Focus on…

A new Ford Focus ST is here. Darren Cassey takes a look back at one of the most iconic hot hatches out there

Fast Fords are an icon of the British car scene. The badges RS and ST will cause most enthusiasts heart rates to pick up, thanks to their connotations with touring car racing and rallying.

They’re best known for having lairy body kits and exciting performance, so with a new Focus ST going on sale very soon, now seems like a great time to look back at the model’s brief but brilliant history.

Ford Focus ST170

The first-generation Focus burst on to the scene in 1998 and blew everyone away. It had pretty styling and excellent handling that made it great to drive – even in its more boring specifications.

A few years after launch the ST170 was released, with the number relating to the amount of power it had. Its performance wasn’t electrifying, but thanks to that great chassis it still proved to be a quietly competent warm hatch.

Mk2 Ford Focus ST. Photos: PA Media

Mk2 Ford Focus ST

This is where the ST really started to make a name for itself, largely because the engine was so brilliant.

The 225bhp, 2.5-litre, five-cylinder engine was borrowed from Volvo and given modifications to make it more responsive, as well as sound cooler than any Focus before it. It was built by Ford’s Team RS, so it was a proper job, and it showed on the road, quickly gaining a cult following.

Mk3 Ford Focus ST

Mk3 Ford Focus ST

For the third-generation Focus, the ST was good without being great. Gone was that iconic engine, replaced by a 246bhp 2.0-litre unit of Ford’s own creation, which was faster and punchier but lacked a little bit of character.

It handled fantastically and looked great, too. Sounds like a brilliant recipe, right? Well, while most rivals moved to limited-slip differentials to control power through the front wheels, Ford persevered with a mock set-up that just didn’t work quite so well.

It was fast and fantastic in corners – but if you put your foot down too hard it would tug and yank you all over the road. Some buyers liked that it wasn’t easy, but rivals such as the Renault Megane RS were just better.

Mk4 Ford Focus ST

Mk4 Ford Focus ST

And that brings us to the latest model. Ford has fitted an electronic limited-slip differential, which helps answer those complaints about torque steering.

It also uses a detuned version of the 2.3-litre engine from the RS, making a healthy 276bhp here. It’s also got driving modes for the first time, too, meaning you can switch between sedate road driving and a more aggressive track-focused set-up.

After getting behind the wheel, we can say that this is the most serious, driver-focused Focus ST ever.

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