The last Ford Focus ST lived in the shadow of the mighty RS, and it’s not hard to see why. The RS was an all-wheel drive, giant-killing mega hatch. It was capable of pulling off big, smoky drifts, and was frequently driven in promotional guff by everyone’s favourite goateed tyre shredder, Ken Block.
The RS was the closest thing we’ve ever seen to a resurrection of the Escort Cosworth. For its faults - and there were a fair few - the RS had so much going for it. But the ST? Well, it was cheap and it was quick… and that was about it. Looking at its contemporary rivals, the VW Golf GTI was more complete, the Renault Sport Megane was more engaging, and the FK2 Honda Civic Type R was more exciting. So the arrival of the RS late in the third-gen ST’s life merely highlighted its inadequacy in the hot hatch world.
This time around, things are different. For one, the word is that Ford has cancelled the fourth-generation RS, which it apparently deems implausible while it cuts billions of dollars of costs across the board and attempts to comply with tightening emissions rules. Secondly, the Focus ST is a much better car than it used to be.
The old one was a brutish thing, chucking vast amounts of torque through an open-diff front end that just couldn’t cope with the abuse. There was a system that fiddled with the power steering resistance to try and counter the rampant torque steer, but it had all the effectiveness of sticking a Hello Kitty plaster on a gunshot wound. The ride was brutally firm, contributing to a driving experience that was downright frustrating considering the smaller Fiesta ST was as incredible as the Focus ST was disappointing.
The new car is far more sophisticated. There are adaptive dampers that keep the car much more composed and comfortable than before, a clever sort of anti-lag system that recirculates exhaust gasses to keep the turbo spooled when off-throttle, and most importantly, an electronically-controlled differential. Finally, the ST can put its power down without going all Wookie and trying to rip your arms away from their sockets.
It’s still far from perfect, of course; the driving modes aren’t the best judged, and there’s still that annoying sense that it isn’t the upsized Fiesta ST we all want. But it’s a huge leap forwards compared to the Mk3, and with no RS on the way to rain on its parade, now is its time to shine.
So what if it’ll never have all-wheel drive or Drift Mode? The RS Focus’ oversteer antics were always a bit weird and fake-feeling anyway. And yes, even with an increase in output to 276bhp it’s a long way off the RS in terms of power, but that soon may change.
With a bigger engine in the new ST (a 2.3-litre Ecoboost inline-four, shared with the Mustang and related to the RS mill), there should be more potential to unlock. Famed Ford tuner Mountune has already boosted the ST to 324bhp, which isn’t far off the output of the old RS.
We’re moving to the realms of speculation here, but Ford itself may choose to make a more powerful version of the ST further down the line, either at the time of the mid-life update or perhaps via a dedicated model. The company did it with the Fiesta ST200, so why not the Focus? It makes more sense than ever, given that there’ll be no hierarchy implications to consider in the absence of the RS.
The expected loss of an RS for the Focus’ fourth-generation is a shame, there’s no doubt about it. But as a way to fill the void, the ST is already up to the task. And if Ford helps cement the ST’s role as Blue Oval hot hatch king by giving it a little extra spice, then even better.