OK, so ‘electric orange’ isn’t the most subtle shade, but it really suits our car with its big alloy wheels, spoilers and sideskirts. The ST is in-your-face in a way the Volkswagen Golf GTI never is.
It’s also a fair bit cheaper, and one of the fast Ford’s key attributes is its bangs-per-buck ratio.
Our Focus, in mid-spec ST-2 trim, costs £18,520 and offers 225bhp from its turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine. Compare that with the 200bhp from the £20,630 Golf and the Focus’ advantage is clear. Only the £19,140 Vauxhall Astra VXR can come close, thanks to its 240bhp engine.
For user-choosers who want a hot hatch, that price certainly makes the ST appealing, and goes some way to offsetting the high CO2 emissions which impact on company car tax. The ST sits in the 31% benefit-in-kind tax band, although the front-end price brings the company car tax bill down to around £100 a month for a 22% taxpayer. That’s still on the expensive side, but you do get a lot of car and performance for the money.
That Volvo-sourced engine certainly gives the ST some clout, rocketing the Focus around and providing a fantastically growly soundtrack as the revs rise.
And the best news is that, as the miles pile on, the noise is getting louder and fruitier. She’s even started to give the occasional pop from the exhaust on the overrun – very cool, and certain to get people’s attention if the colour hasn’t already caught their eye.
Naturally, being a Focus, the ST handles superbly, offering huge amounts of grip and detailed feedback through the steering wheel. But it can also play the role of cruiser – stick the gearbox in sixth and motorway work isn’t the chore you’d imagine it to be.
The ST is certainly more of a viable prospect to live with every day than the more hardcore Astra VXR. Inside, though, the Focus can’t rival its Vauxhall nemesis.
The ST’s dashboard plastics just don’t have the quality look and feel that you get on the Astra, although it all feels well screwed together and rattle-free.
The seats, however, are awesome – deeply-sculpted Recaro buckets which grip you all ways while also being soft enough to be comfortable.
For £18,520 there’s also plenty of standard kit on the ST-2, with a CD player with MP3 compatability, bi-xenon headlights, air-conditioning, electric windows and Quickclear windscreen included. Stick to the standard car and your drivers won’t be disappointed.
However, we’ve decided to raid the options list to see if the various extras are worth the money. So far, the orange paint at £695 is worth it for the shock value alone, while we’ve upgraded the seats so there are now two Recaro chairs in the back, too.
The automatic headlights and wipers are a worthy addition for £250 just for driver convenience, although we could live without our £50 floormats and get some rubber items from Halfords for a fraction of the price.
The £300 parking sensors are probably not necessary on a car of this size, although the Bluetooth phone kit is an essential option.
The biggest indulgence is the £2,000 touch-screen centre display with satellite navigation and stereo, which can also be used to control the phone and air-con.
So far the ST is proving the ideal perk car – when you start it up in the morning you know it’s going to be a fun drive.
Only a raging thirst (around 25mpg) and a tiny fuel tank which gives a range of less than 300 miles are spoiling the fun slightly.
Price: £18,520 (£22,365 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 224
Company car tax bill (2006) 22% tax-payer: £104 per month
Insurance group: 17
Combined mpg: 30.4
Test mpg: 24.8
CAP Monitor RV: £7,325/40%
Contract hire rate: £373
Figures based on three years/60,000 miles
Equipment and options
Total options: £3,845
Price (OTR): £18,520
Price as tested: £22,365
The manufacturer’s view
‘THE Focus ST has made a significant impact on the UK market and it has exceeded even our expectations. Even now – nine months after its launch – there is still a waiting list. This exciting car offers a low P11D price and strong residual values compared with its rivals. The Focus ST offers stimulating performance with ‘goose bumps as standard’, combined with exceptional handling, superior levels of security and an outstanding level of comfort.’
Kevin Griffin, director – fleet operations, Ford