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Ford Focus ST-3

Click to view picture gallery“The all-new 154mph Focus ST
  made its UK public debut in June at
  the very posh Goodwood Festival
  of Speed Moving Motor Show —
  and it’s now in a Ford showroom
  near you
...”

IF YOU WANT TO SEE HOW IT PERFORMS driven in anger then make your way along to your local cinema because the ST is the real star in the new film version of the 1970's TV series The Sweeney.

In this remake for the big screen (on release from the 3rd of September) you'll find that cops Regan and Carter — now played by Ray Winstone and Ben Drew — have not only changed their own gear but they've traded in their 'jam-jar'. Gone is the 113mph Granada GT; in has come a 'lean 'n' green' 154mph Ford Focus ST five-door hatchback. Sounds like a result for Ford, guv!

Available with two body styles — five-door hatchbacks and estates — ST prices start at £21,995 and rise to £26,595. Three levels of specification are available: ST-1, ST-2 and ST-3.

The Focus ST is Ford's first 'global' performance car and it will be sold in 40 countries. Amazingly, despite the economic climate, the UK will be the single largest market for sales, taking half of the 9,000 annual production. Keen 'must have' UK buyers have already placed orders for 800 STs since sales opened in June.

“It feels safe.
It feels secure.
It feels predictable and
balanced, even under
extremely fast
cornering conditions
on a track.
And if it’s safe
and secure there,
the ST will
serve the buying
public well
...”
Ford expected the five-door hatchback to account for 90% of UK Focus ST sales. However, advance orders for the estate were higher than expected — currently nearly 20% of ST buyers are going the fast load-lugger route.

Initially it was forecast that the ST-2 level trim and specification would account for 60% of sales, followed by the ST-3 with a 30% take-up. As it's turned out so far, the top specced ST-3 is the best seller, and by a long way. So much for a recession!

Although I had a brief test drive of this new Focus ST in a left-hand drive model up the Goodwood hillclimb course in June, this week I managed to get my hands on the steering wheel of a UK-spec right-hand drive model in 'the smoke' — London to you. After that I blasted out West and down the M3 to a test track 'in the sticks' at Longcross Chertsey.

In a soundbite: the new Ford Focus ST is the most powerful ST ever. This generation uses a 2.0-litre, four-pot, turbocharged Ecoboost petrol engine, replacing the previous ST's 2.5-litre, five-cylinder unit. The 2.0-litre lump is 10% more powerful, with 247bhp and 250lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm, and emits 20% less CO2 (169g/km) while returning 20% better fuel economy. Officially it averages 39mpg — on test in and around London and out West and back, 30mpg was my ST hatchback's overall consumption.

All models have a six-speed manual 'box with drive to the front wheels through a new torque-steer compensation function with torque vectoring control, improved dynamic cornering control and electronic stability system.

Other chassis changes include a 10mm lowered sports suspension with ST-specific dampers, springs and shock absorbers. The rear suspension has uprated knuckles, and there's a new anti-roll bar designed to give more handling feedback to the driver leading to more nailed-down cornering control.

Grip, balance and agility are the prime should-haves for a fast and safe sports car — even a sports family hatch. Some do not have these elements or they are good in one area and poor in another, or one element is achieved at the expense of another; and, usually, ride comfort is compromised.

Where the ST scores is in having all these three core elements without any compromises. It feels safe; it feels secure; and it feels predictable and balanced, even under extremely fast cornering conditions on a track.

“The new sharp-reacting
steering rack needs
just 1.8 turns for
lock-to-lock change of
direction, and the new
anti-torque-steer
measures still retain
enough feedback to
remind the driver there
is 247bhp under the
bonnet
...”
And if it's safe and secure there, it will serve the buying public well. While not as potent as the last (and final) Focus RS, it is faster and better mannered than the previous ST. So it's a compromise, but not a compromise too far.

All models have 18-inch alloy wheels, Recaro sports seats, AirCon, keyless start, alarm, electric windows and door mirrors, and DAB radio. ST-2 trim adds partial leather upholstery, uprated AirCon and sound system, and auto headlights and wipers.

ST-3 comes with full leather upholstery, heated front seats, bi-Xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, and rear parking sensors. The new STs also have a considerably upgraded sports interior appearance over standard Focus versions, with unique dials and lower positioned seats.

Outside, the ST has the usual muscular sports style bumpers, bulging side skirts, racy signature trapezoidal grille and rear roof spoiler. And a centre exit tailpipe — said to be inspired by Darth Vader's Tie Fighter in the Star Wars films…

Away from flights-of-fancy, the exhaust system does have a sound symposer that gives an exhaust tone similar to that of the previous five-pot ST models. And while this new one looks good, it doesn't have the visual impact of the last generation Focus RS; it's more subtle and refined. And less hardcore.

The standard family Ford Focus car is already one of the sharpest handling cars in its segment — as good as the Golf, better than the Astra and more comfortable than both. The ST specification enhances still further its class-leading agility and although the ride is firm, it's not uncomfortable.

The new sharp-reacting steering rack needs just 1.8 turns for lock-to-lock change of direction, and the new anti-torque-steer measures still retain enough feedback to remind the driver there's 247bhp under the bonnet.

So, the best Ford Focus ST yet in terms of price, performance, fun and ability. And while it may not have the striking visual impact of a Focus RS, the new ST's acceleration, grip, cornering turn-in, balance, poise and engine response all impressed on both the road and the test track. Definitely a 'nice one, guv'. — David Miles

Ford Focus ST-3 5-dr Hatchback | £25,495
Maximum speed: 154mph | 0-62mph: 6.5 seconds | Overall test MPG: 30mpg
Power: 247bhp | Torque: 250lb ft | CO2 169g/km