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The new Focus ST is the latest in a long line of performance cars from Ford.

It arrives in Ireland in September but I had an exclusive opportunity to experience it from the passenger seat at Ford’s proving ground at Lommel, in Belgium.

This dedicated facility has more than 105km of test tracks of every variety for ride, handling and endurance.

Operational 24/7/365, it features everything from high-speed oval to extreme courses of potholes, bumps and everything in between.

Changes are fairly subtle if you look past the signature ST orange colour, sitting 10mm lower than the regular Focus.

Inside they’ve worked on the seats for better side support and everyday comfort. Noticeably there is better shoulder room than before.

Yet, apart from ST badging and some carbon fibre imitation trim, it’s pretty standard Focus fare. Enthusiasts may miss the three ancillary dash-mounted dials from the previous generation models.

This is the most powerful ST to date; there’s 12pc more power (280PS) and 17pc more torque (420Nm).

The 2.3 litre EcoBoost petrol engine is a variant of the one in the most recent Focus RS, and Mustang. It has anti-lag in a Focus ST for the first time.

You get from 0-100kmh in 5.7 seconds (eight-tenths of a second faster than the old ST).

An EcoBlue 2.0 litre diesel option sets new power standards of 190PS and 400Nm. There will also be an estate version in addition to the five-door hatchback.

Probably the biggest news is the addition of an electronically controlled limited slip differential (e-LSD) and electronically controlled adaptive dampers (the estate goes without the adaptive dampers).

There’s just one setting for the dampers unless you opt for the extra-cost performance pack which gives a choice of three driving modes – normal, sport and track. These are activated by the push of a steering-wheel button.

Performance pack also includes the likes of launch control and rev-matching on downshifts. And you get enhanced of pops and bangs on the overrun in sport and track modes; a must-have addition for enthusiasts.

Ford Performance director Leo Roeks told Motors the aim was to make the car equally at home in everyday use as well as track and weekend driving fun.

Even sitting in the passenger seat, the difference between the three damper settings was apparent, particularly over the bumpy sections.

In sport or track mode, you’d be checking for any loose teeth fillings whereas in normal the ride is much more like that on a regular Focus.

As a passenger it certainly felt fast but reassuring on quicker sections, with impressive, upgraded, braking. It’s effective too, pulling out of tight corners, with the e-LSD transferring torque across the axle according to need.

First impressions are of a highly competent, enjoyable and practical hot hatch. Expect prices to be close to the current €39,100.

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