ST among the quick league. Traction is strong too, whether in a straight line or out of a bend.

Thanks to a full 2.3-litres of swept volume and a big turbo to energise it further, this is engine is hugely generous in torque. The mid-range shove really gets cracking beyond 3000rpm.

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

It’ll rev past 6000 happily, and a change-up light pings you at the red-line. But there’s actually little point, so you soon get into a rhythm of early up-shifts. That’s effective if not exactly exhilarating.

The anti-lag system, operational in sport and race modes, has the engine picking up again rapidly after a short de-throttle moment. But if you’re hitting the gas after a gentle period in third or fourth, or you’ve let the revs drop in a tight corner, it still takes too long to come back alive. So use your anticipation and shift down a gear or two. That’s no chore, as the shift is quick and has a precise throw.

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

In the louder engine-sound modes, the extra volume is confined to the cabin. It’s not about a bellicose and flatulent exhaust waking the neighbours. Overall the sound is smooth at moderate revs, and decently interesting as it gets busy, with some of the resonant baritone that echoes the old five-cylinder ST and RS. The enhancement in the sportier modes adds to its edge without seeming too artificial.

What’s it like on the road?

Although the steering ratio is quicker than in other models of Focus, it doesn’t come across as nervous in fast long-radius corners or on bumpy roads, not like the the previous-generation Focus RS did. When you want to turn it turns, but when you want stability that’s what you get.

Once in the thick of a bend, it’s all enthusiastic. The front wheels keep diving hard into the apex, and the rears rotate after them. If you lift off while really loaded up, you can expect the rear end to move outwards gently, though that’s controlled by the ESP in  most modes. In other words, drama comes only when you’ve asked for drama, and following strong signals. The ST isn’t out to surprise you.

2019 Ford Focus ST Review

Under power, the front differential will keep the nose tucked in towards the apex with no bother. In sport and track modes, you do get a sniff of torque steer from the locked diff, but it’s no bother.

In the warm dry roads where we tested, the grip was immense, but it felt like the sort of car that would also come alive on damp or dusty surfaces. There’s loads of feel for what the tyres are up to, and what they have left to give.

Surprising suppleness remains in the ride, even though the cornering is so precise and sharp. The ST isn’t about punishing you for your thrills, and it’d make a fine daily-use machine. Tyre noise is acceptably subdued too.

What safety features does it get?

The 2018 Focus scores five stars on NCAP, although the main adult protection rating of 85 percent is bettered by some other cars. Its child rating is higher, and it also does very well, 75 percent, on crash-avoidance safety assist tech.

Those measures include, as standard on the Euro-spec, blind spot information system for highways, evasive steering assist and forward collision warning, and driver drowsiness alert. Pre-collision assist with pedestrian and cyclist detection is a now-common but useful technology.

Coming out of a parking space you’ve got cross traffic alert with active braking, and a wide-view rear camera. To stave off tiredness on long trips there’s adaptive cruise control, speed sign recognition and lane centring. In the country you’ll be glad of the adaptive LED headlights with predictive curve lights and glare-free high beam. The optional head-up display keeps your eyes on the road, and directs you clearly through complex junctions.

As a package of measures on a mid-size car the Focus’s is really very comprehensive, so kudos to Ford for providing it on even the low-spec models. And also on this performance edition – sometimes manufacturers find an excuse to strip some of the safety and assistance kit out of the sports versions.

Editor's Rating

How do we rate the interior?
How do we rate the infotainment?
How do we rate the performance?
How do we rate the ride and handling
How do we rate the safety features?
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS: The Focus ST's powertrain isn't just a big-car engine in a small car, and its chassis isn't just about stiff springs and big tyres. Ford has gone right through the car and looked at all the aspects of the engineering that might affect driving fun. Result is a machine that strikes just the right balance of daily usability, but can turn itself into a quick-witted companion for the back roads or even a track. It doesn't quite have the sheer brutal speed of a Civic Type R, or the playfulness of a Hyundai i30 N. But as with the Golf GTI there's a sophistication that satisfies on a deep level.

Paul Horrell

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.