Ford Focus ST Estate: A change of view

  • A few issues potentially blight the ST's overall appeal
  • More familiarisation counters most of the negatives
  • Powerful and quick estate proves enjoyable to drive

When I was told that a Ford Focus ST Estate was joining the fleet, I was admittedly a little wary.

My uncertainty wasn’t based entirely on prejudice. I’d driven a hatchback version of the ST very briefly previously and hadn’t been wowed as much as I thought I would.

There were several things that put me off. I didn’t find the Recaro seats particularly comfortable. The steering weaved all over the place when you accelerated hard at lower speeds. The trip computer indicated 25-odd MPG. The traction control was constantly intruding. It was raining. I had a cold.

It also didn't impress me as much as the Vauxhall Astra VXR, which was remarkably good to drive.

Still, I’m not one to let my initial experience of a car translate to a final judgement. After all, the more time you spend in a car the more likely you are to find out what it’s actually like. Sometimes what may first seem as a negative can, ultimately, turn out to be a positive.

Consequently, after putting a few miles on the ST, I found myself revising some of my initial thoughts and looking at the car in a different light.

A serious bout of cross-country driving revealed that the Recaro seats, while somewhat pinched, provide superb support and hold you in place reassuringly when cornering. Much to my surprise they also turned out to be comfortable on longer trips, with the heavy bolstering helping maintain a good posture.

Several refuelling stops demonstrated that the Focus was averaging around 28-odd MPG, higher than I’d seen previously. The Focus is claimed to average 39.2mpg but you’d probably have to put it on a flatbed lorry for it to manage that.

On reflection, its economy isn’t that poor. It’s important to remember that this isn’t “just” a Focus and that it is actually a 247bhp hot hatch capable of 0-62mph in just 6.5 seconds. Its economy is acceptable, given the performance on offer, as a result.

Yes, more powerful engines in faster cars – like the BMW M135i – may be able to exceed the ST’s economy but they’re also considerably more expensive to both buy and run.

With regards to handling, the Focus is very capable but it does have a few problems. The turbocharged engine’s 360Nm of pulling power frequently overwhelms the front wheels, causing the traction control to step in.

This is preferable to simply incinerating the tyres but, because the Focus has so little trouble exceeding the limits of available traction, it can get a little tiring. Quickly you learn to not overdo it, instead feeding the power in more gradually or using a higher gear.

Alternatively, you can switch the traction and stability control off. Obviously we’d never recommend this but I must admit that I find the Focus smoother, more predictable and more engaging without the battery of safety systems working continually; they do interfere with the car’s power delivery and responses.

Predictably, with the Focus being front-wheel-drive, all that power can corrupt the steering as well. The classic symptom of torque steer raises its head on a regular basis.

This is when, during acceleration, the engine’s torque isn’t transmitted equally to the front wheels. This causes the steering to pull notably left and right. You eventually learn to cope with it and just drive around it.

While these traction and torque steer issues might sound like big negatives, they do make the Focus ST a much more visceral and violent experience than you might expect.

This stops it becoming boring which, in a car that’s supposed to be entertaining and exciting, is exactly what’s needed.

So, what may have initially appeared like bad news is actually quite good.

Prices for the new high-performance estate version of Ford's dependable Focus start at £23,095. Our car, in "ST-2" specification, has a base price of £24,595.

Total mileage: 7,356 miles

Average mpg: 29.2mpg