Two of Ford’s fastest and finest handling STs hard-lapped around the quick and twisting Llandow racetrack, near Cardiff. Tyres died and high octane fuel was burned, all in the name of hardcore hot hatch testing. Fast road fans and track day heroes read on…
Ford Focus ST
The 247bhp Ford Focus ST has been with us for a few months now and while I’ve had my fair share of fast-road-fun and a few hot laps at a test track facility, yesterday, at the awesome little Llandow racetrack near Cardiff, I got my first taste of what the car can do over several consistent fast laps. In short, it’s well up for it.
With all safety electronics engaged – which is likely how most Focus ST drivers will mostly drive their cars – and it’s quickly obvious after a few slightly ham-fisted corners (me, not the car), that anyone who likes a bit of motoring speed and excitement can jump in this ST and quickly go quick. And those with a bit more experience of driving fast – like me – will look and feel even quicker, thanks to the ST’s user friendly design.
The Focus ST’s front end – that powers and steers the car – and its stability electronics, are all perfectly synced together and work seamlessly with the balanced chassis, powerful brakes and firmly controlled suspension. Go in to a corner too hot and the ST tidies up your mistake, without washing off too much speed, the way old stability control systems used to.
Some understeer is still possible when pushing the car very hard through tighter bends, but this can be dealt with by a quick, hard dab on the brakes to put some weight, and therefore extra grip, on the front. This was my main driving mistake during my hot laps of Llandow, but with some racing driver instruction I got the front end better loaded before the sharper bends, and that helped the Focus really chew through the turns. Another very enjoyable engineered-in trait of this ST’s chassis is the way – with the electronics still on – that the car lets you drift through the bends, going a little light at the rear; all controllable still with the steering.
The ST’s 2-litre, turbocharged engine makes good grunt – 247bhp, 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds – which enabled me to get into fourth gear on both of Llandow’s short straights, before braking very hard – with impressive stability – into tight bends at each end. After a few laps to get my eye in, I was barreling through these bends at some speed; feeling fast and safe, and never once losing control.
The Ford Focus ST made me – an average driver with some fast car experience – look pretty darn good around this twisting little track – and I came back into the pits with a huge grin on my face every single time. Indeed, the old days of hot hatches needing a tight rein and a skilled driver to get the most out of them are long gone – anyone can go fast in this ST without fear of it trying to take nibbles of their posterior.
Ford Fiesta ST
Twinkling under the Welsh spring sunshine in the Llandow pits was also a brace of new Fiesta STs, set too to be tested to the max around the track. Smaller, lighter (around 1,163kg with driver and fuel) but packing a touch less turbo punch than the Focus ST, the from-£16,995 Fiesta ST is the new Ford hot hatch that’s priced to compete. It’s just gone on sale and Ford already has 1,000 orders to fill.
Another EcoBoost turbocharged petrol engine; a 1.6-litre this time, makes 180bhp in the Fiesta ST; powering the car to 62mph in 6.9 seconds and on to 137mph. Overtakers take note though, at full throttle the Fiesta ST gets a juicy overboost to 200bhp, making slow-traffic-dispatching a piece of cake.
Down Llandow’s straights and the Fiesta isn’t quite as quick as the Focus, but its light and compact body means it’ll thread through chicanes like a laser guided needle. The Fiesta chassis has long been the best of the supermini bunch, but now with added power, the Fiesta ST is surely the hot pick in this segment.
A little less drifty than the Focus through the bends on this track, but with front end power and safety delivered by similar electronics, the Fiesta ST has a mostly similar on-track feel to the Focus ST. On the road they both feel very firm (but never crashy) and that firmness of suspension, lower ride height and thicker anti-roll bars, turn these focused road cars into respectable race cars. Testament to the build quality and engineering too that our ST track cars – entirely standard road cars – ripped it for lap after lap with only the tyres showing signs of abuse.
The lithe Fiesta ST is a wedge-shaped chunk of fun on the track, and the same on your favourite back lanes. But, if I had to pick one of the two Ford ST models, I’d go for the Focus; budget unrestricted, of course. It’s that bit faster and I absolutely loved the way it would drift and dance through the bends, at frankly outrageous speeds. Saying that, if you’re in the market for something saucy this summer, I’d heartily recommend a test drive in both. And when you’ve bought one, get yourself down to Llandow and show it some of those brilliant bends!
By Dan Anslow