The Focus ST is powered by a 2.5-litre turbocharged engine that is also used in several Volvo models. It has five-cylinders (as oppose to most hot hatch engines which have four) and this accounts for the unusual and distinctive sounds it emits, especially under hard acceleration, while the twin exhausts that burble away only add to the feelgood factor.
It certainly has bags of character - plant your right foot and you're rewarded with long-legged performance and acceleration all the way up to maximum revs. There's no sudden shove - instead the power is delivered predictably making it an easy car to drive quickly but smoothly. 0-60mph comes up in 6.8 seconds - that's marginally slower than alternatives like the Honda Civic Type-R and SEAT Leon Cupra but quicker than the Volkswagen Golf GTi.
Plus the ST has more pulling power than so in-gear pace is superb.
The standard Focus is renowned for having excellent handling and good steering and the ST builds on this. It has the best steering feel of any hot hatch along with immense grip, excellent body control and great traction when accelerating out of corners. Consequently the Focus delivers a truly intoxicating experience but always feels nimble and secure, helped by lower and firmer suspension, bigger roll bars and extra stiffening.
However it's not a frantic or exhausting car to drive and refinement hasn't suffered despite the sporty set-up - there's a compliancy and comfort to the ride that few performance cars can match.
A sporty feel is created through the use of black headlining and coloured sections of seat fabric while the steering wheel is nicely sculpted and feels good to hold. As with all Focus models, the level of steering assistance can be adjusted to suit the needs of the driver, with light, normal and sport levels offering progressively less assistance. An additional cowl on the dash holds a trio of extra dials for turbo boost pressure, oil pressure and oil temperature adding to the sports car feel.
Facelifted models get a much more upmarket cabin with better quality materials, redesigned instrument dials and a revamped central console.
The Focus is a roomy mid-sized family car and the ST retains this virtue so it will happily swallow four adults or even a fifth at a squeeze. The front occupants are treated to superbly supportive Recaro branded sports seats with eight-way adjustability on the ST1 and ST2 and 10-way electric adjustment on the leather-lined ST3. The driver's seat could do with being a fraction lower, but the chair itself is fantastic with big side bolsters.
The ride quality is very impressive considering this is a hot hatch and it deals with rough roads and potholes well.