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A barrel of monkeys – 2020 Ford Focus ST review NZ

Meant to describe having a whole heap of fun, ‘barrel of monkeys’ is a term of endearment that I picked up when I first moved to New Zealand. But now it seems to be the perfect way to describe Ford New Zealand’s new Focus ST. 

You see, just when I’d thought Ford’s Performance division had given us their all with the likes of the Ranger Raptor, Mustang high-performance and Fiesta ST (I haven’t driven the GT), they go and produce probably their most funnest (yes funnest) new performance car yet, the 2020 Focus ST.

Ford Focus ST review NZ

The new-gen Ford Performance Focus ST is the most capable and yet ‘easiest to get on with’ model to date. Not only does it come with a new all-aluminium 2.3L low-inertia twin-scroll turbocharged powertrain that gives you 206kW of power at 5,500 rpm (an increase of 22kW over the outgoing Focus ST) and 420Nm of torque (previously 360Nm) to play with, but thanks to its innovative anti-lag technology (developed for the Ford GT supercar) it’ll go from zero to 100km/h in under 6 seconds – What’s more, for those that find manuals hard to use, for the first time ever the Focus ST comes as an Auto with 7-speed Paddleshift too.

My review model came in Orange Fury, a colour that captures the attention of other road users and very much suits this hot, 5-door hatch. It has a honeycomb front grille which differs from the standard Focus and LED adaptive headlights to ensure you see your way ahead at night.

Ford Focus ST review NZ

Its unique ST front and rear bumpers incorporate LED fog lamps and have sculpted side-skirts that convey a more muscular look as do the 19-inch machined alloy wheels (with 235/35 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres). And then there’s its suspension that lowers ride height by 10mm over the standard Focus model. The rear hasn’t gone untouched either, dual chrome exhaust tips, rear privacy glass, LED taillights and an integrated spoiler to top it all off. 

For me, the highlight of the interior trim and furniture is the leather and suede Recaro seats. They’re embossed, contrast-stitched, heated and fit sooo well. Technologically, this small racy hatchback has been packed to the rafters. SYNC 3 comes at you via a high-definition 8.0-inch touchscreen display, (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), AEB (with Cyclist and Pedestrian Detection), BLIS, Adaptive Cruise Control, seriously I could go on and on and what’s more Ford Performance instrumentation is standard.

Ford Focus ST review NZ

Anyway, thanks to Auckland’s level 3 Covid restrictions, I found myself with a little more ‘free time’ than normal, which meant just one thing – more time to drive. 

With a plethora of ‘B-roads’ (exactly the type of roads the Focus ST was designed for) surrounding the area I live, I packed a facemask and headed out to where I could release the vehicle’s troop of monkeys. 

Ford Focus ST review NZ

The new Focus ST has been described as being a bit Jekyll and Hyde, an open-road tourer that yearns for the racetrack, however, with a firmer ride (even in Normal drive mode), it’s a hot hatch that I feel would seldom appear on Santa’s ‘nice’ list.

Aside from the regular audio, ACC and instrument cluster set up controls, the D-shaped steering features two extra buttons, one lets you scroll through the drive mode selectors from Slippery up to Track mode (I’ll get to that in a moment) and another that just hyperlinks you straight to Sport. 

Ford Focus ST review NZ

With each of the Drive Modes there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. The Focus ST automatically adjusts the eLSD, CCD (Continuously Controlled Damping), EPAS, throttle mapping, automatic transmission shift scheduling, electronic stability control (ESC), electronic sound enhancement (ESE) and climate settings to suit whatever driving scenario you desire, but when you select ‘Track mode’ you instantly get more steering feedback, the throttle is more aggressive, it instructs the ‘burnout limiting’ eLSD to deliver maximum traction and happily gives you more leeway within the ESC system – essentially all its monkeys are allowed to run riot.

It’s quick off the line and on the straights but seemingly quicker in the corners, adhering to the tarmac like bubble gum sticks to your hair. There’s feedback from the road and an angry note from the exhaust but the sense of control you feel is exceptional, even when the Focus eases up on the ESC. 

And then there are the brakes. The ST’s larger red front and rear brakes feature a new electronic brake booster that improves brake pedal feel and sees almost four-times the fade resistance performance of the previous generation Focus ST, what’s more, it stops you on the proverbial dime.

Ford Focus ST review NZ

Being Auto has made Ford New Zealand’s new Focus ST more of a daily driver and probably expanded its audience attraction. Yes, it’s not as ‘torque-steery’ as its predecessors but don’t think that makes it less of an animal to play with. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The confidence it offers to the driver is amazing but more importantly, the fun it delivers is jaw aching, a true barrel of monkeys.

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