Is this Ford’s answer to the Golf GTI
Ford's Focus ST is now more accessible than ever before.
The addition of a seven-speed automatic transmission to the previously manual-only hot hatch means the ST has broadened its appeal as it chases buyers of Volkswagen's Golf GTI.
Smartly, the auto costs the same as the manual - at about $49,000 drive-away. Which puts it in the same league as the GTI. Metallic paint ($650) and a panoramic sunroof ($2500) are the only two optional extras.
While the GTI is a benchmark all-rounder that does most things well, the front-wheel drive ST does some things better. This starts with the Blue Oval's tried and tested 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which produces impressive 206kW and 420Nm figures.
That's a sizeable jump of 22kW and 60Nm compared to the previous version and more than nearly every front-wheel drive hot hatch on the market.
The ST is plenty fast, undertaking the 0-100km/h dash in less than six seconds. Toned down styling means the ST doesn't stick out in traffic, a rear spoiler and an ST badging are the most noticeable markers. Grey 19-inch alloys and twin exhausts go mostly unnoticed.
Sporty touches inside extend to metal pedals and a chunky flat-bottomed sports steering wheel. Driver and front seat passengers are treated to snug leather-trimmed and heated Recaro sports seats, which provide ample support during vigorous driving.
But the vehicle's controls are a bit of a mess. The rotary gear selector is fiddly and slow to operate when trying to reverse park or complete a three-point turn.
An advanced degree in hieroglyphics is necessary to work out the lighting options and the steering wheel controls are busy.
But the ST driving mode button on the steering wheel is a nice touch, making it easy to change modes on the fly without having to dive into the infotainment screen.
The eight-inch central display comes with Ford's SYNC3 infotainment tech and is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Satnav is also standard as is digital radio. And a wireless charging pad is always a welcome addition.
A 10-speaker Bang and Olufsen stereo with a subwoofer is dynamite.
There is decent room in the back seat and the boot can swallow the weekly shop or a few bags for a weekend getaway with ease.
Safety kit includes auto emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
On the road the ST shines. An electronic limited-slip differential helps reduce wheelspin when getting the ST's ample power and torque to the ground. The steering wheel twists in your hands under power, which puts a smile on your dial as you push your foot to the floor.
And as previously mentioned, the ST is mightily fast. It hammers up hills with ease and the seven-speed auto is accomplished at finding the right ratio.
The ST rips through corners with direct steering and extensive grip thanks to Michelin tyres. Composed road manners give the driver confidence on uneven, tight and twisting country roads. The brakes offer good response but track-day enthusiasts will need to budget for an upgrade as they get hot under duress.
Fuel use is acceptable at 8.8L/100km, but is 0.7L/100km more than the manual, and needs premium unleaded. There are four driving modes including: Slippery, Normal, Sport and Track. When in Normal the suspension softens markedly to make the ST liveable in everyday life.
Ford's radar cruise control combined with speed sign recognition works a treat, automatically altering your speed to suit the changing conditions.
Switch to Sport and the ST comes alive. Steering sharpens, suspension hardens and exhaust sounds growl through the speakers.
But one concern for enthusiasts may be the lack of a custom mode, Drivers are unable to mix and match settings to their liking, and must rely on what Ford engineers prefer.
For the average buyer, the automatic ST is a stellar hot hatch.
Fast, fun and practical, the auto ST is an appealing proposition for someone after more performance than a GTI, but fiddly controls and fixed driving modes take the edge off.
FORD FOCUS ST VITALS
Price: About $49,000 drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 5 yrs, u'ltd km / $1506 over 5 yrs at 15,000 or 12 month intervals
Engine: 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, 206kW/420Nm
Safety: Auto emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, lane departure warning.
Originally published as Tested: Ford's answer to the Golf GTI