Estate-bodied versions of lower-medium cars aren't exactly the most stylish or desirable cars on the market. Their drivers are, in the main, travelling salesmen or engineers who need to carry a lot of equipment up and down the country's motorway network. And they are usually in a pretty basic specification level and powered by diesel engines. If ever a model was to be classified as a 'job-need' vehicle, then this type of car would be it.
But there is a glimmer of excitement on the horizon as Ford has decided to spice up this sector of the market, offering these employees the chance to retain their load-lugging vehicles while also being able to enjoy driving.
The Focus ST170 estate is, as its name suggests, a 170bhp version of the workhorse model with sports styling and beefed- up suspension and gearbox.
It has just the right amount of power for a front-wheel drive chassis and is priced at £17,350 on-the-road. This model shares all the sports styling cues with the regular hatchback models but has the added benefit of extra loadspace in the back. It also means it features the slightly awkward styling of the estate, rather than the clean lines of the Focus hatchback.
But it does mean more space inside than the hatchback. The estate offers more headroom for rear seat passengers and significantly more luggage space. From the driver's seat it is pure Focus, which means a curvy dashboard and chunky steering wheel.
The most notable difference between the ST and its lesser brethren is the fact that the ST is redlined at 7,000rpm – indicating the extra performance on offer. And there certainly is extra performance, but you have to work hard to get at it. With all the power so high up the rev range (maximum power comes on the boil at 7,000rpm) you need to be committed to extract all 170bhp.
Thankfully the six-speed gearbox is a joy to use and encourages drivers to press on and spin the engine up to the redline before making a quick, positive gearchange.
Once on the boil, progress is suitably rapid but when the engine dips out of the power band it feels lethargic and lesser-powered cars can easily pull away from you. Like its bigger brother, the Mondeo ST220, the Focus ST rewards keen drivers with a fabulous chassis and the power to exploit it. But if you are not feeling particular keen, the driving experience is nothing to write home about.
Where the Focus ST does score is in offering a sporty theme in an estate body. Its only real rival in terms of space and performance is Skoda's Octavia vRS estate, offering 180bhp for £15,800 on-the-road. We are big fans of Skoda's hot Octavia here, but for outright thrills the Focus ST is a more involving driving machine. That daily driving grind just got a whole lot more appealing.
Model: Ford Focus ST170 estate
Engine (cc): 1,988
Power (bhp/rpm): 170/7,000
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 145/4,500
Max speed (mph): 134
0-62mph (sec): 7.9
Fuel consumption (mpg): 31.0
CO2 emissions (g/km): 218
BIK tax 2003/04 (22% tax-payer): £85 per month
CAP Monitor residual value (3yrs/60,000): £5,150/30%
Typical contract hire rate: £371
Transmission: 6-sp manual
Price (OTR): £17,350