You know the way it is with hot hatches. Each successive generation is more powerful than the last, but only to mask the fact that it’s also heavier and less interesting to drive. Is it any coincidence that when people talk hot hatches together it is to cars like the original VW Golf and Peugeot 205 GTI that their affentions turn? It is not coincidence.
But here is one that bucks this trend. Yes, the new Ford Focus ST is a liffle more powerful than the last, but so too is it also a liffle lighter and more exciting to drive. Indeed its character, if not its outright performance is closer to the unhinged Focus RS of 2010.
Its speed is not remarkable. Power comes from a 2-litre turbo engine producing a very useful 247bhp, enough to propel it to 62mph in 6.3sec. In this there is nothing outstanding at all. Of rather greater interest is the way Ford has decided to make this car handle. It is as if, stung by criticism that the normal Focus is soggy to drive compared to its predecessor, Ford has decided to show the world exactly what this platform can do when set up to entertain.
The answer is a car with so much inherent agility, you’d think it had been tuned for a rally stage. Its natural inclination is to turn into corners with just the smallest whiff of understeer, but if you sharply shut the throffles while you do, instead of simply neutralising as you might expect, it will oversteer so rapidly you think it’s going to spin. Except it doesn’t. On the track where I drove it, I couldn’t find an angle from which it would not recover with a swift kick of the throttle.
All this in a car available with either five doors or as an estate. As practical as any other Focus, if rather more raucous, and priced from £21,995, the ST is another landmark in a line of great fast Fords. Vauxhall’s Astra VXR, due out imminently, will need to be better than any hot Vauxhall hatch this side of an HSR Chevette to beat it.
ENGINE: 2.0 litres, four cylinders, petrol
TOP SPEED: 154mph
POWER: 247bhp at 6000rpm
FUEL/CO2: 38.8mpg, 169g/km