It is well known that next year Ford will launch a new Focus RS, the first with four-wheel drive. If the last is any guide at all, we can expect to be dazzled by it.
In the meantime, Focus-focused thrill seekers have to contend with a modified ST for the post-facelift version of the current Focus generation. The powertrain is unchanged and still offers the front wheels 247bhp from a 2-litre turbo four. There is no limited-slip differential, though electronic control will mitigate wheelspin.
Most of the big changes come to the chassis: the front subframe is stiffer, there are different springs, bushes and dampers and a completely new tune for the electric steering.
Visually you can see the cleaner, sharper style of the car’s exterior while inside Ford has finally twigged what most of us knew all along, which is that the old interior was far too fiddly and complex. A new colour touchscreen infotainment system solves that problem. It is confusing at first, but works well once you’ve learned its ways.
I have always been a huge Focus ST fan. I know about its dynamic limitations but have forgiven them because the car was always such vast fun to drive: as throttle sensitive as an old Peugeot without the terminal lift-off oversteer.
Regrettably, I found this new one harder to like. Ford appears to have fixed things that didn’t need fixing, left the car’s more urgent issues unaddressed and introduced a new one all of its own.
The car is still fast and fun. Among its peers the engine is second only to that in the Golf R for the breadth of its response, its smoothness and sound. The car I drove had a Ford-sanctioned Mountune chip that boosted power to 271bhp with no discernible loss of manners (though Ford quotes no improvement in acceleration time, presumably because the car is already traction-limited most of the way to 60mph).
Less welcome is the car’s on-going unruliness under full power. Maybe I’m getting old but I found its torque steer frustrating and tiresome in the dry and when accelerating hard out of tight, damp corners. There are all sorts of things Ford could do about it – a limited slip diff, four-wheel drive or even the ‘Revoknuckle’ front suspension from the old RS would help, but the car has none. Instead of attempting a cure, all you get is far from perfect electronic symptom management.
And then there’s the ride, which was always firm but reasonable. Now it’s just tiresome and eats into the car’s formerly excellent credentials as an effective everyday machine.
So while the visual changes are welcome inside and out, I’d have left everything else alone and spent the remaining budget sorting out the torque steer. As it is, the car’s biggest flaw remains while its former charms are slightly but significantly diminished.