Britain has long been the hot-hatch capital of the world.
And while many of us may think back to the heady days of the XR3 with a certain moistness in our eyes and a lump in the throat, family life has probably by now caught up with us.
However, before you admit defeat and sign up for a PCP on a monochrome identikit SUV, there is a way to have your cake and eat it.
The new Focus ST has had much written about it, almost entirely about the hatchback. The thing is, it’s the estate that interests us, because as well as being fans of fast Fords, we Brits love a good wagon.
And this is a very good wagon indeed.
we love a wagon, and this is a very good wagon indeed
For a start, you get all the practical goodness of the regular Focus Estate: up to 1,620 litres of cargo space, seats that fold easily to create a virtually flat floor, and plenty of load-hooks and tie-downs.
It’s just so happens that coupled to it is a 280ps four-cylinder turbo and a chassis capable of generating enough cornering force to turn your Labrador inside out.
Lifted from the Mustang, the 2.3-litre EcoBoost features a new anti-lag system that keeps the throttle open during gearshifts, and that makes the ST feel far more responsive than its 420Nm peak torque at 3-4,000rpm would suggest.
In fact, Ford say the new ST is quicker through the mid-range than the Focus RS, but it also feels more tractable: at low rpm in a high gear, only a modest jab of the throttle is needed to get your wagons rolling.
That tends to mean the ST rewards a short-shifting driving style, and that’s perhaps just as well because the gearing is a little tall to be climaxing the engine at the red-line in every gear without surrendering your licence first.
It does sound good, though. I found the 2.3 somewhat soulless in the Focus RS and utterly uninspiring in the Mustang, but in the ST Ford have clearly worked hard to give it some character.
Full-chat gearchanges trigger pops and crackles from the exhaust like small arms fire, and while much of the rest of the noise is piped in through the speakers and sounds a little artificial – like it’s been re-recorded too many times – it’s not without charm.
the exhaust pops and crackles like small arms fire
Add the optional Performance Pack (do it, it’s only £250) for a rev-matching system that blips the throttle on downshifts in ST mode (with a dedicated ST button on the steering wheel, although it resets every time you start the car) and while the gearshift action is good, it’s a little curiously weighted – a light lever with a heavy gearknob.
The pack also adds a Track mode and launch control, although the latter is only partially successful; 420Nm through the front wheels is a big ask, and despite a Borg Warner-developed electronic limited-slip diff (eLSD), the ST still squirms about under power like a politician on Question Time. Pulling out for an overtake across a painted lane marker and a change in road camber needs a firm pair of hands on the wheel.
In all other circumstances, the steering is sharp as a paper-cut. At just two turns lock-to-lock, it’s faster even than the Fiesta ST, yet on wet and slimy December roads the Focus never felt skittish nor anything other than resolute in its line.
Even mid-corner bumps do little to upset the ST’s attitude, and that’s despite the estate missing out on the Continuously Controlled Damping (CCD) of the hatchback.
Be in no doubt, though, the ride is hard in a way that’ll soon have you steering round manhole covers and wincing at cat’s eyes, while tyres with the profile of a rubber-band generate the same noise over coarse tarmac as the SAS pipe into their recruits’ ears during interrogation training.
Yet none of this will ever matter.
At the merest hint of an overtake opportunity or a series of corners opening up before you, the ST will build boost seemingly from nowhere and charge off towards the horizon, leaving only the startling crack of unburnt fuel as a parting shot to those left behind.
For character alone, the Fiesta ST undoubtedly has it licked, so overflowing with effervescence is the smaller car’s three-pot that no four-cylinder could ever get a look-in.
It’s not cheap, either, the petrol estate’s £33,695 making it pricier even than the Focus RS when it launched just three short years ago.
But for practicality, the ST wagon beats them all.
And since Ford set out to create a car that offered “performance without sacrifice,” we’d say the Focus ST Estate is more cake than you’ll ever need.
|Entry-level Price||£33,695||Price as tested||£37,090|
|Engine||2261cc 4-cyl turbo||Transmission||6-speed manual|
|Power||280ps @ 5,500rpm||Torque||420Nm @ 3,000-4,000rpm|
|0-60||5.8 secs||Top speed||155 mph|
|Economy||34.4 mpg||CO2||179 g/km|
|Dimensions||4668 x 1848 x 1492 (LxWxH)||Kerb Weight||1543 kg|