Based on road appearances alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking the legendary Ford Focus ST had fallen into hot-hatch obscurity. A fresh-faced version is here now though to remind us that the model endures as a top-seller, at least for now.
Possibly the most true-to-type vehicle in a burgeoning hot hatch market, it really is destined for actual obscurity. This is the ST’s last hurrah down under, after Ford Australia announced in August that it will be canned indefinitely from the Aussie line-up.
When talking hot hatches, people speak of the Golf GTI and i30 N. The Volkswagen wins on familiarity, heritage, and popularity. The Hyundai is still something of a new kid on the block, rewarding many for their curiosity.
Nevertheless, keen punters are in this market for the deliberate pursuit of mixing public road deviance with simple, everyday practicality. And so it is, that the car that offers the best of that mix is the key player.
Buyers know the modern-day Focus ST has, on top of its own lengthy rally and road heritage, a particular authenticity in the way it cooks the hot hatch recipe. That’s why it sells fantastically well, and why it has been Ford’s sole Focus, as it were.
With news those days are over, but while it’s still here, a facelifted 2022 Focus ST offers an enticing package. A reliably fun 2.3-litre EcoBoost turbocharged 4-cylinder, which produces a perky 206kW and a meaty, highly disposable 420Nm of torque, sits under the hood.
Desires might naturally fall towards the 6-speed manual option, but the standard 7-speed automatic with paddles made an excellent case for itself in our test car (instant changes are worth every penny with Ford’s anti-lag system).
It’s of course front wheel drive, with an electronic limited slip differential ensuring ridiculously good traction. Continuously controlled damping is the backbone of the ST’s ability to jump effortlessly between pocket-sized track weapon and pragmatic runabout.
The best part is, you don’t have to do anything. The system is exemplary at adaptive damping, gauging every imaginable input 500 times per second, making for spookily intuitive ride comfort, whether you’re coasting or thrashing it.
Having previously undergone some aero-fication, the 2022 Focus only lightly builds on what had come before, with a redesigned lower bumper. Moulded vents continue to sit at either end, albeit with slightly less aggressive styling.
They resonate well with the styling of Ford’s new dynamic pixel LED headlights. The whole nose of the car now stands taller, making room for the gaping honeycomb grille, broken up by the Ford badge, which has been relocated from the bonnet.
It’s all about measured aggression at the rear, with an ST style bumper and big twin exhaust tips. The best bit though is the roof spoiler. Although it supposedly has a real-world effect on aerodynamics, the way it sets off the entire car is what matters most.
A standard ST will come with 18-inch alloys, but our test vehicle was fitted with the optional 19s – significantly better looking than the standard wheels, and a no-brainer upgrade. Ford are also pushing a new ‘Mean Green’ colour option too, for the louder folk.
Updates to the interior include next-gen SYNC 4 technology, Ford’s own cloud based, voice controlled, integrated climate, connectivity, and navigation centre. It’s all run through a new design 13.2-inch central display, leaving the rest of the dash looking neat.
Despite complaints from elsewhere about the unnecessary consolidation of almost all in-car functions into the one unit, to us it seemed tidy, easy to navigate, with healthy level of computer-nerdery.
Also brought into the mix are new collision prevention systems, including blind spot and intersection assist. Ford’s new in-house redesigned performance front seats are proudly stamped Recaro, as the four-decade partnership continues too.
It’s hard to even nit-pick the look, support and feel of these seats – with 14-way position and 4-way lumbar adjustment, you can fix them exactly to your preference.
Along with the convincing ST wheel (there’s always something reassuring about a Ford wheel), the Recaro’s distract from a certain ‘lightness’ about materials like the plastic inserts.
Rear occupants enjoy big legroom, acceptable head room and not equal but proportionate comfort to the front. Two grown adults can be content as third and fourth passengers. The trade-off is in boot capacity, only an adequate 273-litres.
The cabin is simple and straight, and appropriately (hot) hatch, keeping the bulk of your attention on the excitement of driving. There’s a slight reminiscence of boy-racer in the blue button illumination, drive mode selector dial, and themed digital instrument cluster.
From the interior to the drive, the ST feels basic, or stripped down, though still vastly better equipped than your average hatch, and geared fully towards everyday excitement.
At one extreme of the ST is the feeling that comes from really pushing the thing. One of being pursued by the old bill down a thin country pass, flanked by drystone fences.
Maybe it’s the mischievous grumbling of the exhaust, the roof spoiler, or the fact you’ve just ignored the warning message not to use Track Mode on a public road.
In this mode, you get the most accentuated ST drive. Better steering and throttle response, more noise and a little less intervention from the ESC do, as the mode suggests, give a highly ‘racey’ sensation.
Rightly so, plenty of the work to nail a hairpin is left to you, but a good driver is backed up by one helluva handling setup. The car really surrenders to your urge to whip hard into turns, then keeps things tight, clean, and flat.
Both the front and back end can be excitable if there’s some unusual camber or bumps, but it isn’t jumpy and unnerving. Huge confidence comes not only from the stiffened suspension, but also from an obedient chassis holding right where you need it.
On top of that is the mystifying amount of grip, as the LSD earns its quid under pressure. You get to the point where you just ignore the brakes, slingshot through each corner and wriggle out each time with manageable torque steer.
Admittedly the same boldness is tricky in the wet, but beautiful things happen if you get it right. Be careful not to find yourself really being pursued, because big speed in the ST sneaks up on you in an unusual way.
The 2.3-litre doesn’t wail, and it’s not a limiter-basher. Big torque and a twin-scroll instead make for a very strong pull that isn’t vicious, as much as it is deceptive. The car climbs so fast, right under your nose.
Having your foot to the floor doesn’t feel irresponsible until you glance at the speedo and realise what you’ve done. And let’s not ignore the fact the ST is still so suitable to run about town in.
Again, those marvellous adaptive dampers keep the ride very comfortable, and provide good threshold for surviving the atrocious state of our roads right now, even on the 19s. The worst part about this car is the fact you’ll need a miracle to get one.
You can’t even spec one on the website, thanks to big delays on the supply of SYNC 4 infotainment units, and the fact the model is on its way out. This has led to the Focus ST, much like the Mach 1 Mustang, becoming somewhat of a unicorn.
Initial Australian pricing sat at $47,490 before on roads, and if you can lay your hands on one, we recommend you jump in, boots and all. If you need finance, visit CreditOne.
Our test vehicles was provided by Ford Australia. To find out more about the 2022 Ford Focus ST, contact your local Ford dealer.