Ford Focus ST-Line 2019 Review
Isaac Bober’s Ford Focus ST-Line 2019 Review with Price, Specs, Performance, Ride and Handling, Ownership, Safety, Verdict and Score.
In a nutshell: The sportier Focus is a real hoot to drive, looks good, gets some clever active safety and a roomy back seat.
Ford Focus ST-Line 2019 Specifications
Price from $28,990+ORC ($32,590 as tested) Warranty five-years, unlimited kilometres Service Intervals 12 months/15,000km Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power 134kW at 6000rpm Torque 240Nm at 1750-5000rpm Transmission eight-speed automatic Dimensions 4378mm long, 1979mm wide (inc. mirrors), 1454mm high, 2700mm wheelbase Turning Circle 10.6m Boot Space 375L Weight 1347kg GVM 1905kg Spare space saver Fuel Tank 52L Thirst 6.4L/100km claimed combined
Practical Motoring Says: The regular Ford Focus stands out as one of the best vehicles in its segment and if you were just going on the way it rides and handles then it would be hands-down the segment’s best. The ST-Line is so good to drive, it looks good, gets some clever active safety technology and is roomy enough for a family of four. Even with the cost-optional extras you’d want it manages to level-peg or undercut its key variant rivals. Sure, the interior is very black and might be a little plain for some, but it’s a practical space and there are luxury touches only one other in the segment offers.
Ford’s line-up in this country has always baffled me. And by that, I mean that it’s not one of the best-selling brands in the country. Sure, it’s doing better than its General Motors rival thanks to Mustang and Ranger, but with the likes of Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo, it’s always had Euro-designed and often built vehicles that people passed by on their way to other vehicles.
And that brings me to the Focus. The last-generation (third-gen) Focus was good to drive but not great. Indeed, if you think you know what to expect from this new Focus because of what’s gone before it, then think again.
If you’ve been following the Focus you’ll know there are plenty of models available in other markets, but locally we’ve got the Trend, ST-Line, ST-Line Wagon, Titanium and the Active which won’t get here until the middle of this year. And the high-performance ST variant will be here next year. We miss out on a few things that the Focus in Europe gets, like the option of adaptive dampers and our ST-Line hatch doesn’t get a multi-link rear end, only the wagon, Active and ST when it arrives.
What’s the price and what do you get? This is interesting. When the Focus first arrived here towards the end of last year plenty was written about it being fantastic but that the pricing was a little off compared to competitors. Well, let’s take a bit of a look at that before we get into the features…the ST-Line we’re testing lists from $28,990+ORC and our car was fitted with an $1800 design pack and the $1250 driver assistance pack, and prestige paint at $550. So, all up you’re looking at $32,590+ORC.
With that $32,590+ORC as our starting point rather than the ‘attention grabbing’ price of $28,990+ORC, we can see Holden Astra RS-V is cheaper at $30,740+ORC but not as well equipped or as sporting to drive, it costs a couple of hundred dollars more than the Honda Civic RS hatch ($32,290+ORC), is cheaper than the Hyundai i30 N-Line Premium ($34,990+ORC), undercuts the Megane GT ($38,990+ORC), costs a little more than the Toyota Corolla ZR ($30,370+ORC) and sits between the Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Comfort ($29,750+ORC) and the Golf 110TSI Highline ($35,990+ORC).
So, if you ignore the cost-optional extras the ST-Line hatch is quite a bit cheaper than all the vehicles that would be considered its natural competitors, and price competitive with them when you add in the extras. Let’s move onto what you do get for your cash.
Across the range there’s a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, you get rain-sensing wipers, and dusk-sensing headlights, an active grille, auto stop-start, auto up and down on all windows, selectable drive modes (which tweak the throttle and transmission), cruise control, dual-zone climate control, 8.0-inch infotainment screen, native sat-nav, autonomous emergency braking, reversing camera, intelligent speed assist, and more. And then you get the ST-Line body kit and unique grille, 17-inch alloys (the Design pack changes these to 18-inch alloys), sport suspension with a 10mm lower ride height, folding, heated side mirrors, wireless phone charging pad, and more.
What’s the cabin like? By getting rid of the traditional gear shifter and replacing it with a rotary-style shifter and adding an electric handbrake the cabin feels much roomier. There’s a lot of soft-touch plastics used on the dashboard and the stuff that is hard is well positioned where you won’t touch it much and it’s fine grained so, when you do, it feels nice.
The fit and finish is good and there’s plenty of storage and the felt-lined door bins are a touch of class that only really Volkswagen thinks to add at this price point. The ST-Line tweaks extend to sportier seats, a chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel and contrast stitching.
The 8.0-inch infotainment screen runs Ford’s SYNC3 system and in the Focus it’s a graphical step-up on other models running the system. The guts are the same but what you look at on the screen is nicer looking and the mapping is now much easier to see at a glance. And the wireless phone charging works well. There are shortcut buttons for menu deep diving but a home button would be a good thing rather than the virtual home button on the screen.
Some have criticised the climate controls in the Focus and said they look a little dated but I don’t agree at all. For me, they’re a benchmark; you can clearly see where the air can be directed, the buttons are big enough to use easily. No-one should ever mistake practical for being boring and outdated.
What are the front seats like? The ST-Line Focus brings grippier front seats with contrast stitching. There’s good adjustment on them (manual only on both driver and passenger seat) and there’s enough length in the seatbase that those with long legs will feel comfortable on longer drivers. The steering wheel offers reach and height adjustment and the driving position is excellent.
What are the back seats like? The back seats are nice and comfortable and there’s plenty of room for two adults in the back. With the front seats set to suit me, I had good foot and legroom with more than enough headroom. The new Focus has a longer wheelbase than the old model and this translates to more rear seat legroom.
There are no rear air vents in the Focus and as hard as I looked under the front seats I couldn’t see any ventilation pipes. Fortunately, the air vents in the front are well positioned and being a small car the dual-zone climate control does a good job of heating or cooling the entire car quickly.
What’s the boot space like? There’s 375 litres of storage space (when loaded to the window line) in the back of the Focus which is a decent size. The tailgate swings up so that I had no problem standing under it (I’m six-feet tall) and the opening is nice and wide. The boot floor lifts to reveal a space saver spare.
What’s the performance like? Unlike, say, the Hyundai i30 N-Line (another warmed up hatch), the Focus ST-Line makes do with the same engine and same output as the rest of the range. And that means, the 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine puts out 134kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm of torque from 1750-5000rpm. If the engine seems a tad small, then the numbers more than alleviate any concerns.
And then you press the starter button. The Focus ST-Line start-up with a characterful burble and then settles quietly to the point where you barely notice it. Even at a steady speed on the highway, or accelerating hard out of a corner the sound is nothing but pleasant. No pops or crackles on overrun but that doesn’t take anything away from this engine.
That’s because it’s just so smooth. From just off idle right through to peak power being delivered at 6000rpm the engine is smooth and willing. But, such is the torque on offer across such a broad spread that you’ll hardly ever find yourself revving it right out. And it’s this torque that gives the Focus ST-Line such a sense of purpose when you’re driving it. It doesn’t feel rocket-ship quick but it feels strong in every situation with solid horizon-reeling acceleration to satisfy all drivers.
And the eight-speed automatic does a great job of keeping the engine where it needs to be. The shifts at speed are quick and smooth. One thing I did notice was the time the transmission takes to engage when moving from Park to Drive, or Park to Reverse. Obviously, you make the shift with your foot on the brake and then as you move from one pedal to the other there’s a moment of it feeling like the vehicle is in Neutral and it’ll roll before grabbing and going. This was something I didn’t notice with Focus Trend when I drove it, so, whether it was just an issue with this vehicle…
What’s the ride and handling like? If the little three-cylinder engine is impressive then it’s the chassis that truly impresses. While this car rides on what is a basic torsion beam set-up as opposed to the fully independent set-up on ST-Line Wagon, Active and ST, it’s entirely plausible to make a case for the Focus being the best-handling car in its class. And this ST-Line which is a little tighter (spring and damper rates) and with a 10mm reduction in ride height, it’s ratcheted the way this thing rides and handles up to 11.
Sure, the ride is firm but there’s a suppleness to the way it handles bumps and its body control through corners is, for the money and then some, astonishing. While PM has driven the new i30 N-Line, I personally haven’t, but based on the i30 SR, this Focus ST-Line is another step ahead. It feels more mature, more premium and just a little bit better controlled everywhere.
And then there’s the steering which is well weighted and direct in its action with a consistent weight. And there’s enough feel through the wheel that you can feel the front-end biting into the road with just the slightest hint of torque steer tugging at the wheel when you’ve got lock on and have stomped on the accelerator out of a corner. But it doesn’t upset a single thing…the car doesn’t fidget with the tiny tug and in the briefest of moments it’s gone, the steering unwound and the engine pumping.
Don’t misunderstand me, the ST-Line doesn’t ever feel like its straining at the leash, and its engine, chassis, steering and suspension are always relaxed and comfortable. Just that there’s an underlying tone of agility and muscle waiting to be unleashed when you’re ready.
Does it have a spare? Yes, a speed and distance limited space saver.
Can you tow with it? Yes, up to 1200kg braked but it’s a small car, so, if you really need a car that can tow, maybe you’d be better off with something bigger.
What about ownership costs? The Focus is covered by Ford’s five-year unlimited kilometre warranty with servicing for those first five years capped at $299 per service. Those owners who take up Ford’s Service Price Promise will also be able to access a loan car and tyre-price promise. Servicing is 12 months or 15,000km.
What safety features does it get? Standard across the range is autonomous emergency braking, with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keeping assist with lane departure warning, rear parking sensors with a 180-degree wide-angle reversing camera, hill hold assist, adjustable speed limiter, post-impact braking to stop you from ricocheting into another vehicle, emergency assistance, six airbags for the front and back, and a five-star ANCAP rating. One feature we’re big fans of is the Intelligent Speed Assist which works in with the speed sign recognition and, once set, will do its best to keep you from exceeding the posted speed limit.