Ford is rather good at injecting a bit excitement into ordinary family cars, in turn creating some of the best hot hatches there have ever been. The Focus ST that was built between 2006 and 2010 is a fine example, and a quick browse through the CarGurus classified listings reveals it can now be bought for comfortably less than the £18,000 an entry-level model would have cost when new.
So, what’s to like? First of all let’s talk about the engine, which was actually sourced from Volvo (Ford owned the Swedish company at the time) and then tuned to produce an impressive 222bhp. With a displacement of 2.5 litres spread across five cylinders plus a turbocharger to help out, this characterful engine is relatively unstressed by hot hatch standards, which is good news as far as used car buyers are concerned. What’s more, having an odd number of cylinders means it make all sorts of satisfying noises when you accelerate, most noticeably in the form of a mellow warble that is genuinely pleasant on the ears.
Unstressed doesn’t mean slow, by the way. The Focus ST can dash from 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds, making it a match for a contemporary Volkswagen Golf GTI, and there’s plenty of mid-range pulling power for effortless overtaking. You do however need to be aware that all the power is transmitted to the road through the front wheels only, which can make the ST feel a little lively, particularly in wet conditions. If you want a car in which you can simply plant the throttle and let the electronics sort things out, this isn’t it.
However, if you enjoy the sensation of judging the boundary between where tyres grip and slip the ST is going to appeal. This is helped by the way it communicates so clearly to its driver, with the sports seats helping you feel connected with the chassis underneath and the beautifully weighted steering sending you subtle messages about the road surface. This was all a result of Ford lavishing plenty of attention and a fair few new parts on the ST compared with a normal Focus, including a faster steering rack, thicker anti-roll bars, upgraded suspension and bigger brakes. Throw in a satisfying manual gear change and you’ve got a recipe for fun.
On the downside, one of the main ingredients in said recipe is petrol, which the ST drinks like it’s going out of fashion. Ford might have quoted a figure of 30mpg but in reality it’s quite easy to knock 10mpg off that when you start to enjoy the performance, and even on a gentle run owners tend to struggle to get more than 25mpg.
That drinking habit isn’t good news as far as emissions are concerned either, which in turn makes road tax an eye watering £305 per year. Be prepared to also budget for new tyres around every 12,000 miles, or much sooner if you plan to use the car for track days.
On the plus side cars with high running costs tend to put a lot of folk off, which in turn pushes values of used examples even lower. As such you can pick up a Focus ST from as little as £3000 provided you don’t mind a mileage that’s well into six figures. At the other end of the market even the best examples with around 60,000 miles on the clock still fall within our half price hot hatch budget of £9000. As ever, using the CarGurus Instant Market Value tool can show you if a particular model represents a fair deal compared with others in your area. To do this our algorithms consider a wide range of factors, from age and mileage to specification and dealer reputation. Because as we all know, the cheapest car is rarely the best deal.
You’ll first need to decide if you want a three- or five-door body, and then choose between ST1, ST2 or ST3 specification. All left the factory with identical power outputs but equipment levels improved as you moved up through the range. ST1s for example have 18-inch alloy wheels and Recaro sports seats, while ST2 added an MP3-compatible stereo, heated windscreen, xenon headlights and electronic stability control (this was made standard across all models from mid 2008, identifiable by their wider grille). Opt for an ST3 and you get electrically adjustable leather seats and a six-disc CD player, but only two seats in the rear rather than three.
As with any hot hatch you need to have a good look at the overall condition of the car and be satisfied it has been driven with a reasonable amount of sympathy. Also look for paperwork to show it has been serviced every 12 months, and be aware that a lot of STs have been modified to produce more power, which could affect reliability, resale value and your insurance premium. Pre-2008 cars can also suffer from split cylinder liners, the only solution for which is a new engine. Look for white mayonnaise-like gunk in the oil filler cap or a rough idle as warning signs.
Make sure there’s plenty of life left in the tyres too, bearing in mind they tend to wear more heavily on the inside edges, and that the clutch always returns to its original position.
Ford Focus ST
Power: 222bhp @ 6000rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds
Top speed: 152mph
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