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Ford Focus ST-2

Click to view picture gallery“I have to admit to a certain sense
  of unease here. The Focus ST I
  driving is painted in this year
s most
  lurid shade — ‘Tangerine Scream
  Given how fast this car is capable
of going, in my mind Im calling it
Lose Your Licence Lemon’

YES, IF YOU THOUGHT THE OLD FOCUS ST's Electric Orange paint option was bright, you'll need a nuclear protection suit to cope with Tangerine Scream.

The good news is that, if you're not in the mood for such an extrovert Essex colour, the ST looks surprisingly understated in other colours (of which the choice is blue, red, silver, white or black).

That's not to say it looks anonymous. The ST has a unique grille, sculpted side skirts, diffuser-clad rear bumper and, most stridently of all, a big roof spoiler. Opting for Ford's Style Pack gets you red-painted brake callipers and dark-hued alloys.

For the first time ever, there won't be a three-door ST. Here's another first: the hot Focus will also be offered in five-door estate form. But it's the five-door hatch that Ford has given me to drive today.

There’s 247bhp and
265lb ft of torque to play
with and power delivery
is eminently usable
for everyday driving —
peak torque arrives
at only 1,800rpm,
which means you don’t
need to do too much
The other big news for the ST is that it drops a cylinder. The previous ST had a 221bhp version of the charismatic Ford-Volvo 2.5-litre five-pot lump. In 2012, Ford is switching to a 2.0-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost unit.

If you're concerned about this, don't be. Yes, the main reason for the switch is improved fuel economy, which was one of the bugbears of the old model; the new ST delivers a claimed 39.2mpg and emits 169g/km of CO2 — far better figures than before.

The new, smaller capacity engine actually has more power and torque than the old one, at 247bhp and 265lb ft. Moreover, its power delivery is eminently usable for everyday driving. Peak torque arrives at only 1,800rpm, which means you don't need to do too much cog-shifting. Indeed, there's not much point revving it to its redline because power tails off at the top end.

Perhaps you're also worried that the four-cylinder unit might sound lame. Actually, it has a surprisingly vocal soundtrack. Ford wanted to keep the off-beat character of its old five-cylinder, and has fitted what it calls a 'sound symposer' to relay the engine's intake noise directly into the cabin.

No, it doesn't quite have the natural thrum of the 'five', but it's so much better than, say, the unaristocratic four-cylinder sound of Vauxhall's Astra VXR. It's loud, too. The six-speed gearbox with its unique ratios is also to be praised: it's fast and precise to use.

Given that, historically, half of all ST customers come from the UK, the British viewpoint has been listened to a lot during development, which bodes well for handling. Putting 247bhp down through the front wheels is a challenge, but one that Ford has successfully dealt with in the past — the old RS500 managed to channel fully 346bhp through the front end.

So has Ford eliminated torque steer from the new ST? No. Unlike the old-shape car, which Ford disingenuously claimed didn't torque-steer, the new one has been deliberately engineered to retain torque steer.

“The ST is very, very
good through bends,
almost uncannily so.
Indeed, it feels a bit like
a four-wheel drive
Mitsubishi Evo — almost
whatever you do, the
s idiot-proof systems
will drag you though
The reason? To make sure you can feel you're driving a quick car. I'm very much in favour of this. Vauxhall has completely engineered out torque steer in the Astra VXR, and the result is that it lacks any sense of occasion. With the ST, Ford has got things pretty much spot on.

Look at the spec sheet and you may be dismayed that the steering is now fully electric, not hydraulic.

Yes, it may not quite have the mechanical feel of yore, but the sophistication of the electric set-up gives it a pleasing solidity and directness.

It's also very quick, with just 1.8 turns lock-to-lock, although the turning circle is very wide at 12 metres. The torque steer effect is much less pronounced than on the old Focus RS, but it's still there, tugging gently, for instance, as you edge out of lane throttle-on to overtake.

Ford has abandoned the 'RevoKnuckle' of the old RS (in which part of the front suspension turned with the steering); and there's no limited-slip differential. Instead, these mechanical systems are discarded to save weight and electronics take over.

Ford has thrown more acronyms at the ST to get you around corners than any other car I've experienced: TSC (Torque Steer Compensation), TVC (Torque Vectoring Control), CUSC (Cornering UnderSteer Control) and, of course, regular ESP (Electronic Stability Programme). It's possible to switch the ESP off in two stages: Sport; and completely off, which will appeal to track day drivers.

The net result of all these systems is that there's absolutely no need to be circumspect when it comes to corners. There's less body movement than before and you have utter confidence to push very hard through sweeping bends.

The ST is very, very good through bends, almost uncannily so. Indeed, it feels a bit like a four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Evo — almost whatever you do, the ST's idiot-proof systems will drag you though.

“In ST-2 spec, the seat
infills match the exterior
paintwork, which in
Tangerine Scream
is a real challenge for
the retinas...”
That is also the only criticism I have of an extraordinarily accomplished drive: the complexity of the systems results in a lack of seat-of-the-pants response, which occasionally makes the cornering experience feel a touch artificial.

The standard Recaro seats grip you tightly in turns, and transmit each bump you pass over — the suspension is set hard, although never uncomfortably so.

And in ST-2 spec, the seat infills match the exterior paintwork, which in Tangerine Scream is a real challenge for the retinas. ST-2 is the middle trim grade, starting at 23,495, and is expected to take most UK sales.

The entry-level ST-1 (with cloth seats, manual AirCon and basic hi-fi) costs from just 21,995, meaning Ford has stolen a real march on hot hatch rivals. The top-spec ST-3 gets full leather, heated seats and bi-Xenon lights, and costs 25,495. Opting for the estate body style adds 1,100 to the price of all versions.

So in conclusion, what do I think of the new Focus ST? Fans of the Blue Oval need not be concerned: it's a proper hot hatch, with great performance, a fine noise and the right kit. With just a slight hint of reservation, it also feels like the real thing around corners; which, after all, is precisely what a hot hatch should be about. — Chris Rees

Ford Focus ST-2 | 23,495
Maximum speed: 154mph | 0-62mph: 6.5 seconds | Overall MPG: 39.2mpg
Power: 247bhp | Torque: 265lb ft | CO2 169g/km