First fang: 2015 Ford Focus ST

IT'S TAKEN a while to get here, but Ford’s mid-cycle update for its Focus hot hatch has allowed its European RS team to further hone the ST’s credentials as the thriller in its segment.

THE DAMAGE: $38,990

VITALS: 2.0-litre inline-4, turbo, 184kW/360Nm, front-drive, 1464kg

SAME ST, BUT DIFFERENT…

The most obvious changes for the 2015 Focus ST live on its outside, where it's has welcomed a new face, new colours to its pallet, and a new-look bum.

Elsewhere, beneath the sheetmetal, Ford's stiffened the body surrounding the engine bay, retuned the suspension, and reprogrammed the car’s electric steering.

The aesthetic result? Gone is the cutesy, bulbous nose of the old ST, now traded in for a squinty new pair of headlamps matched to a subtle new bonnet bulge. The tweaks align the ST's facade with Ford's incoming all-paw, banzai, RS super hatch, but there are still plenty of ST-specific details.

These are its subtly offset 18-inch alloys, the rear roof spoiler, and oh-so-cool centre dual hexagonal exhaust tip that fly the boy-racer flag. Meanwhile, brake calipers finished in red and a new flat grey body colour named ‘stealth’ continue that theme.

But where its visual redesign loses points is out back. Ford’s designers made the right move zapping 40mm from the rear taillights' height, but the louvered rear lower insert that has replaced the old winged item above the exhaust tips has dulled its visual impact. 

Moving inside, the interior has been much improved despite small changes. The new Ford SYNC2 infotainment system’s touch functionality has seen the button clutter replaced and liberated space for not only a much bigger 8-inch screen, but more storage space behind the gearshift.

Otherwise, besides the new flat-bottom steering wheel – which, much like the centre stack, has cleaned up its button act– the cabin’s very familiar, with the same partial-leather Recaros and defining its performance vibe, and overall it’s a nice place to be.

SHARP AND STEADY

Bombing through Victoria’s mountainous outskirts reveals the Focus ST drives a lot like it looks: sharp, fast, and mildly intimidating.

Ford’s RS crew have had a re-think about its dynamic package to make better use of the broad 235mm Goodyear rubber, erecting new, stiffer shock absorbers –and harder bushes on the front lower arms and rear spring links—under each wheel guard matched to new springs.

Between the front hubs, however, the engine remains untouched, which is probably for the best as the ST’s beefy 360Nm often tries to shrug you off the steering wheel with rampant torque steer.

The engine’s fat and urgent bottom-end pays dividends in corners, freeing your hands to spend more time on the tiller than the gearshift. And that’s where you’ll want them, because while the car may balance its tyre load nicely once mid-corner, the ST’s still likes to rotate. 

This adjustability might explain why the steering is geared at 1.8-turns from lock to lock. It’s bullet fast, and also nicely weighted. But despite the new software tune, the steering can feel doughy when winding off excessive lock, and overall there are not great levels of feedback.

Feedback is more an issue when it comes to the ST’s ride. Without any adjustable tech to soften things up in urban environments, the static dampers tend to transfer a lot of high-speed compressions. The gain, however, is good body control, and a car that feels attune and extremely obedient to inputs.

Dynamically it's very impressive, and the ST revels smooth, winding, roads. Meanwhile its deep, bolstered seating position matched to a gearshift that slots with a magnetic-like catch richen the experience.

Where it's ultimately let down is the lack of a proper front differential, as the electronic inside-wheel braking unit is constantly challenged by the 2.0-litre's brawn.

LET ME THRILL YOU

Not everyone will adore the Focus ST in the same way not everyone wants to own a Rottweiler. From its rampant torque steer, to the firm ride and adjustable-but-slightly-threatening chassis, it feels a little unhinged. But that’s the ST’s allure.

In 2015 form, the ST feels more resolved, is better looking, while remaining still resolute in what it intends to do, which is egg you on for a thrilling drive. And for that, it gets our thumbs up.

3.5 stars out of five

 

Click here to read the full range review of the Ford Focus.

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