Thursday 18 April 2024

REVIEW – Ford Focus TDCi ST-3

I have always loved fast Fords. From the Escort Cosworth – the poster car of my youth – to the Fiesta ST: a car I loved so much I just had to buy. I have previously tested the Ford Focus ST, and I did quite like it. But now, you have an alternative to the 2.0-litre, 250PS petrol engine: a 2.0-litre, 185PS diesel. It’s an interesting concept: all the sporty trim with a more efficient engine. I was certainly intrigued, so booked one in for review. But would it be able to live up to the ST badge, or would it be all style with no substance? Let’s find out, shall we…

Looks – 9/10

This is the reason I love the concept of the diesel performance hatch, because buyers should still be able to get all that sporty trim, whatever engine they choose. On the Focus ST you get a big, snarling grille and a more angular bumper. My test car had the optional style pack which includes 19-inch alloy wheels, and they fill the arches nicely. At the back there’s a decent roof spoiler, a more aggressive bumper and a centre exhaust. Yes, a centre exhaust, on a Ford Focus. Available in a range of colours, the ST can either stand out – with the likes of ‘Tangerine Scream’ – or be a more subtle Stealth grey. One thing you can be sure of is that this looks like a hot hatch, and you’d have no idea it had a diesel engine under the bonnet.

Step inside, and you are greeted with the quintessential fast Ford cabin. Huge, body-hugging Recaro seats are the centrepiece, inviting you to get behind the wheel. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is chunky, and brandishes a small ‘ST’ logo at the bottom. To the centre of the dashboard, there are some additional gauges which show oil temperature, turbo pressure and oil pressure. It’s very sporty. Other than that the cabin is as you would expect of a Ford Focus. The plastics are all nice enough, and the whole thing feels well put together. If I was to be critical, and I suppose it is my job to be, then I find the interior on the ST-3 a little dark. You see with the ST-2 you get part-leather seats, and they feature coloured cloth – blue, yellow or grey depending on exterior colour. But in the ST-3 it’s black plastics, black leather, black roof lining, and that is always going to be a bit monotone. Some aluminium trim would work wonders!

Handling/Performance – 8/10

As you well know, my car had the 2.0-litre, turbocharged diesel engine in it. Power is 185PS, and 400Nm of torque. Through a 6-speed manual gearbox that will allow a 0-62mph dash of 8.1 seconds and a top speed of 135mph. Hmm. That’s a bit of a credibility damager, because that isn’t really that fast. What puzzles me is that in the Ford Edge, there is a variant of this engine with 210PS. I think that power level would be perfect for this car. You see there is no doubting that it’s quick enough once you’re on the move; the in-gear acceleration feels good thanks to a healthy dose of torque. But coming out of a slow bend, or from a standing start, it just lacks that extra kick in the back that a hot hatch should give you. Having said that, the diesel is great on the motorway, and under normal driving has plenty of pull.

The Focus ST has a variable steering rack. Full lock is less than a full turn of the wheel, and that gives a distinct sharpness to the handling. Any inputs on the wheel seem to give an instant response, and this makes the Focus a great car on the country lanes. The suspension is firm, but in a composed way. Thanks to those big, comfortable Recaro seats your spine remains intact even on bumpier surfaces. My test car had the 19-inch wheels with their low profile tyres, and I’d still call it comfortable. Are you aware of the bumps? Yes. But do they become an annoyance? Not one bit. Because of the limited power band in the diesel, you really have to work the gears, and this is really engaging for the driver. This car still handles like a hot hatch should, it just needs a bit more oomph once you’re out of the corner.

Economy – 9/10

The only reason I can think of for buying the diesel version is its economy. And on paper it seems good: combined consumption is 67.3mpg, and you certainly can’t argue with that. CO2 emissions are 110g/km, which means that first year road tax is £140, and then £140 thereafter. Start stop technology helps keep emissions down. But consider this: the petrol ST claims 41.5mpg and costs £500 and £140 thereafter to tax. And in all honesty there’s no way you’re getting 67mpg. Granted, you’ll get a fair amount more than the petrol, but at the expense of performance. It’s a tough one, this.

Practicality – 9/10

The Focus has typical 5-door hatchback practicality. The boot is huge, and with the back seats folded down you can carry some pretty large items. In the front, there’s plenty of room to sit in those Recaro buckets. Sadly they are so bulky that they seem to eat into the rear legroom. Even behind me, at 5ft7in, space seemed a bit scarce. That’s about the only negative, because the Focus is easy to drive, easy to park, and generally easy to live with. The diesel also has the advantage of a bigger fuel range, so you can go longer between fill ups. Go for the ST-3 as I tested, and you’ll have heated full-leather seats, satellite navigation, keyless entry and go, auto high beam and the Ford MyKey system all as standard. Various options such as a heated steering wheel (£115) and rear-view camera (£250) are reasonably priced and give that premium edge.

Fun – 8/10

You can’t tell by appearance whether an ST is the petrol or the diesel. So there are no disadvantages in the style contest. In a battle of straight line speed, the diesel comes a bit unstuck. Put it this way, my Seat Leon diesel estate would beat it, hands down. And that is a little embarrassing. But that doesn’t mean the Focus isn’t good fun to drive. The handling is great with a pin-sharp turn in and composed ride. And that means that when you hit your favourite road it will still put a smile on your face. The electronic sound symposer also helps to give the diesel a little character, but it feels a lot more fake than it does with the petrol version. And one day, you know the inevitable will happen. You’ll meet a petrol ST at the lights. And then you’ll feel silly.

Concluding Remarks

The ST badge is usually synonymous with performance, but I have to say that this diesel Focus is more ‘lukewarm’ than hot. But I think the concept works. The idea that you can have all the body kit, the lovely Recaro seats, whilst having a more sensible diesel. But that doesn’t mean that all the performance should be sacrificed, so perhaps a little more power would have gone a long way here. So to find out more head over to the Ford website or pop in to your nearest dealer. There is just one other niggle that I can’t quite let go of. The diesel ST starts at £25,235. The petrol version starts at £25,415. And with the future of diesel cars being so uncertain, I just can’t help but think you should just buy the petrol version. Go on, you know you want to.

Total Score – 43/50

Editor-in-chief, Senior Reviewer

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