Ford Focus ST 2021 long-term review

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Ford’s most potent take on its family hatch has a fine engine at heart – 21 October 2020

Engines in fast hatchbacks are curious things. Today’s turbo technology means we can now prise huge power from their necessarily small capacities and install them in relatively affordable packages, so we tend to forgive them their faults. So what if they have a peaky delivery and sound rubbish? For that much power, and for this much money, what did you expect?

Which is just one more somewhat unexpected reason why I’m finding myself getting on with this Focus ST so well. Under its bonnet is anything other than just another hot hatchback meat-and-two-veg lump of high-output, forced-induction mediocrity. In this application it is actually quite brilliant.

Context is everything. This engine is also offered in the Mustang coupé. In that car, and despite it being presented in a more powerful state of tune, you cannot help concluding that this is the engine you have to have simply to keep your tax and fuel bills under control, when the thumping, thundering V8 is, of course, the motor you would choose in a heartbeat if only you could.

In the Focus, it provides no such dilemmas. There’s plenty to like here, most obviously its sound, which has such a characterful edge you can find yourself wondering if there are five cylinders under the bonnet rather than the claimed four. There are not.

But I like also that it’s not a very stressed motor. It has 276bhp, which is a little down on the 300bhp par for this kind of car, yet it comes from a somewhat bigger capacity of 2.3 litres rather than the 2.0-litre norm. And far from this being evidence of Ford not being on top of its game, it simply indicates a different, more subtle and more effective approach. Because while, yes, it has less power than the acknowledged leaders of this field, the Volkswagen Golf R and Honda Civic Type R, it actually has more torque than both, and when you accelerate it is torque, not power, that you feel. And it has a higher compression ratio than these rivals, so there’s less lag, too.

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