Car reviews - Ford - Focus - ST Mountune
Straight-line performance, sweet manual shift, sharp steering, playful chassis, snug seats, un-optioned Focus ST’s strong value for money
Room for improvement
Mountune upgrade expensive, struggles with traction, dated cabin, small boot, huge turning circle, dusted by 308 GTi 270
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9 Feb 2018
EVEN well before the Ken Block-approved, lairy all-wheel-drive Ford Focus RS hogged headlines worldwide, its older Focus ST sibling had long been the quiet achiever in the hot hatchback class.
It was an odd situation for the Focus duo to be in, because this front-wheel-drive, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder ST has been around since 2012, with a facelift following in 2015, but in six years this Ford has barely made waves against its rivals. Add a rear driveshaft and a slightly larger engine, however, and the RS then suddenly became a star within the same five-door body.
So, after all these years, is the more affordable Focus ST truly underrated? To make a case for revisiting this hardly hyped hot hatchback, Ford has added a dealer-fitted and warranty-approved performance package option, courtesy of European tuners Mountune, that boosts power and torque.
Can it elevate the Focus ST back into hot hatch contention?
Price and equipment
Cheap pricing usually helps hot hatchbacks sell like hotcakes, but even an extremely affordable $38,990 plus on-road costs pricetag – a whole $2500 under the starting sticker of a Volkswagen Golf GTI manual – has failed to boost the popularity of the Focus ST.
With a caveat being that the Ford continues to be exclusively available with a six-speed manual, for only $4135 extra the Mountune kit adds a large-capacity alloy intercooler, a new crossover duct, a high-flow filter and a revised engine calibration to boost outputs to 202kW/400Nm, up 18kW/55Nm.
We say ‘only’ because suddenly, for $43,125 all told, those outputs breeze past the Golf GTI (169kW/350Nm) and challenges the $52,990 Golf R’s 213kW/380Nm outputs for nearly $10,000 less.
Otherwise, 18-inch alloy wheels, bi-Xenon adaptive headlights, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, cloth Recaro seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring are standard.
Disappointingly, however, low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is bundled with blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and auto up/down high beam as a $2000 option, while larger 19-inch alloy wheels add $1990 extra.
The current-generation Focus, which is due to be replaced later this year, will certainly not be remembered for having a glamorous, high-quality cabin. The ST feels cheap inside, with the hard and scratchy door plastics, and masses of other grey and black trim, all having not aged very well.
Ford two years ago updated the 8.0-inch touchscreen across the range, however, and along with new Sync3 software, the infotainment system upgrade has proved to be worthy. Digital radio and live traffic updates for the navigation are still not found in a Golf GTI, for example.
Teamed with a flat-bottomed and perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, dash-top turbocharger boost and oil-pressure gauges, and superbly snug Recaro seats – that might be too narrow for larger bodies, to be fair – the Focus ST at least still appears purposeful, if not premium.
Further behind, however, and this five-door again starts to lose its shine.
Legroom is average and the back bench offers only basic comfort, while the lack of air-vents and a centre headrest grates. The 310-litre boot is among the smallest in the class, as well.
Engine and transmission
In standard Focus ST specification, the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine produces 184kW of power at 5500rpm, and 345Nm of torque – or 360Nm on fleeting moments of overboost, it is claimed – from 2000rpm until 4500rpm. The Focus ST Mountune delivers 202kW at the same engine speed, but its 400Nm now comes in at a flat 2750rpm.
Allied with a wonderfully slick manual gearbox, and this Ford certainly feels faster than before. There is some turbo lag in the lowest part of the tachometer, but the outputs build quickly and deliver surging acceleration that feels well beyond the standard model’s claimed 6.5-second 0-100km/h time.
That is when traction permits, however. There is no change to the 235mm-wide, 40-aspect 18-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres, and it can be a test of patience to wait for them to grip. Perseverance is also required with the steering, which can wriggle and wrestle through the driver’s hands under full throttle even in a straight line. It is a lot of torque going through only the front wheels, after all.
There is nice, plumbed-in intake noise to be enjoyed with this sprightly petrol turbo, however, with the deep note remaining at a single pitch and sounding vaguely like the Volvo-sourced five-cylinder turbo in the previous-generation ST (called Focus XR5 Turbo here, of course). While Ford added idle-stop technology to its 2.0-litre with the latest facelift, though, this has never been known to be a frugal engine – and the claimed 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres blew out to 11.5L/100km on-test.
Ride and handling
The Focus ST has always been a playful hot hatch. Without a limited-slip differential (LSD) to help channel power to the ground, this front-wheel-drive model instead preferred to eagerly move its rear-end in corners to help the nose point and ensure the driver can wind off steering lock quickly.
With only 1.8 turns lock-to-lock, this Ford’s steering is quick and incisive, but the downside is one of the largest turning circles of any new vehicle. The front-end was already being overworked in this model, and the Mountune upgrades do not help matters. Through any sort of bend, applying those extra kiloWatts and Newton metres is a difficult task without inducing power understeer.
This hot hatch still enjoys moving around the driver, sometimes in a fashion that could be considered alarmist or thrilling depending on the perspective, but in any case it never feels particularly light on its feet – note the portly 1464kg kerb weight a Golf GTI weighs 1329kg.
Add a fixed sports suspension tune that can be tiring in its constantly firm and lumpy response to all manner of road irregularities, and the Focus could be considered too focused for the dynamic return.
Safety and servicing
Six airbags (including dual-front, front-side and curtain), ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), and rear parking sensors with rearview camera are included as standard with the ST.
The Ford Focus achieved a five-star safety rating when it was tested by ANCAP in 2014, scoring 34.17 out of 37 points.
With annual or 15,000km servicing intervals, Ford charges an average capped-price $320 for the first service, $430 for the second, $400 for the third, $620 for the fourth and $400 for the fifth.
The Focus ST remains fun but a bit frenetic and ultimately flawed once the price moves towards $40,000 and beyond, which it can easily do with optional safety or this Mountune performance kit.
It has superb straight-line performance and firm ride quality that indicate that it should be more of a driver-focused machine than that perennial all-rounder, the Golf GTI. However, some issues with torque steer and a heavy kerb weight ultimately dull the potential through corners, while the basic interior and ordinary rear comfort reinforce its position at the budget end of the hot hatch segment.
For a more hardcore drive, a $45,990 Peugeot 308 GTi 270 is much more impressive and less than a $3000 stretch above this Focus ST Mountune. That rival matches the Ford with 200kW, and while it only gets 330Nm, it also only weighs 1205kg – a staggering 259kg less – and includes a vital LSD.
For its standard price the regular Ford Focus ST remains a likeable and impressive buy for keen drivers on a budget, however the Mountune kit struggles to mount a case for spending the extra.
Peugeot 308 GTi 270 from $45,990 plus on-road costsMuch more modern inside, and a lighter and more cohesive drive than Focus ST Mountune.
Volkswagen Golf GTI from $41,490 plus on-road costsNot nearly as fast as the Ford in a straight line, or as playful in corners, but more balanced overall.
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