What is it?
The Focus ST has always struggled to stand out in a line-up that includes arguably the greatest hot hatch of the past two decades: the all-conquering Fiesta ST.
So, in the hope of garnering a bit more interest in its ‘other’ hot model, the recently facelifted Focus is now on offer as a 182bhp 2.0 diesel as well as the usual 247bhp turbocharged petrol of the same capacity. Not before time, either, because until now the most powerful oil-burning Focus packed just 161bhp, leaving Ford with no real answer to the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTD and Seat’s Leon 184 FR. And given the Focus’s popularity with the CO2-conscious fleet market, that was a pretty big deal.
What’s it like?
Ford has resisted the temptation to make the diesel softer and less focused than the petrol ST – the route VW went down with its Golf GTD. That may not be entirely welcome news to those who spend their lives cruising up and down motorways, but if you think hot hatches are mainly about having fun, the Focus has plenty going for it.
You only need a couple of corners to realise this is a properly well-sorted hatch. It keeps its body in check far better than its two big VW Group rivals through fast direction changes, with lightning-quick steering that’s impossible to fault for accuracy – even if it’s not blessed with quite as much genuine feedback as we’d like.
As with the petrol version, you do have to be bit careful when feeding the power back in on the exit of corners – especially when it’s teeming with rain as it was at points along our Spanish test route. But despite having 11 per cent more torque than the petrol ST, there’s actually less torque steer to deal with. This is partly, Ford says, down to software tweaks in the ESP, but also because the diesel has a different final drive ratio, so there’s actually less torque arriving at the wheels.
The engine impresses in other respects, too. It’s strong from 1500rpm but done by 4000rpm, so although there’s no point revving it out you can make pretty rapid progress by short-shifting. If you’re looking for outright pace, of course, the identically priced petrol-powered version is still the way to go.
As with the petrol, the diesel’s engine noise is overdubbed by a sound symposer. We’ve questioned how authentic the noise sounds in the past, but when it’s drowning out diesel clatter it’s surprisingly welcome. It’s just a shame the boomy soundtrack doesn’t subside a bit more at a fast motorway cruise.
There’s also another downside that we’ve already alluded to, because while some rivals combine a relatively easygoing nature with a reasonable amount of fun, the Focus is all about the latter. That means it’s firm – impeccably well damped, as you’d expect of anything wearing the Blue Oval, but decidedly firm nonetheless. This is the biggest issue at speed, as the high-frequency vibrations you feel through your backside do become quite annoying.
Should I buy one?
The good news is that this is no watered-down warm hatch masquerading under the famous ST badge. It may not be as quick as its petrol-powered sibling, but dynamically it’s every bit as good. In fact, with a slightly less frenzied power delivery, it actually feels like a slightly more balanced and rounded driver’s car.
For some – particularly those racking up big motorway miles – the firm ride and refinement issues may be enough to push them in the direction of the softer Golf GTD. But at least Ford’s different tack means there’s a genuine reason to choose the Focus, whereas there otherwise might not be.
Focus Focus 2.0 TDCi 185 ST
Price £22,195; Engine 4 cyls, 1997cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 182bhp at 3500rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight na; Top speed 135mph; 0-62mph 8.1sec; Economy 67.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 110g/km, 18 per cent
What is it?