This car has well and truly sunk its claws into me.
On the one side, I have had a catalogue of failures that would most likely put the average motorist off the Ford marque for life. A lot of these failures I find simply unacceptable for the age of the car relative to its condition and standard of maintenance.
But, on the flip side, it's just such a satisfying car to drive. The steering is sharp and responsive; power delivery for a N/A car is excellent, especially in the low end of the rev range. When pushed, the sound out of the standard stainless steel exhaust is raspy and throaty, but never shouty. The handling and road holding is nothing short of brilliant, and the gear change, although notchy and stiff in places, always engages positively, like a well-oiled rifle bolt.
Which is why it's more the pity the car is so unbearable to live with as a day to day car. First and foremost being the reliability, it's simply not up to scratch, but secondly is its uncompromising suspension set up. Great it may be for tackling the apex of your local back road or roundabout, but in the real world of pot holes and speed bumps, it can never be described as compliant; take a bump too fast and you are punished with a broken spine. Surely one of the brakes of owning a hot hatch, you may say? That brings me on to my next point.
The ST boasts a full 168bhp on tap from its throaty 2.0 16V, but it simply doesn't feel like a hot hatch. Swift it may be, but you could never describe it as rapid, and there is good reason for that, it isn't a hot hatch. Rivals for this car at the time consisted of the MG ZS 180, Astra SRi Turbo and Civic Type R, to name a few, all of which trounce the Ford on the power scales. All but the Astra give the Focus's handling a run for its money too. In short, the Focus simply doesn't give you as much bang for your buck that the likes of all the above cars do for 0-60 thrills.
Despite the lack of performance as well, you are still being punished with the running costs: the ST costs the same to tax and insure as the above cars, yet offers less straight line performance and will still only achieve 30mpg combined, giving you a total range of only 350 miles to empty. All of which leaves that sinking feeling you get when you know you've been short changed.
Another gripe of mine is the build quality; the entire interior is made up of cheap and nasty hard Ford plastic. It’s everywhere; the dashboard is made from one big hollow slab of it, the door handles are made from it, and the whole interior feels nasty and low-rent. Compared with its main rival, the Vauxhall Astra, the Ford feels like it’s in a class below. Considering the Focus’s reputation for being the best in its class, I was really expecting better, especially considering the effort they have put into some of their newer models in this area. The wing mirrors feel brittle and frail when you try to fold them in as well; I keep getting the feeling they will snap off at any moment.
Yet despite all of this, I cannot bring myself to hate this car, on the contrary I love it. When clean it is magnificent to behold in metallic Panther Black or Imperial Blue, and the sporty 17" alloys suit its character perfectly. When you are out on the road as well, all of the controls feel positive and click into place nicely; you can see that first and foremost, this is a car that has been designed to be driver-centric, and it is these little details that have me torn.
Ultimately however, my head must rule against my heart in saying that I would not recommend anyone to buy a Ford Focus ST170 if they were after a performance hatch at a decent price. The Civic Type R offers a better driving experience, more poke, better economy and better build quality, which is why I recommend that car over the Focus.