Many will tell you that you can’t have your cake and eat it too when it comes to sports car. Take the hot hatch for instance; bottle rocket performance but with predictably high running costs. But what about a diesel hot hatch like the Ford Focus ST 2.0-litre TDCi?
With the practicality of a family car, the performance of a hot hatch and the eco-consciousness of a sensible diesel, the Focus ST is the perfect compromise for those who want a bit of everything.
Going up against other likeminded, functional hot hatches like the Volkswagen Golf GTD, the big question with the Focus ST diesel, or any diesel hot hatch for that matter, is can it offer the same levels of enthrallment as a petrol hot hatch? If it can’t, then what’s the point, right?
When compared to the 2.0-litre EcoBoost unit from the ST petrol, the ST diesel’s 182bhp 2.0-litre unit produces 64bhp less, but 40Nm more torque, with a total of 400Nm. The diesel also takes 8.1 seconds to reach 62mph from a standstill, which is 1.6 seconds slower than the petrol.
Performance-wise, this means the diesel feels noticeably more placid from the get-go, lacking trademark hot hatch vigour and linear acceleration. It feels like a diesel in low revs, simple as that.
Where the diesel ST starts to show its racing stripes is when you push past the 2,000rpm mark. The turbo spools up, the groggy diesel characteristics cease and you unlock some hefty pulling power, and once you are up to speed, the ST diesel feels almost as flexible as the petrol, happy to rev to the red line, happy to drop a gear and blast out of a bend.
The six-speed manual transmission we tested offered smooth, slick gear changes that encouraged quick-shifting. Although the DIY manual transmission is more enjoyable than the Powershift auto available, the automatic is actually marginally quicker, with its 0-62mph sprint time cut to 7.8 seconds.
Ride and Handling
Although the ST offers ample grip and brushes off body lean, its ride is extremely supple, easily ironing out speed bumps and pot holes.
The ST diesel may not be as obviously sporty as the petrol, but it still handles like a champ. Pick-up the speed and take on a twisty road and the ST diesel oozes hot hatch finesse, with incredibly accurate, apex-hungry steering that will have you opting to take the B-roads home. In fact, the steering can feel a little too precise at first. Turn too harshly or accidently wobble the steering wheel and you may find the ST a little too lively. It’s relatively easy to get used too though – and you’ll find the key to it is dialling back how much you turn into the bends. Once you get used to it, you can utilise this sharpness to your sporty advantage. Body control, grip and stability in the ST diesel are excellent too. Although there isn’t a limited slip differential to speak of, the Focus ST still manages to stick to the tarmac in the corners with ease, thanks in part to other clever features like torque vectoring and cornering understeer control. You may be surprised then to hear that the ST is surprisingly comfortable. Although the ST offers ample grip and brushes off body lean, its ride is extremely supple, easily ironing out speed bumps and pot holes. You could almost mistake the ST for the standard Focus when it comes to ride quality. The only real downside with the Focus ST is its lack of steering feedback. Even though you can slingshot your way out of bends, you never feel fully involved and connected to the front wheels.
Interior and Equipment
The engine used in the Focus ST diesel is a re-tuned version of the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel available in the standard Focus.
The Focus ST may not be the most lavish hot hatch on sale, but it ticks a lot of important boxes. Equipment levels on all models are impressive, and our ST-3 model benefited from the likes of rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, LED daytime running lights, heated leather Recaro seats and some splashes of ST-badging on the gearstick, door sills and steering-wheel. Our test model also featured the optional £300 SYNC2 touchscreen system, which came with DAB digital radio and sat-nav. Build-quality inside the cabin is solid, although there are a lot of dark plastics – still, these plastics are mostly high-quality. It’s not as up-market as a Golf, but it strikes a nice balance between quality and versatility. The cabin has lots of storage solutions on offer too, including a centre console with two large cubbies and cup holders – one of which extends to accommodate large bottles via a nifty trap door – sizeable door bins and a spacious glovebox. Space in the rear seats is on par with some of the best in the hatchback segment. Head room is plentiful, even for six footers, and leg room is ample, even with the chunky Recaro seats up front. There are multiple storage compartments in the rear as well, including three pockets scattered up either side of the rear bench. The boot on the other hand isn’t quite as practical as the VW golf, SEAT Leon or Skoda Octavia, with 316 litres of offer – and the seats don’t fold completely flat. Still, 316 litres is a very useable size, certainly enough space for a suitcase or two.
Fuel economy for the diesel is predictably better too, with a claimed average of 67.3mpg – although you are more likely to get around 40mpg with a mixture of driving, or around 60mpg on an ideal motorway run.
If you want to save some money over an ST petrol, then you’ll be off to a winning start with list price, as the ST diesel is a few hundred pound cheaper, with our ST-3 test car costing £26,545, or £27,945 with a few extras. Fuel economy for the diesel is predictably better too, with a claimed average of 67.3mpg – although you are more likely to get around 40mpg with a mixture of driving, or around 60mpg on an ideal motorway run. That compares to the petrol’s 25-40mpg – quite a difference.
Going fast and harnessing speed on a country lane is not a problem for the ST diesel. It will happily put a smile on your face just as quick as it will save you money at the pumps. The only thing noticeably lacking from the diesel when compared to the petrol is acceleration. The diesel has the sporting prowess, but it needs to be unlocked by the driver, unlike in the petrol where it is available instantly on tap. Is that slight lack in urgency balanced out by the superior running costs? For many, the answer will be a resounding yes. For others, particularly purists, not a chance.