Are you out looking for a hot hatch and live in Europe? Are you bewildered by the baffling cheating scandal at Volkswagen AG because you wanted a diesel engine under the hood of your ride? It appears there’s only one solution at hand today – a Ford Focus ST, diesel version.
For years Skoda and Volkswagen have been equipping their sporty versions of the Octavia and Golf with diesel engines – true petrolheads might dismiss them altogether – but the truth is the vRS and GTD have had their niche and have successfully changed the perception of some of the buyers that hot hatches need to have a roaring gasoline engine under the hood. Now that the transition has been done by others and the consumer is – at least in part – accustomed with the idea, Ford is delivering a competitor to the Czech and German offerings.
In earnest, and never mind the scandal of diesel emissions’ cheating that has brought intense scrutiny of the technology, diesel powered cars are so ubiquitous to the European market I often wondered how the Golf GTD was left without a true competitor for such a lengthy period of time. That’s not considering the Skoda Octavia which is essentially the same package wrapped in fastback, sedan-like styling. And in truth, the Ford Focus ST will not compete with the Czech offering, which is larger than both the Golf GTD Mk 7 and the Focus ST. So, here it goes, since last year’s facelift job on the entire model series, the Focus ST also delivers a 2.0 TDCi diesel engine in addition to the petrol-burner, which is good for a higher output of 250 horsepower.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
First things first – while the Golf does differentiate its diesel hot hatch form the regular GTI through GTD badging, the American competitor has chosen to make no distinction – for the good or worse. That means unless you listen to the engine or if you’re the driver look at the rev counter, you’ll have no idea there’s a diesel under the hood. That’s either a good or a bad thing, the jury is still debating, with Ford either confident it can stand up to the gasoline brethren’s performance or equally too concerned and trying to disguise its engine option.
Either way, the facelifted ST does look instantly recognizable as a member of the Focus family, but with styling choices that still set it apart from the family. It’s not the “black sheep” – but rather the member that had the courage to choose a different path and now proudly showcases the decision. The Focus form has remained largely unchanged, including the taillights that – if looked at under an angle – will resemble a very rude sign motorists sometimes employ. In that respect, the modifications have made it less prominent so if you’re not looking at it as you should that parallel will almost never be drawn. The front has also been updated to follow the recent design language of the company – which has been associated on numerous occasions with the British supercar marquee Aston Martin (they belonged to Ford for a while). That’s not a bad thing at all, since the Brits have also been appreciated for their beautiful rides. Getting back to our Focus, the front treats you to sweptback headlights, a massive radiator grille and a sporty bumper. On the side you get updated sills and new 18-inch alloy rims in smokin’ dark grey. While the front and side are actually pretty serious for a compact hot hatch in my opinion, the Focus ST makes up for it with a great looking rear end: you get a rear glass flap and most importantly a spectacular bumper with a centrally mounted double-tipped exhaust with an intertwined rectangular shape.
The modifications on the exterior appearance are restrained and showcase the evolution of the hot hatch segment in itself – and they could also be a nod to the German seriousness that has always been traditional for the Golf GTI and in our case for the GTD. Nevertheless, the styling tweaks will be efficient in showing the onlooker this is not a regular Focus. Where I think they did exaggerate in terms of German seriousness is the interior – where the ST is differentiated by very few elements from the regular hatchback. You do get a flat bottom steering wheel, metal pedals and three additional dials to show you additional information about the engine – but as far as the dashboard is concerned that’s about it. The rest is black, more black and more black. Fortunately the Focus keeps getting better in one respect – materials and durability, with all elements feeling like they could resist for years. And that’s another nod to the Golf which has always proven simplicity – if doubled by great materials and durability – can be a winner.
The sporty aspect of the Focus is once more saved by a simple yet crucial aspect. The front seats are Recaro wraparound items that will ensure both a comfortable ride on longer journeys and a high level of driver and passenger restraint capability when hitting the bends. Even in the back the sporty treatment is obvious, thanks to the fabric’s two-tone design, even as functionality has not been forgotten – you can even find small stowage spaces between the rear bench and the doors, good for things like coins and other small stuff. The front bucket seats also feature a cut-out design to enhance rear passenger knee space, which is a great thing especially when fighting the Golf. The latter is smaller overall than the Focus but its wheelbase of 2631 is very close to the Focus’s figure of 2648 millimeters. Five passengers and luggage will have no problem fitting into the Focus ST, which remains a very capable family car – albeit one that can also deliver great times if taken to the track or on mountain roads.
Following the update that was introduced last year, the Focus has amended one of its biggest issues – the cluttered dashboard, which featured numerous buttons and switches and needed a longer than usual accommodation time. They have now trimmed down the central area to three zones – climate control – a few essential buttons for the infotainment system and the display area that also features touch screen controls. Meanwhile, the steering wheel has remained equipped with more buttons, but they are organized in a logical manner. Nevertheless, the Sync media system has garnered a reputation for being not being overly usable and glitch. Thanks to continued upgrades, the glitch part was not present during our testing period, but we remained unimpressed with its performance otherwise. It’s still relatively scruffy to get by with and the touchscreen is too far from the driver which needs to lean forward to hit some of its on-screen controls. While choke full of the latest features – including navigation and wireless internet – the Ford guys still have a lot of work to reach the simplicity and intuition of other systems, especially the ones employed by the German competition.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
The Focus ST is now offered throughout Europe with a two-engine powertrain option, while in the US the customers will only get the petrol burning offering. First things first, the diesel engine is not going to internally compete with the petrol offering, which remains the “flagship” with its 250 horsepower and traditional gasoline grunt. More likely diesel is here to complement it and open up a whole new customer zone for the ST – for example young families that want a cool ride but don’t want to compromise too much in terms of long haul usability or fuel economy.
The petrol is up with 250 hp and 340 Nm of torque, good for a sprint of 6,5 seconds to 100 km/h and a top speed of 248 km/h. Compared the 2.0 TDCi only has to showcase 185 hp and a larger torque of 400 Nm, allowing it to reach 100 km/h in 8,1 seconds and a maximum speed of 217 km/h. That’s less than the Golf GTD has to show for, most likely because the Ford is heavier at almost 1.5 tones. The Focus is making up for it with a host of safety technologies – including lane-changing assist with audible alert and automatic steering wheel intervention or a new Electronic Transitional Stability function that helps the driver negotiate better sensible driving situations – such as high speed lane changing. This further shows the strategy at Ford is not only compete with the Golf GTD but also try and attract clients that wound have previously shun off a hot hatchback altogether.
Churning out 185 horsepower and 400 Nm of maximum torque will have its implications on the dynamic stance of the car, which has been equipped with a reworked sports suspension with new front springs and modified shock absorbers. The refreshed Focus ST also got a reworked power steering system and an updated torque vectoring control system – but speaking of the latter we didn’t get to feel it delivered any support – torque vectoring is almost always present under heavy acceleration in the low and medium-speed range and the situation is being better handled by the quick to react power steering, which can deliver more heft at higher speeds to make the driver better feel the car.
That be said, after a period of accommodation, you can easily forgive the torque steer because the powertrain works like a charm with the heavier front (as always, diesel engines are heavy on the front end) to ensure great dynamic control. You can accelerate while turning without fear of under steer and the ESC will make its presence felt long after common sense tells you the car is close to its limits. This is particularly effective when the driver is not overly experienced in handling powerful rides – the torque steer will act as a warning and if the owner keeps pushing he or she won’t get to the gravel of the side of the track (we hope this is where everyone would attempt to push its car to the limit) immediately because the chassis still has ample flexibility. What we didn’t appreciate in the mix is the response from the gearbox – the lever has a mechanical heft added in for good measure but has longer than expected travel and it’s not as exact as we hoped. Those passionate about the petrol cars will tell you in a hot hatch not only the performance is crucial, but also the sound. True, the diesel version will lose the match to its petrol sibling in this respect, but it won’t be a disaster. The engine grunts and revs with a low voice that reminds you of Darth Vader and the exhaust system will also have its own symphony to play once it’s heated.
There’s another reason to go for a diesel burner – the fuel economy. The ST delivers on the premise – it’s more efficient than its petrol counterpart, with an average consumption of 4,2 liters to 6,8 liters respectively. Now these figures are taken from laboratory tests – and we all know that real-world performance is far off the mark. Even with the auto start/stop function enabled the average economy in our review was actually close to the average of the gasoline ST. That’s not a spectacular figure for a compact car with a diesel engine but it’s actually spectacular for a hot hatch. So, there you go – the performance has not been (entirely) sacrificed but you now have a long haul partner that can also handle itself on the track if you feel the need.
Pro: suspension and steering mix, fuel economy, interior space, long haul usability.
Against: manual gearbox not really befitting of a sporty model, interior needs more light touches, Sync infotainment system usability is only average.
Starting price – Ford Focus ST 2.0 Ecoboost – 28,250 EUR
Tested Version – Ford Focus ST 2.0 TDCi – 29,250 EUR
Engine: 2.0L four cylinder, diesel, direct injection, turbo, intercooler, start/stop (1997 cc)
Power: 185 HP (136 kW) at 3500 rpm
Torque: 400 Nm at 2,000 – 2,750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Dimensions: length – 4,358 mm, width – 1,823 mm, height – 1,471 mm, wheelbase – 2,648 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 62L
Trunk Capacity: 363/ 1148 liters
Weight: 1464 kg
0 – 100 km/h: 8,1 s
Top Speed: 217 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 5L/100 km, highway – 3,8L/100 km, average – 4,2L/100 km
Rating: 4.3 / 5