GLEEFULLY UNHINGED APPROACH MAKES IT THE ENTHUSIAST’S CHOICE
Some men, Harry Palmer said to Patrick Bateman in that film about a man who liked to dress as a flying rat, just want to watch the world burn.
And the same applies to some cars. Like the Ford Focus ST.
If you had to anthropomorphise the Ford Focus ST, it would be a twitchy-looking, skinny dude who can never hold eye-contact and will probably one day be arrested for being on the top of the harbour bridge in a dress with a flare gun and a goat wearing a cape.
Power is still insane.
That is to say; the Ford Focus ST is more than a little bit mental.
And while some companies may have taken advantage of a mid-life facelift to send the Focus off for a bit of calming electro-shock therapy and, just maybe, an automatic transmission, Ford has resisted this and instead handed it a few more flares and a bucket for the goat to chew on.
That’s right; the recent facelift of the Focus ST has done nothing to change its feral, deranged nature. It is still pumping a frankly silly 184kW and 360Nm (on overboost) through the front wheels. It is still only available with a six-speed manual transmission. It still has a turning circle that would embarrass an aircraft carrier. And it is still utterly brilliant fun to drive.
What Ford has done is give the ST a refreshed look inside and out, tweaked the handling and added a bunch of new tech. Larger, lower intakes, a slimmer trapezoidal grille and more aggressively angular headlights now dominate the front of the ST, giving it a lower, wider look than its predecessor.
Interior changes include the dash, infotainment system, touch screen and voice commands.
Inside, the ST debuts the new Focus family dashboard, gaining with it Ford’s brilliant new Sync2 infotainment system that features an 8-inch touch screen, voice commands and satellite navigation. The new dash is a less angular affair, with a calmer approach to life that is utterly belied by the insanity of the power delivery. Fewer buttons, more touchscreen is the order of the day, and while it certainly is more sensibly laid out and modern, it does lack the lairy Bolshevism of both the old dash and the current car’s exterior.
Still, the brilliantly excessive triple gauge pod still dominates and the fantastically grippy and comfortable Recaro sports seats are also present and correct, although the latter are still set too annoyingly high for anyone not technically a midget. Underneath all this the greasy bits have also had a tweak, with retuned front dampers, new front springs and stiffer bushes all round. The electric power steering has been recalibrated and the stability control system has also been reprogrammed to lift stability.
While our cousins across the Ditch get the ST’s new “Technology pack” as a $2000 option, our cars come with it as standard in the price of $52,840 adding, as it does, autonomous braking (now up to speeds of 50km/h), blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, a driver impairment monitor and auto high-beam headlights to the ST’s arsenal of tech goodies.
What hasn’t changed, however, is the good stuff lurking under the bonnet. The 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine still packs a prodigious 184kW of power and 345Nm of torque — 360Nm with overboost — and punching it all through the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission.
While a little software-tweaked bump in power might have been a nice touch, it is still pretty much a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” with the ST’s powertrain.
While that is very true in a mechanical sense, in a deeply philosophical and psychological sense the Focus ST is very, very broken indeed, and it is still as angry, feral and utterly mental on the road as it has ever been.
Floor the throttle and it lurches violently off the line, stability control using all the computing power of its big electronic brain to desperately try to deliver all that power in a reasonable and considered fashion. It utterly fails, of course, and the ST scrabbles for grip, the power fighting the electronics and common sense with a ferocity that only the truly deranged possess.
Something similar happens when you give it a nudge at speed — coming out of a corner or overtaking. The clever electronics try to rein in the torque steer that tries to wrestle the steering wheel from your grip but largely fails at it. The ST angrily slews its nose wide for a second or two before the tyres regain control of the insanity being channelled through them and the considerable forward progress continues.
Given that the ST has the turning circle of the Death Star, it comes as no surprise that turn-in is still wonderfully sharp, eager and precise.
Chucking the ST around a winding back road is still a brilliantly tactile mix of sharp responses, prodigious grip and excessive power all overlapping and battling wildly with each other. And it is incredibly fun.
While the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTi and Subaru WRX are as ferociously fast, equally excellent handlers and come with silly little luxuries like automatic transmissions, the Focus ST’s gleefully unhinged approach to things still makes it the obvious enthusiast’s choice.
Some men may just want to watch the world burn, but some cars just want to set it on fire with only their front wheels. And we are eternally thankful for that.