DEVELOPMENT of a new hot Ford is big news in Britain. We love them, and when it comes to the ballistic RS models the UK is far and away the companys biggest European market.
But before you get all the way up to that level of madness there are Fords ST models, which aim to offer more of a balance between performance and everyday usability. The new Focus ST is a completely new development that, since the halt in production of the old model a couple of years ago, aims to win back ground it has since lost.
It really is all-new, sitting on a new chassis and using a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine in place of the characterful old five-pot in the 2005-2010 model. Times have changed since 2005 and the car has been approached in a very different way. A sound symposer between cylinders three and four captures an irregular but entirely real beat and amplifies it as a substitute for the old five-pot warble.
Its a wonderful looking thing whether its in five-door hatchback or estate guise. Aside from the looks the only difference is that the estates rear suspension features angled shock absorbers to increase boot space. It does give the load-lugger a slightly different feel, but more of that later.
This is Fords global car strategy in action so the same car will be sold in 40 different countries, albeit with minor spec changes between certain regions. Its yours in striking red, metallic blue and special Tangerine Scream orangey-yellow paints, with white, black and silver also available for those searching for the more subtle Q-car look.
Buyers can add an ST Pack that brings a dark grey wheel finish and red brake callipers, which does look fantastic and its reasonably priced. In fact pretty much all the extras are priced to entice, which could prove a wise business move by Ford.
Speaking of pricing, Ford is keen to point out that the ST has the Golf GTi in its sights, not the extreme Vauxhall Astra VXR or Renaultsport Megane 265. Its an altogether saner car and wants to win back its share of hot hatch heartland.
Three grades are available, mirroring the original Focus ST range from 2005. ST, ST-2 and ST-3 all share a healthy common core of kit including sublime Recaro seats that offer just about the perfect balance between comfort and support. After stints of around 80 miles of tricky back roads at a time the ST feels as comfortable as it did when you climbed in.
Its on those twisty roads that you can explore the chassis and handling characteristics, and while its not as adjustable on the throttle as, say, a Renaultsport Megane, its remarkably composed and balanced. It biases a little towards understeer of course, but its incredibly forgiving even if youre driving it with fists of ham.
The ST estate feels just a bit stiffer at the back over bumps when the boot is empty (bar a 10kg suitcase). Its deliberately set up that way to account for an average boot weight, so to get the perfect suspension balance try putting about 30kg in the boot.
That said, along similarly testing twisties the estate feels almost identical to the hatchback, and generally very un-estateish. Despite a 50kg deficit against the hatch the estate feels just as nimble and capable.
Building and maintaining a driving rhythm in the ST is easy, and its a hugely confidence-inspiring car. The brakes are strong and consistent, the seats grip like limpets and the slightly padded leather steering wheel feels fantastic beneath your grip. The engine delivers its shove in a very linear way, so there are no power jumps to catch you out.
But the good news doesnt stop there. One or two hot hatches, like that Megane for instance, ask you to compromise in other ways in order to gain ultimate driving ability. But the ST will happily potter around town and impress you with its compliant ride, smooth and torquey engine and good-looking, well screwed together interior.
The car is set up to be the best all-rounder it can be, and the thing that ends up striking you after spending time with the ST is that it has no major deficiencies. Not in the chassis, not in the build quality, not in the way it sounds and not in the way it looks. Not even in how its priced or its likely running costs, which is remarkable in its own right. Its a fabulous everyday hot hatch.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Ford Focus ST-2, £23,495 on the road.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol producing 247bhp and 265lb.ft.
Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.
Performance: Top speed 154mph, 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds.
Fuel economy: 39.2mpg.
CO2 rating: 169g/km.