Fast Fords have been with us practically since Henry invented the brand. Indeed in 1904, well before the iconic Model T which established the Blue Oval brand as a powerhouse of automotive manufacturing, the company had actually set a land speed record with an in-house design.
That car was called the Ford 999 – not because you needed an ambulance anytime you drove it, but after a speed record train – and only two of them were ever built.
These were very basic cars – just an engine, a bare chassis and a seat.
Neither actually had a steering wheel, but rather a crude, pivoting metal bar (akin to the handlebars on a mountain bike) with upright handgrips at either end to operate it.
The boul’ Henry had actually handed over ownership of these machines to two business partners while retaining the right to the promotion and publicity of them.
With no bodywork, no rear suspension and no differential, the 999s were nevertheless powered by 18.9 litre (yikes!) four-cylinder engines which outputted some 70 to 100 bhp, depending on who you listened to.
On January 12, 1902, Henry himself (having bought one of the cars back), assisted by mechanic Ed ‘Spider’ Huff who operated the throttle, drove the car to a speed of 91.37 mph on an ice track carved into Lake St. Clair near New Baltimore in Michigan.
It was the fastest speed ever recorded by an automobile and although it only lasted a matter of weeks, it garnered great publicity for the nascent Ford Motor Company.
Since then, of course, there have been battalions of fast Fords and among those that spring to mind include the Le Mans winning GT40 (and the subject of a movie due out shortly called Ford v Ferrari), various Mustangs down the years, the iconic Lotus Cortina, various Escorts (RS1600, RS2000, Mexico and so forth) various Cosworths (Sierra, Escort), a wide variety of Capris and on and on right up to the mighty and recently retired Focus RS.
There will be a new Focus RS with us soon, thank goodness, but until then we will have to make do with the recently released Focus ST, which is sort of RS-Lite.
The ST is offered in two body styles (hatch and wagon) and with two engine choices (either a 280 bhp 2.3 litre turbo petrol, or a 190 bhp two litre turbodiesel).
With all due respect to the turbodiesel, there was considerable relief chez Colley when a ‘Performance Blue’ hatchback with the 2.3 litre EcoBoost petrol engine pulled up in the driveway.
It is not that we would have hated the oil-burner, but when there are hotter options available, it is only natural (for a petrolhead anyway) to desire the hottest there is.
And right now, this is the hottest thing in the Focus repertoire – pending the arrival of the RS which, we are told, will pack a 400 bhp punch and be with us sometime next year – what with a retuned version of the engine seen in ‘lesser’ Mustangs and a barrage of standard gizmology including an electronic limited slip diff and an anti-lag system, while the optional ‘performance pack’ adds a rev-matching system, the option of a ‘track’ driving mode, launch control and red brake calipers.
A careful perusal of the ST after its arrival show it to be obviously a performance car of some description, but something which actually looks like it has a body kit applied, rather than something which has been designed from the ground up.
I’m not saying it’s awful to look at or anything – far from it in fact – just that it does not really boast the slap-in-the-face outrageousness you expect from performance cars.
Certainly in the ‘Orange Fury’ colour option, the car will turn heads, but in other less vivid hues – such as the ‘Performance Blue’ one we got, it actually looks quite demure.
Sure you have an eye-catching rear diffuser with twin exhausts inset and you’ve also got quite a large rear spoiler and flared arches, but each of these elements seemed to me to be toned down rather than bigged-up.
Presumably, of course, Ford are cooling their jets on the slap-in-the-face looks ahead of the RS launch, but for a performance car from the Blue Oval it does look a little subdued – perhaps even restrained.
But, as you may have gathered, much of the ST’s allure is actually cloaked by that reserved look as the amount of technology on offer here is actually quite astonishing.
So astonishing, in fact, that Ford personnel will tell you quietly that the ST is actually so packed with electronics aimed at keeping you out of a tree, it could well be quicker than the last RS around the ‘Ring.
They will also admit it is quicker than the last RS through its’ mid-range, largely thanks to the 420 Nm of torque this engine produces between 3 and 4,000 rpm.
And, speaking of figures, the 0-100 kph time is 5.7 seconds (that’s eight-tenths quicker than the old one) and top speed is limited to 250 kph. One interesting titbit, however.
And one which illustrates the earlier point about mid-range punch, is the four second 50-100 kph capability – in fourth gear! That, I think you’d have to agree, is pretty snappy.
Of course the elephant in the room usually with all that punch is how it gets translated into road behaviour.
Ford, undoubtedly bristling somewhat at those ‘RS-lite’ jibes being aimed at the ST, has been given a complete suspension revamp, with active dampers now part of the package.
This design, along with an incredibly fast steering rack, the eLSD and a new take on the torque vectoring control systems, make for a machine which, despite only being front wheel drive, is incredibly grippy and allows you to punch your way around corners with great confidence.
The ‘performance pack’ which was part of the tester’s armoury (and a €1,500 extra, but worth it), adds three choices of driving mode – normal, sport and race – which hardens or softens the suspension depending on which one you’re in – and also gives you the adaptive suspension.
But just in terms of ride comfort, the ‘normal’ mode is best – and least impactful on your general well-being – for everyday use.
This then is a performance Ford which while not intended to be a complete rip-snorting, balls-out, eyeball-popping demon, nevertheless has enough of the demented jism necessary to make it appealing to the unconverted.
It might not be as whipsaw quick, say, as a Civic Type R or as crazy as a full-on Megane RS, but that is not its job. That end of the market will be looked after by the Focus RS in due course.
But as a mere ‘hot hatch’ the Focus ST has clearly zoned-in on arch-rival the Golf GTi and the designers and engineers at Ford should be rightly proud that they have fulfilled their brief in that regard.
Thus, not alone it is quick and endowed with awesome handling, but it is also well-equipped, well-built and a relatively practical form of daily transport.
The ST is also an indication, if it were needed, that the speed bug which has informed the company DNA going back all those years to the 999 model, has not in any way been diluted by time.
Long may that continue.