How do you improve an already proven hot hatch? It’s a question no one was asking except Ford themselves, yet the answer is emphatic and could potentially be a deal-breaker for those considering the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Type R or even the Mercedes-AMG A35.
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THE SUSPENSION IS TRICK
There’s been many special edition hot hatches but save for extreme, bare bone versions of the Renault Sport Megane, few routinely undergo dramatic transformations beneath the skin. The ST Edition bucks that trend – and how. For those who value a lithe, responsive chassis that responds in kind to every steering wheel input, this could well be the car for them. And with Germany’s Nürburgring one of the venues used to fine-tune the coilover suspension, you sense Ford Performance isn’t fooling around here. Sitting 10mm lower than the standard ST for a more slammed look – something you notices as you climb in and out of the driver’s seat – both axles on this run-out model can be adjusted by a further 20mm.
GETTING HANDS ON
In the boot of the ST Edition, customers will find a small kit of adjustment tools needed to fettle the Performance Blue painted springs. Before you start tinkering, though, it’s probably worth making a note of the damper’s factory setting because the pamphlet provided with the car doesn’t actually state this. What it does offer are recommended settings for what Ford calls “a variety of driving conditions”, including a special configuration for – yes, you guessed it – the Nürburgring. Ford is happy for you to book your car in and have one of their mechanics make the changes which, when you realise tweaks aren’t a 10-minute job, it’s the easier – and cleaner – option. For example, to adjust the ride height requires the car to be jacked up, wheels removed and trim peeled back to access the rebound adjustment fully.
A TOURING CAR FOR THE ROAD
On an open stretch of public highway it doesn’t take you long to appreciate how transformative the suspension is; the standard ST is a solid piece of engineering by Ford Performance but the ST Edition turns things up to eleven. Few will be disappointed with the factory set-up as the poise and balance of the chassis fuels your confidence to reach for another gear and really attack the road as it reveals itself to you. How best to describe it? With the cracks and pops from the twin exhausts, and a willingness to cock a rear wheel at roundabouts, it’s the closest, road-legal car we’ve tried to a touring car. To save weight, Ford has fitted an e-diff instead of a heavier mechanical equivalent and you can really feel it at work as you lean on the front, the steering wheel remaining settled and squirm-free. A firmer ride doesn’t hurt comfort as much as you’d expect, although road noise is noticeable. Still, it’s a small price to pay for a car those four-times the price might struggle to live with when the going gets twisty.
IS IT ANY FASTER?
Fast doesn’t always mean fun, you know. That’s not to say the ST Edition isn’t like a bat out of wherever, because it is. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 5.7 seconds, with standing start performance supported by launch control. The 2.3-litre, four-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine – the one found in the last Focus RS – is a real cracker jacker and as you scroll through the drive modes it reveals more of its character. Brimming with torque, it fires you right up to the redline. Choose ‘Sport’ and there is even more to savour as rev-matching keeps turbo boost up between downshifts via the addictively snickety 6-speed manual gearbox. If you do take a rush of blood to the head and sign up for a track day there is a programme for that, too. Ford claims it provides the sharpest responses and the most freedom by reeling in the Electronic Stability Control for maximum fun and frolics.
ANYTHING ELSE OF NOTE?
The interior is not overly different from the ST, which is no bad thing because it’s well appointed and crammed with useful tech, from a multimedia system to Ford’s first proper attempt at a computerised instrument binnacle. The super snug Recaro sports seat make a return, with the blue Ford Performance stitching these are edged in repeated throughout the cabin, including on the inside of the multifunction leather steering wheel, the gear lever gaiter, centre console knee pads, and floor mats. One other change of note sees the lettering on the stop/start button finished in red.
PROS & CONS
+ Kart-like handling
+ Super grip, strong brakes
+ Practical and roomy
– £35k for a Focus?
– Adjustments are tricky
– No estate version
SUSPENSION: Supplied by KW Automotive, the coilover suspension is adjustable using a kit found in the boot. Using this, owners can tinker with the car’s ride height through up to 20mm at either axle, the bump damping rate trough 12 presets and the rebound through 16. Those not confident enough to carry out the changes themselves are encouraged to take the car to their nearest Ford dealership.
INTERIOR: The ST Edition shares much in common with the Focus ST on which it is based, so it deploys the same 8-inch multimedia system with satellite navigation. There is also a 12.3-inch instrument binnacle that changes appearance depending on the chosen drive mode. However, the latest car’s Recaro seats, floor mats and leather steering wheel are all trimmed with Ford’s iconic ‘Performance Blue’ stitching.
STYLING: The ST Edition is recognisable by its ‘Azura Blue’ paintwork and gloss back detailing on the roof, roof spoiler and mirror caps. Wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber, this colour is repeated on the flow-formed, light-weight 19-inch alloys that not only look great but help to reduce unsprung weight at each corner for improved high-speed handling. Adaptive LED headlights are also standard.
PRACTICALITY: Space throughout the cabin is unchanged from the regular model; the front sport seats don’t affect leg or knee room for those travelling in the back a great deal, with head and shoulder room on a par with similar medium-sized hot hatches. Boot floor capacity weighs in at almost 380-litres, although the lack of a height adjustable floor does create a deep ledge right at the mouth of the boot.
Price: £35,785 (as tested)
Engine: 2.3-litre, 4cyl petrol hybrid
Power/torque: 276bhp/310lb ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Top speed: 165mph