Ford Focus (14-): Focus ST vs Titanium X

  • We pit the diesel Focus ST against our long term Titanium X
  • Only £1,000 difference but more than 60bhp between them
  • Both are great to drive but for different reasons

The arrival of a diesel Ford Focus ST at the Parkers office initially asked more questions than it answered.

Does it handle like the petrol? Is 183bhp enough for a fast Ford? And crucially – why would you buy one instead of our 1.5-litre Titanium X long termer?

Both cost about the same and offer low CO2 and high mpg, so for a company car driver at least, there isn’t much in it. We love a head-to-head here, and on the face of it - this is going to be a close one.

Styling and equipment

We’ve got an ST-2 which costs £23,995 compared to our long-termer’s £22,995. For the extra £1,000 you get 18-inch wheels, a sporty bodykit and spoiler, and a bunch of stuff with ST badges on, such as the gearknob, the scuff plates, the Recaro seats and a special black grille.

ST scuff plates, in case you forget what you're driving

Under the skin there is a ST-fettled chassis complete with stiffer sports suspension and enhanced torque vectoring control to ensure you keep it all pointed in the right direction.

Additional features in the Titanium X tech-fest include automatic bi-xenon headlights, heated front seats, rain sensitive wipers, multi-colour ambient LED lighting, automatic parking system, rear view camera, cruise control and hill start assist. You also get the SYNC2 eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system that will set you back £500 in the ST.

Titanium X gets you the big screen

The Focus ST looks exactly the same with a petrol or diesel engine – only the rev counter gives away the different powerplant under the bonnet. That means when you’re parked or on the move, nobody will know the difference. The Titanium X however is a more elegant-looking thing thanks to its chrome grille and softer, spoiler-free boot line.

Performance

As you would imagine, the one area where there is a bit of a gulf between these two is performance; most noticeably the 2.4 second difference from 0-62mph. That said, the Titanium X doesn’t feel slow, but its 270Nm of torque means it feels less tractable than the 400Nm ST.

Faster throttle response and go-in-any-gear flexibility pulls the 2.0-litre ST out of corners with extra gusto, and as a by-product makes it more relaxing to drive under normal conditions. Instead of constantly changing gears to stay in the powerband, you can just wait half a second for the turbo to spool up and you’re away.

Focus ST is something else to drive

Handling-wise you won’t be surprised to hear that the ST is streets ahead of the normal car - itself no slouch - but there is something really special about the sharpness of the ST’s turn-in. The way it grips in a corner inspires confidence, and lower, stiffer suspension adds to this sense of stability, encouraging enthusiastic driving like a hot hatch should.

The steering is also a lot quicker, so the wheel only needs small inputs from the dead ahead position to see the front end darting left or right. This is great on a twisty road, but not as relaxing as the Titanium X’s slower rack on a motorway cruise, even though the heavier wheel weight in the ST goes some way to combating unwanted movement.

On the flip side, that couple of degrees of grace in the Titanium X’s steering makes it feel a bit vaguer in comparison when trying to pick a line through a corner.

But the Titanium X is no slouch

Take a bend too fast in the Titanium X and the first thing you will notice losing grip is your purchase on the driver’s seat. The ST’s Recaros pin you down with impressive restraint. The flatter chairs in the slower car may be more comfortable and easier to get in and out of, but it’s at the expense of cornering security. They're not bad, but again, not as good.

One area where the Titanium X does claim a victory in this section is its turning circle – a full metre shorter than the ST’s – making u-turns where the faster car has to resort to three-pointers.

It’s also more comfortable when going about the everyday business of driving. While the ride in the ST is compliant enough to live with every day, it does fidget where the Titanium X smooths, especially on the motorway.

Costs

This should be the biggie – but it’s not. Both cars produce admirably low CO2 emissions, so the ST is £30 a year in VED tax, and the Titanium X will cost you nothing. This means company car drivers fare well - for a 20 percent tax payer the monthly costs are £79 and £65 respectively. Owning a fleet ST will cost you £166 a year more than a Titanium X.

Less CO2 than you would imagine comes out of here

As a private owner travelling 15,000 miles a year for three years, the Titanium X would cost more per mile than the ST due to it depreciating faster. This saving would be less obvious the more miles you did as the faster car can only promise 67mpg in comparison to the Titanium X’s 74mpg.

All in all there isn’t a stand-out value option with these two cars, partly due to the curious effect of the ST badges and their influence on residual value. If you took them off the car, it would just be a 2-litre diesel Focus and the above economy figures would be much less remarkable. Put them back on though and you can’t help but be impressed by the promise of 67mpg in a fast Ford. Funny isn’t it?

Discreet ST badging is there if you know where to look

Verdict

If you’re buying privately and want a solid all-rounder get the Titanium X, and if you want performance get the petrol ST. It’s faster, more dramatic, and thanks to a new engine, not as thirsty as you would imagine.

If you’re looking for a company car and plan to cover a lot of miles then the Titanium X is the more obvious choice. For a shorter commute, or if you covet that ST badge, then the faster car makes more sense. That chassis makes it well worth the extra £166 a year.