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.