First things first: I don’t know why you’d buy a rocket like this week’s Ford Focus ST (mine had a Track, chequered-flag mode) and not expect to pick up a tranche of penalty points for speeding.
Predictable old slosh from me about the incompatibility of power and penalty points? Maybe, but it’s true. Indeed it is a backhanded compliment: this thing was seriously quick and tempting.
Even driving it at 20pc of its capacity was exciting but when I pushed that throttle half in earnest the 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine soaked up the road – and petrol.
It’s easy to see how cars like this, despite their price, points potential and road tax, stir admiration, emotion and heated debate in equal measures – even among ‘ordinary’ drivers. They are the stuff of technological know-how at a high level and should be acknowledged as such. But their downside has to be factored in too.
ST rivals include the Volkswagen Golf, Renault Megane RS, Peugeot 308 GTi, Skoda Octavia RS, Hyundai i30N, etc, and are the recourse of those enthusiasts who cherish the technology and occasional flirt with performance.
Their technical portfolio is not just impressive but relevant to what your next car may have under the skin.
I drove the 280PS, 420 Nm, 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol with twin-scroll turbo and anti-lag. The engine is a variant of that in the recent Focus RS and Mustang.
Technically there’s much to take in – such as it being the first Ford front-wheel drive with electronic limited-slip differential. Translated, that means it improves traction and stability.
Less complicated was the noticeable speed of the 6spd manual gearbox. Selectable drive modes (another first for this ST) gave me the chance to sample, at various times, the everyday and the exceptional in performance. I enjoyed the different driving characteristics a lot.
The advanced independent rear suspension configuration kept things taut and tight. Controlled Damping (CCD) was standard on my EcoBoost version. It lets you switch from easy-going to fiery in no time.
Sport mode was great, Track mode was mad; the car snarled at me as I sprinted from standing start to 100kmh in a few seconds (officially 5.7: Launch Control helped the quick take-off). But for comfort, give me Normal mode, please: I felt far more like a regular Focus driver.
All the Sport and Track mode action isn’t necessarily reflected in how much different the car looks, though I suppose the Recaro sports seats give it away a bit alright. I liked the look of the front too.
At the heart of it all is the 2.3-litre EcoBoost aluminium engine which pumps that significant 280PS.
Mine was much harder on the juice than the official 7.9 l/100km fuel efficiency figures would have you believe, while emissions are high (as you’d expect) from 179g/km CO2. That’s €750 a year.
So what’s the verdict?
The ST was an impressive amalgam of power and pace while retaining a huge slice of everyday practicality if you let it.
I was impressed with its ability to excite at road speed in lower gears. I loved the sense of immediate in-gear energy. Yes, it could raise the hairs on the back of your neck if you let it go but where can you do that? I think the Golf GTI is a smoother operator while still conveying the sense of power and drive: the ride is only just acceptable in Normal mode with the ST.
But I had some great moments at the wheel. Impressive and enjoyable – at a price.
■ Prices for the ST start from €39,595 (diesel); 2.3-litre on test from €41,099; options push it to €44,729 ex-works. Focus range begins from €22,805.
■ EcoBoost 2.3-litre 280PS, 5dr, 6spd manual, €750 tax, 18ins alloys, parking sensors, performance suspension with CCD, FordPass Connect, adaptive cruise control, new camera-based predictive curve light, head-up display, evasive steering assist helps you steer around stopped or slower vehicles, SYNC 3 connectivity system, 8ins touchscreen, gauges integrated in cluster 4.2ins TFT, dual zone air con, partial leather Recaro performance seats.
■ Options: Performance Pack – rev matching; shift indicator; launch control; performance suspension CCD (WAAN); multi-colour ambient light (JCBAN); red brake callipers (FBBAF), heads-up display, rear wide-view camera.