Focus ST has always been a working class hero, with a lot of power and not enough mental health, but the new version seems to have forgotten its roots.
It may not be surprising that Ford has thrown the kitchen sink on the new Focus ST. The most recent version had fallen flat, forgotten in a landscape dominated by better solved GTIs, Cupras and a certain letter N.
Her dynamic problems were twofold: she was too lazy, tending too badly to lead the couple out of the turn, and she did not have a limited slip differential to control the resulting skating.
If you were more sober and learned to be better; to go to the limits of the chassis rather than beyond, it flowed pretty well, but it lacked the sparkling character that hot hatchbacks should possess. However, you drove the gas car, it was not fair; the diesel option has actually been perceived as a more consistent whole.
At the time of the 2000s, the ST was a charismatic, charming and always respected choice. It was heavy at the front and wasted by many rivals on maneuverability, but that was not the goal. It was a simple recipe, served a fun treat and it worked. The same goes for his successor, but compared to the old five-pot car, it looked as flat as that half-drunk bottle of Coke that you left in your trunk and forgot about.
Ford obviously took this fall of grace quite personally. The simple approach of the blue-collar workers has been put in place and the transition to a complex technology so far unimaginable. The new 276hp car will feature an electronically controlled limited slip differential that operates pre-emptively based on factors such as grip and steering angle, selectable driving modes for the first time, active dampers and an anti-lag system derived from the GT supercar. Blimey.
If you are a lazy guy and you do not want to learn how to do it manually, launch control, new steering torque disruption reduction software for electromechanical power steering and a bespoke variant of Michelin's Pilot Sport 4S tire. Bigger plugs now provide four times the fade resistance of the old ST configuration, says Ford. The 0-62 mph sprint will be done in less than six seconds, he adds. Everything seems rather … serious.
We must now note that some of these technologies are optional: speed matching, launch control, track mode and red brake calipers (+ 10 hp?) Are all delivered with the performance pack. We do not have a price yet, although speculation places the launch model – the flagship product ST-3 – at around £ 28,000, which is £ 2,000 more than the last.
With the Performance Pack, the price will be well over £ 30,000, but it's still a good thing for a class where the Honda Civic Type R costs between £ 31,000 and £ 33,000, the VW Golf GTI also starts at £ 31,000 and the Hyundai i30 N £ 29,495. So far, so reasonable for Ford? Perhaps, even if we have just been reminded of how much Hyundai is a relative flight …
The problem here is a little fly with a thought that struck me in the ear when I read the press release. The Focus ST, as far as the ST170, has always been a simple example of a no-frills shiny chassis configuration. It was a chassis designed for fun, with a precise front end, an active rear and an engine that emphasized the driver's skills. The Ford Chassis Chassis proved that the suspension needed no special trick to strike the right balance between driving and control.
Changing ethics altogether and introducing so much technology is a blatant admission that ST engineers could pass for the old car. What is disturbing is also the admission that they have lost confidence in their own ability to recreate magic without resorting to additional technology. As a result, the new car can be brilliant, but it will not necessarily feel like an ST has always been felt. Part of this old-school, Ford-specific character will inevitably go away as the car aligns more closely with the chassis specifications of its rivals.
There is something else. If £ 28,000 is correct, it corresponds to the market. But how much would it have cost had there been no adjustable modes, generic mechanical differential and no anti-lag? If the registers had only one ideal setting? If the tires were commercial items? It could be thousands less.
Do not tell me that all gadgets are necessary. There is a very strong argument for the differential after the old car's shenanigans, but beyond that, the inflated bag of gadgets is – or should be – superfluous for a ST.
Ford has already shaken the coconuts market with this badge. The last two Fiesta STs went on sale with a simple but exceptional dynamic package that drove all competitors out of the water despite the car costing far less than most alternatives. It was a formula that proved (twice) that a hot Ford was a winner and a good deal. That's what ST should represent. A long winding road might end up letting me ravish about the new spicy Focus, but for the moment I'm afraid that it has become … derivative.