A quick glance at the Ford Focus brochure tells me that there are currently 10 different trim levels to choose from, along with two body styles, 10 engines and two transmissions. Although, the way car makers change their line-ups that could have changed by next week.
Walk into your local Ford dealer right now with no idea what you want beyond “a Focus” and you could be there for days, going through combinations ranging from an 84bhp petrol Style or 148bhp diesel Active X to a £30k luxury-inspired Vignale or the fiery 276bhp ST petrol.
Somewhere amid all of those lies the ST-Line and the better specced ST-Line X, both of which still come with five engine, two body style and two gearbox choices. Thankfully, I think I’ve found the perfect combination.
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If the ST is the full-fat hot hatch then the ST-Line and tested ST-Line X are the semi-skimmed version. They get ST-inspired body trim, wheels and interior touches, and the X gets some bright red brake calipers too. But more importantly it gets sports tuned suspension (although not the unique ST setup) and, in this model, a 180bhp four-cylinder petrol engine.
Ford Focus ST-Line X
Price: £29,045 (£31,145 as tested)Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrolPower: 180bhpTorque: 295lb ftTransmission: Eight-speed automaticTop speed: 135mph0-62mph: 8.6 secondsEconomy: 28.8-46.6mpgCO2 emissions: 127g/km
Sometimes it’s easy to overstate the Focus’s on-road abilities - we’re not talking Porsche levels of feedback and engagement - but it remains the absolute benchmark for handling and driver engagement in its class, especially once you get into sportier models like this.
There’s a connection and a precision that others can’t match. Thanks to the spot-on steering weight (through a chunky wheel), and predictable, even body control you can place the car on the road with confidence.
The suspension that feels niggly and a touch harsh around town settles down at higher speeds, damping the roughness of faster country roads better but keeping the car controlled and not too harsh.
It’s a positive driving experience, with more feedback than rivals, more precision and more positivity. Even down to the brakes, which are immediate and progressive rather than too snatchy or too vague.
The engine completes the package with a decent turn of pace from standstill and lots of mid-range pick up thanks to 295lb ft of torque. It feels slightly hampered by the eight-speed automatic transmission which isn’t the quickest shifting, even using the override paddles. And like most modern four-pots, the engine noise is pretty dull, with a synthetic “sports” exhaust note that won’t fool anyone. Thankfully, you can opt for a six-speed manual and turn the exhaust noise off.
The stealth look of our black car with black trim and diamond cut black and grey alloys really suits the ST-Line vibe, even if the paint is a £550 option. And the estate is a better, slicker looking thing than the hatchback, as well as being more practical with 300 more litres of luggage space.
The carbon-effect trim on the dashboard also sits well with the ST-Line X’s sporty positioning but it’s a shame it doesn’t extend down to the central console, which still has the weird grained-plastic finish found in lesser models. ST-Line X cars also get heated partial-leather sports seats and a dark interior finish, along with an eight-inch internet-connected media/navigation system and suite of safety and convenience features.
Like the smaller Fiesta, the Focus ST-Line strikes a sweet spot between the regular models and the full-fat STs which bring higher costs with their higher performance. Choose the most powerful petrol engine and it turns up the regular Focus’s positive driving experience a notch further but retains all the day-to-day usability, especially if you opt for the estate. So now you know what to order if you’re looking for a mainstream family motor that you’ll still enjoy driving.