2020 Ford Focus ST First Drive Review

Ford fans upset the new Focus ST won’t be coming to America can take some comfort in the fact their European brothers remain equally envious of the F-150 Raptors and Shelby GT350s the U.S. saves for itself.

This is a seriously capable performance hatch and a significant step up in ambition for the new Focus ST. If the previous one was jalapeno hot, this new version is more habanero. Sure, the 280-horsepower, 2.3-liter EcoBoost is detuned somewhat compared with its previous application in the Focus RS. But this new ST has ambitions to become a benchmark all-round hot-hatch king in the mould of the Golf GTI, the addition of diesel and station wagon variants only increasing its appeal.

Amid some significant restructuring, factory closures, and job losses in Ford’s European operation, the launch of the Focus ST is a temporary relief. Leo Roeks, Muenzinger’s boss and head of Ford Performance Europe, remains upbeat and says he is busy with new projects. But it’s clear Ford is keen to promote a good news story like this.

In Sport, and to a greater degree in Track, the eLSD plays a bigger part, though it demands a firmer hand at the wheel to counteract a desire to sniff out cambers and writhe in your hands as the power goes down. Hold your nerve – and right foot – and the ST hauls itself out of the turns so enthusiastically you rarely wish for the RS’s all-wheel drive. T

While the engine feels unremarkable beyond its torquey punch and mid-range grunt, it does gain some neat tricks, such as an anti-lag system inspired by the GT and rev-matching on up- and downshifts. Flat upshifts and ultra-smooth downshifts make the already sweet stickshift even more satisfying, though hardcore manual enthusiasts will be annoyed that you can’t turn it off in Sport or Track modes. A seven-speed auto will arrive later in the year.

Overall, Ford is less obsessed about chasing numbers than some of its rivals, concentrating instead on sensation. In this respect the ST is a masterclass and far closer to the RS, albeit with the all-round usability and friendliness of its predecessor. In this respect it’s like the best of both and a serious step up. More’s the pity we won’t be seeing it this side of the Atlantic.