Is this the new Ford Focus ST before we're meant to see it?
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The roll-out for the all-new Ford Focus is rather typical of the modern day hatchback timeline.
The 'plain' models are the first to market, hoovered up by those buying on necessity or by fleet buyers. Luxury models generally come at the same time, too, since they're generally based on the same mechanicals underneath. It's only a wee bit down the line that the fizzy, fun, 'hot hatch' variants are revealed and released.
The upcoming Focus, which was set to land in New Zealand this month but instead will land in January 2019, was first revealed in April. While Europe have them in hand, Kiwis and Aussies have had to wait as titbits of information like pricing and range are revealed. And some nine months later, we're still yet to see the next-generation Focus ST or RS sport models. Until now ... potentially.
These images appear to show the next-gen Focus ST hot hatch — a prime competitor for the Hyundai i30 N and Volkswagen Golf GTI. The happy snaps first appeared on an online forum, and appear to be genuine based on test mule spottings (not to mention the appearance of the ST-Line model that's already been unveiled).
Visual differences between this and the mainstream Focus ST-Line model are difficult to spot. A larger wheel and tyre set give it a hungrier stance, while grey highlights in the front and rear bumpers help further differentiate it at a glance.
Click here to read our comparison between the Ford Focus RS and Hyundai i30 N
Inside, Recaro bucket seats embossed with the ST logo will be the main change over the ST-Line. A six-speed manual is a welcome sight, although the ST-Line is also offered with a six-speed manual in overseas markets (sadly the ST-Line will only come with an eight-speed automatic in New Zealand).
Naturally not much else is known about the ST at this stage. It's scheduled to incorporate the 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine used in the entry-level Ford Mustang. It's a powerplant that makes 224kW of power and 441Nm of torque in the Mustang, but it's yet to be seen how far Ford will tune it once they plonk it in the Focus.
One of the big take-homes here is that the new ST will see the previous-generation ST's prices drop. It might be a little long in the tooth, but we reckon the current Focus ST is one of the most underrated fun-wagons on the market.
Often forgotten under the sea of hype for its competitors, the existing Focus ST comes with a characterful turbocharged four-banger of its own, producing 184kW and 360Nm in overboost. There's no torque vectoring or all-wheel drive, which in part makes it quite a handful when you're throwing it around. But its devil-may-care attitude to putting power to the ground makes it unique in this age of hot hatches that feel superglued to the ground.
A quick online sweep shows that early-generation versions of the current ST can be had for less than $30k, with some 12-month-old examples poised at around $35k. Currently, they retail for $52,840, but certain dealerships are fobbing off demonstrators for $40k flat. It would be hard to have fun for less.