Simon Charlesworth
December 1, 2006
Photos By: Gerard Hughes

Focus Fact: UK magazine Autocar gave the ST big props, giving it the nod over turbocharged competitors such as the Volkswagen Golf GTi. The ST ran a 15.4-second quarter-mile at 95.5 mph and scored 0.86 g's on the wet skid pad in the Autocar test (Feb. '06). That's representing the Blue Oval.

Good though the ST170 was, in hindsight, the SVT's English twin was a bit disappointing. It wasn't exactly a fireball and, following a four-year wait for a tuned version of Ford's best chassis, some felt that 170 bhp wasn't enough to make the most of the MkI's pin-sharp handling.

Well, for those of us who can buy the new Focus ST-and I know this is painful point in the United States-"disappointing" is a word we won't be needing today. At 223 bhp, the ST manages to out-power the ST170/SVT and it can even beat the 213-bhp RS Focus around Germany's formidable, 14-mile, Nurbrgring racetrack. We're not talking about a split second here because it beat the RS's time by a full 10 seconds.

While we're talking RS, the new ST, which stands for Sport Technologies, has been developed by TeamRS into such a compelling performance car that there has been a bit of confusion as to why this Focus doesn't wear the fabled RS badge. Apparently, the difference is that the ST is all about accessible performance, whereas the RS is more extreme and more-er-focused. Of course, this does raise a question: Are we missing out on something or is the ST more than capable of delivering traditional fast-Ford thrills? Well, luckily for me, there's only one way to find out.

The switchblade key is turned in the ignition and what happens next is unfamiliar ground for a Focus driver. It's the noise coming from up front. Instead of a classic twin-cam four-cylinder growl, this is different and rather "premium car." Blip the throttle and the note rises and warbles, but there's something more-a subtle whistle that kicks in at around 2,500 rpm. Open the hood, and the penny drops though. You see, the new Focus ST is powered by a motor configuration, which hasn't appeared in any production European Ford before-a 2.5 turbocharged Duratec ST five-cylinder.

There are quite a few sporty design touches inside to reflect the ST's job as Mark II performance flagship. The most obvious are the Recaro sports seats, which bear optional inserts that are color-coded with that fantastic exterior paint job. There are three auxiliary gauges, showing turbocharger boost pressure, oil temperature, and oil pressure, which are housed in a dash-top-mounted pod. As for the other features, well, this is where it turns into a far more geeky game of "spot the difference." The aluminum and leather gear stick looks far funkier and, with six speeds, has grown an extra gear ratio. The handbrake is completely covered in cool aluminum, along with some of the interior door furniture, instrument surrounds, all three pedals, and the steering wheel's three spokes. Meanwhile, finishing off the ambience is moody black headlining for a real touch of go-faster intent.

While slowly driving from the car park down the poorly surfaced track to the main road, it becomes clear the ST retains most of the comfort and compliance of lesser Mark IIs, despite having stiffer springs, a stiffer antiroll bar, and recalibrated dampers. Crawling through stop-start traffic, the controls-steering, gearshift, and pedals-are all light, easy to use, and have plenty of feel. Coming directly from a Mark I, the two things you initially have to readjust to are the slightly slower, lighter steering and the longer, lighter, less precise gearshift.

Then comes the engine. The 2.5 motor behaves impeccably while creeping through traffic at walking speed, the turbo's turbine blades gently whistling as they spool up. Even deliberate taunting fails to upset it. Select Third and the ST pulls away from junctions without clutch judder or complaint. Yes, the headline is that output figure-223 bhp at 6,000 rpm-but in the real world, torque (236 lb-ft delivered between 1,600 and 4,000 rpm) is equally impressive and arguably more useful.

Watching passersby, it's clear the ST stops people in their tracks. Some are honest and just let their lower jaws hang free before squinting at the badging, whereas others worry about their cool credibility and steal a sneaky sideways glance instead. There's no doubt Ford has turned the Mark II Focus from a plain Jane into a real glamour model. Is it the body kit, lowered ride height, 18-inch five-spoke alloys, burbly soundtrack from the twin tailpipes, or the lifeguard-meets-correctional-facility-inmate Electric Orange paint? Who knows?

The noise, traffic, and built-up urban clutter soon melt away as we leave the city and head into the country. Here everything opens up, gets more entertaining, faster, and more demanding.

The road grows wider, the ice warning light on the dashboard is still illuminated, but the sun's out and the road dry so there's only one thing for it. Shifting into Second gear and opening up the gas, the sensation goes beyond what you'd expect from a car, which accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. It's purely because of the motor. The Duratec 2.5 five-cylinder's torque blends invisibly with the on-boost turbo's delivery without any hint of lag, and it revs all the way to the dizzy 7,000-rpm redline. It's relentless. Into Third, and the urge keeps coming. By now, though, you're not grinning like an idiot just because of this motor's delivery, but because it's teeming with charisma too.

As the rev-counter needle sweeps past the figures, the sound from the motor shows off its many layers. The soundtrack is emphasized by a special exhaust system that channels what Ford calls "good engine noise" back into the cabin to romance your ears. Moving off, there's a deep bass resonance, which is joined by a gentle turbo whistle that's soon replaced by a convincing impression of the Millennium Falcon during take-off. It's like a vocal duet. Next, the turn of the engine takes the lead, giving a fantastic throaty warble, similar to a race-tuned V-8. As your right foot stays mercilessly planted on the accelerator, the funky note gets higher and higher until the needle's knocking seven bells out of the redline. You grab a fistful of gear stick, go up a gear, and do it all again. It's so quick and vocal that you wonder if this really is a standard production motor.

The road shrinks right back down and makes the passenger-door mirror nervous. At first, the road is framed either side by intimidating dry-stone walling, before giving way to huge, craggy rocks as we dive down into Cheddar Gorge. I was here with a similar car a few years ago, which is why we're here now. It too had fat tires, big brakes, a 220-bhp turbocharged engine, and a six-speed gearbox-but it couldn't cope with this road. It torque-steered and tramlined so much that I sweated off a few pounds just driving 100 yards under full acceleration. The steering was wooden and the gearbox felt as if it had been drained of oil and left to rot in the desert for 20 years. If the ST has any weaknesses, this uncompromising, twisty, heavily cambered stretch of tough blackness will find them and make it look stupid. Well, that was the plan.

After stopping and doing a U-turn, it was time to prepare for the uphill assault. Down here the bitumen is black, wet, and shiny, while the grass verges lie hidden under a couple of inches of snow. Inside, the dashboard's still showing that ice warning-but, ah, what the heck! This is what electronic driver aids are for.

Onto the gas, the five warbles and whooshes, the scenery dissolves into blur, and it just goes-no sideways shimmy, no scrabbling tires, and no fighting with the steering wheel. It's a good job, really. Still the road gets narrower and more twisty, but the ST isn't fussed-point, squirt, grip, grip, and grip. Off goes the radio and down goes the window to fully savor the motor's music bouncing of the gorge's prehistoric rocky walls. My grin's so wide that my face is in danger of splitting in half.

Even nasty adverse camber-the sort you usually have to tiptoe around-fails to make the front wheels lose grip and the nose wash wide; so much for concerns about weight distribution and possible nose-heaviness from that big engine. There's no sign of the sledgehammer effect on these public roads. Get into a rhythm and keep it smooth, with the big-vented 320mm front discs and 280mm rears vaporizing surplus speed. Turn the steering wheel, and the ST turns in crisply with minimal body roll and superb poise. Then it's back onto the power.

The rocks recede as we climb out of the dark gorge and into the sunshine. The road widens and the severe corners evolve into beautiful sweeping bends. The speed gets larger and wilder. As the ST flows through S-bends, the combination of great talkative steering, front-end grip, and poise makes me think about how to raise the cash for an ST. Part exchange the Mark I? Raid the savings account and, well, I'm sure I could get by on one kidney if I sell the other on eBay...

Then almost in recognition of the ST's hard work, the road turns arrow straight for nearly a mile. There's no traffic about, so for one last hurrah, I stamp on it and thump through the gears into Fourth. Hurtling along at warp speed, the suspension has to work hard to cope with all sorts of bumps and lumps, but you'd never know it because of the supple ride, quality damping, and sheer composure. Heck, there are still two gears left!

The road, though, is running out and coming up to a set of traffic signals, so the brakes are hauled on. The pedal is full of information and has a nice, light short travel. As for effectiveness? They worked so well that under heavy application I'm sure I experienced a split-second of weightlessness before my forearms started to ache just holding myself back from the wheel. I come to a halt from a big three-figure speed, safely and calmly, without any hint of panic or rear-end fidgeting. To approach this car's formidable limits, a racetrack would be needed.

As for the bad news, there isn't any to speak of. The only time the ST lost its composure and started to squirm was when those big 225/40R18s tramlined under full acceleration on a road so poorly maintained that it looked as if someone had ploughed up the surface of the moon. That's it. When it comes to the good news, there's plenty and, despite some class-one dumb moves to provoke it, the ST behaved itself and frequently impressed.

Undoubtedly, the Duratec ST "five" has brought the chassis of the Mark II Focus alive and, to be honest, it's done the same for me. In the space of a few hours I was reminded what fun it is to feel as if you're 17 again and to enjoy real driving. With the new ST, you could say the Mark II Focus has rediscovered its mojo.

Base price: 18,495
Price as tested: 19,440
Includes: Antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution, Electronic Stability Programme, front-seat side airbags, side-curtain airbags, unique ST bumpers including brushed-aluminum foglamp surrounds, a unique ST large rear spoiler, a unique ST mesh radiator grille, remote-controlled double central locking, powered, heated door mirrors, Sony MP3/CD ILO radio, Thatcham Category 1 alarm, air conditioning, Quick-clear heated front screen, Recaro-style seats with branding, xenon front lights, electric front windows, and front foglights. Options: Electric Orange paint (695), Recaro Pack 1, Recaro eight-way manual passenger seat with Recaro-style sculpted rear bench (250).

Length: 4,362 mm
Width: 1,840 mm
Wheelbase: 2,640 mm
Height: 1,447 mm
Gross vehicle mass: 1,860 kg

Type: Inline, all-alloy, DOHC with direct-acting mechanical shimless tappets, four-valve, 2,522cc Duratec ST with KKK-Warner integrated turbo system, sequential electronic injection
Bore x Stroke: 83.0x93.2mm
Power: 223 bhp (DIN) at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 236 lb-ft at 1,600-4,000 rpm

Transaxle: Durashift six-speed manual

Brakes: Four-wheel discs (vented 320x25mm at front, 280x11mm solid at rear)Wheels: 18-in
Tires: 225/40R18 Continentals

0-60 mph: 6.5 seconds
Top speed: 150 mph
Torque: 114 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm
Fuel Economy (claimed): Extra Urban 55.4 mpg, Urban 32.5 mpg

Transaxle: Durashift five-speed manual

Brakes: Four-wheel discs (vented at front, solid at rear)
Wheels: 17-in
Tires: 205/50R17 Goodyear Eagle NCT 5

0-30 mph: 3.4 sec
0-60 mph: 9.9 sec
0-100 mph: 31.6 sec

60-0 mph: 2.8 sec