Ford Focus ST 2020 road test review

Moving Well | Tim Nicholson | Posted on 24 November 2020

Tim Nicholson takes the playful all-new Ford Focus ST hatch for a spin.

  • Thumbs up

    Playful dynamics, slick manual gearbox, cracking turbocharged engine and decent value for money compared with rivals.

  • Thumbs down

    ST flourishes add pizzazz to cabin but it’s pretty basic. Sync infotainment starting to age.

  • Perfect for

    Using as a competent everyday commuter car that doubles as an engaging fun machine.

  • Verdict

    The Focus ST is a much more complete and sophisticated car than the previous version and well worth considering against the hot-hatch big guns.

Ford Focus ST 2020

If you’re in the market for a hot hatch, there’s no shortage of impressive offerings available in Australia, from the sub-$30,000 Suzuki Swift Sport to high-end fare like the circa-$100k Mercedes-AMG A45 S. Somewhere in the middle is the Ford Focus ST and a few of its similarly sized rivals. Ford is hoping the big changes it’s made to the all-new Focus ST will boost its standing in the ultra-competitive segment. 

Price and positioning

The previous-generation Focus ST was a well-priced and competent hot hatch, but it was prone to torque steer (when the wheel tugs to one side under heavy acceleration) and lacked the composure of its competitors. In August, Ford launched an all-new ST, based on the excellent and underrated fourth-generation Focus hatch that went on sale in late 2018. 

In developing the new model, Ford set out to build a car that would eclipse not only the previous ST, but also the benchmark-setting Volkswagen Golf GTI. The ST gains a beefier turbocharged engine, bigger brakes, faster steering and improved suspension setup.

Pricing of $44,890 before on-road costs is up by about $6000 on its predecessor, but Ford says the huge improvements justify the increase. 

It’s still decent value compared with rivals like the Renault Megane RS Sport ($51,790), Honda Civic Type R ($54,990) and Volkswagen Golf GTI ($47,190), but it’s undercut by the Australia’s Best Cars-winning Hyundai i30 N ($41,400). 

The ST has a generous standard features list that includes a swathe of ST interior and exterior styling flourishes, a full suite of infotainment functions and in-car comfort features. A panoramic sunroof and premium paint are the only options. 

If you prefer a smaller hot hatch, Ford offers the excellent Fiesta ST from $32,290.

Safety first

The Focus has a five-star ANCAP safety rating and is fitted with an extensive list of passive safety and driver-assistance features, including autonomous emergency braking.

 
Ford Focus ST 2020
Ford Focus ST 2020


The inside story

To give the ST cabin a sportier vibe than the standard Focus, Ford added sexy Recaro sports seats, carbon-fibre dash inserts and an ST sports steering wheel. As we’ve reported before, the Focus interior is functional but uninspiring. 

The dash looks like it was designed in sections, but the controls are logically laid out and it’s an uncomplicated setup. The touchscreen at the top of the dash houses the Sync3 multimedia system, which is a breeze to navigate. Sync is well executed but it’s starting to feel dated compared with Mazda and Volkswagen’s setups. 

Those Recaro bucket seats are seriously supportive and the chunky sports steering wheel feels great in hand. Up front there’s a deep central storage bin, ample room for bottles in the doors, a pair of USB ports and wireless charging. 

A spacious second row is a welcome surprise for a small hatchback. There’s more than enough leg and head room for this six-foot-tall motoring writer and the seats are bucketed and comfortable. It misses out on rear air vents and USB ports but has a 12-volt outlet. 

The rear seats almost fold flat for extra cargo space. With the standard space-saver spare wheel the Focus ST offers 273 litres of boot space. It sounds small but it’s useable space. 

On the road

Ford has swapped out the 2.0-litre unit of the old ST and replaced it with a new all-aluminium 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine also found in the Ford Mustang High Performance – albeit with less power and torque than the ’Stang. In the Focus it produces 206kW and 420Nm, up by 22kW/60Nm over the old ST.

In Normal mode, the ST is incredibly responsive, accelerating smoothly and gaining speed quickly, even up steep hills that have challenged four-cylinder cars in the past. A new electronically controlled limited-slip differential helps direct the power and torque to its front wheels. 

There’s still a hint of torque steer but it adds to the playful character of the car. The ST is undoubtedly more composed and sophisticated than the previous version. The slick-shifting six-speed manual we sampled has shorter throws than the old model. A seven-speed automatic is available as a no-cost option.

We were impressed with the dynamics of the more sedate Focus Trend, and the ST takes it to another level. The ST is flat as a tack through tight bends and despite a few mid-corner bumps its road-holding ability is astonishing. 

Ford has fitted the ST with adaptive dampers and while the setup is firm, it is far from uncomfortable. The low-profile tyres are great for grip, but they can’t keep out sharper road corrugations. The ST’s brakes with 330-millimetre rotors at the front and 302-millimetre at the rear are strong, and the heavily weighted steering is fast to respond to inputs. 

Sport mode noticeably improves throttle response. It also produces a shouty engine note and delightful crackle and pop noises on downshifts. Fun! But the cabin is not well insulated for noise, which is especially noticeable on coarse chip roads. You must speak loudly if you want your passenger to hear you. It’s calmer around town.

Our final fuel consumption figure was 10.2 litres per 100 kilometres – a bit higher than the official claim of 8.1L/100km.

Ford Focus ST 2020

PRICING

List price: $44,890 before on-road costs.

Price as tested: $44,890 before on-road costs.

Model range: $23,490 to $44,890 before on-road costs.

DRIVETRAIN

2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive.  

Power: 206kW@5500rpm.

Torque: 420Nm@3000-4000rpm.

Wheels: 235/35 ZR19. 

FUEL

95 RON premium unleaded petrol, 52-litre fuel tank.

Consumption: 8.1L/100km (government test), 10.2L/100km (RACV test).

Emissions: 188g/km CO2 emissions.

STANDARD SAFETY

Five-star ANCAP rating, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping aid and lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, post-impact braking, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors. 

STANDARD FEATURES

Eight-inch touchscreen with SYNC3 voice controls, sat-nav, DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, wireless device charging, 10-speaker audio system, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

WARRANTY

Five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Capped-price servicing for the life of the car. Servicing schedule every 12 months/15,000 kilometres.

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