The sport Focus prepares for a return to the spotlight.
By Joe Lorio, April 17, 2018
What It Is: The next generation of the Ford Focus ST, caught testing at the Nürburgring in Germany. While Ford has unveiled the fourth-gen Focus for Europe, it has not yet revealed either the U.S. version or the hotter ST variants. We say variants, plural, because Ford offered the outgoing ST in both hatchback and station-wagon body styles in Europe, but we were sadly denied the wagon; we expect the ST again to be a hatchback-only proposition in our market. Based on what we see in these spy pictures—and what we see from the standard Focus—the new ST hatchback has an arched roofline and a more upright rear section than today’s car. It rides on a longer wheelbase but appears to be roughly the same size overall. The ST in these pictures does not look to have the fancy headlamps with an LED light bar across the middle, as seen on high-end versions of the regular Focus. It does sport deeper side sills, a spoiler at the top of the liftgate, and large wheels wrapped in low-profile rubber. Up front, the deeper, hex-mesh grille sits atop a wider lower air intake, which is bracketed by vertical slots; at the rear are meaty dual exhaust outlets rather than today’s center-exiting exhaust. The styling is more curvaceous and sculpted than before, and the overall shape nods to the Mazda 3 hatchback.
Why It Matters: The Focus ST knocked our socks off when it arrived on the scene for 2013, toppling the sixth-generation Volkswagen GTI in a comparison test and muscling its way onto our 10Best Cars list. Good as it was (and is) the Focus ST struggled to stay ahead in the fast-moving currents of performance-themed hatchbacks. First, the seventh-generation GTI overtook the Ford with its winning combination of agility and refinement. Then came in-house competition in the form of the smaller, more affordable, and more enthralling Fiesta ST. Bracketing the Focus ST on the high side of the price/performance equation, the Focus RS stole the spotlight with its 350 horsepower, all-wheel drive, and headline-grabbing Drift mode.
With production of the current-gen Focus ending, however, the RS has bowed out, and its return could come later than the mainstream new-generation models, if it happens at all. In which case the new ST would be the sole performance offering in the lineup. And with the Fiesta likely to be dropped from Ford’s U.S. lineup, the Focus ST could end up playing a more prominent role as Ford’s sporty small car in the States.
Platform: The new Focus rides on a new scalable platform, one of five that the company will use for its worldwide portfolio of products and the only one that is front-drive, unibody, and intended for non-EVs. For the Focus, Ford claims increased torsional rigidity of 20 percent; the car also uses all-new suspension components, with a lower ride height and a sportier tune for the ST. With the new architecture will come a raft of additional driver-assist features, including forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, adaptive front lighting, and more.
Powertrain: While the standard new fourth-generation Focus uses Ford’s EcoBoost turbocharged 1.0-liter inline-three, a 1.5-liter EcoBoost, and (in Europe) a 2.0-liter turbo-diesel, it’s not known whether the ST will return with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, as in the outgoing car—where it makes 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque—or a higher-output version of the 1.5; either would drive the front wheels. It’s expected that Ford again will offer the ST with a six-speed manual transmission in addition to a new eight-speed automatic engaged via a twist dial on the center console.
Competition: Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Elantra GT Sport, Mini Cooper S, Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Estimated Arrival and Price: The new Focus and the Focus ST are due in late 2019, with U.S. cars being imported from China. (The former Focus factory in Michigan is being converted to production of the Ranger and upcoming Bronco.) Pricing for the ST shouldn’t stray far from where it is now, so expect a starting figure around $26,000.