Overall rating: 4/5
The Volkswagen Group has had the diesel hot hatch market almost to itself for long enough reckons Ford, so it's launching a TDCi diesel version of the revamped Focus ST. It's not cheap, but it combines efficiency and good looks with a cracking chassis. What's not to like?
In the Metal:
Not even the most ardent lover of anoraks will be able to spot the visual differences between the petrol and diesel Focus STs, as there are none. The new car adopts the basic look of the facelifted Focus and it manages to marry aggressiveness with that car's more delicate and pretty features - such as the smaller rear lights. The body changes that make up the ST are extensive, including a roof spoiler, redesigned bumpers (the rear one incorporating a diffuser and the characteristically styled, centre-exit exhaust outlet), bespoke alloy wheels, badging and more.
Inside, there's a lovely tactile (and not quite circular) leather steering wheel and figure-hugging Recaro sports seats. ST badging and instrument graphics are complemented by an extra set of gauges up high on the dashboard, for oil pressure and temperature, plus turbocharger boost pressure. It feels suitably sporting without losing the high quality sheen that defines the updated Focus.
The list of mechanical changes to the chassis of the Focus ST are minimal. New springs, dampers and bushings have been fitted, but most of the work done seems to have focused on the calibration of the electronic power assisted steering system, plus more sophisticated ESC stability control software. The latter now features Enhanced Transitional Stability (ETS) to help with composure during quick direction changes, though this is disabled if the driver selects either the Sport mode or turns off ESC completely. We found the Sport setting ideal for fast road use, even on wet and greasy surfaces, as the ESC intervention isn't so abrupt, allowing the driver to do his best to mete out the engine's power.
Technically speaking, we should be saying torque, not power, as that's what the diesel model majors in. The 2.0-litre TDCi unit puts out 185hp and 400Nm of torque, to the petrol version's 250hp and 360Nm and in truth, driven back-to-back, the petrol car feels considerably friskier. Nonetheless, the new diesel ST makes a good case for itself against the likes of the Golf GTD. Ford has fitted the Focus with a sound symposer so it sounds remarkably un-diesel-like on the move and quite throaty. Even at idle the engine is well isolated, keeping the car's occupants from the diesel sound. And in truth, there's not a lot between the two versions of the new ST on the public road. Yes, the petrol model is lighter and feels a little wieldier, but there's not much in it. By any measure, the diesel ST is a cracking car to drive.
While all the driving controls are good (easy to modulate brakes, slick six-speed manual gearbox, well-spaced pedals) the steering stands out. Yet Ford hasn't done anything radical to it. As before, the rack itself is variable ratio, so around the straight ahead it's not overly sensitive (ideal for high speed cruising), yet it speeds up the further away from straight you turn the wheel (which really adds to the agile feeling of the Focus). Ford has recalibrated the electronic power assisted steering though and it seems to have done wonders, offering up really clear communication between the front tyres and the driver's hands, leaving him in no doubt as to how much grip there is available. Further to that, Ford has managed to all but eliminate torque steer, so you turn the wheel to your desired angle and, even if you use too much throttle, it stays there. Sure, it's easy to spin the wheels if you're lead-footed, but the difference now is that your hands aren't wrenched off by the resultant tugging through the wheel. That, and the other changes above, makes for a highly rewarding driving experience, yet one that isn't in the least bit taxing. Should make the diesel ST a great everyday car.
What you get for your Money:
At the time of writing, Ford of Ireland hasn't confirmed full details of the new Focus ST. One source suggests that the ST estate will not be sold here and a single trim level will be offered in petrol or diesel format. It appears that the ST diesel will cost €39,800 and the petrol model will be €39,100. Hopefully the equipment count is high. The five-door Golf GTD is a similar price, though is available with three doors for a little less.
The updated Focus ST was created by the newly formed Ford Performance division, which amalgamates SVT in the USA, Team RS, Ford Racing and the parts division of the latter under one umbrella. A total of 12 new cars are promised from the brand between now and 2020, including the mighty Ford GT supercar, F-150 Raptor and Mustang GT350R unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show this year. Next on the agenda is an all-new Focus RS. We're travelling to Cologne on February 3 to see it for ourselves before its world debut at this year's Geneva Motor Show. See the teaser video below from Ford.
Although it looks like the new diesel version of the Focus ST will be costly to buy, it mixes low running costs and tax with hot hatch performance and dynamics. It looks no different to the (admittedly more exciting to drive) petrol model and is a real hoot to drive. They call this having your cake and eating it.