The new Ford Focus ST looks like it should be called the Focus ST Line

Ford makes some of the best hot hatches on the planet, and according to those who have already driven it, the new Focus ST is no exception. However, the Blue Oval was a bit overly cautious with the styling of the new Focus ST, so much so that it doesn’t even look like a proper ST, but more like an ST Line.

And I’m a car guy who pays attention to details and is usually quick to spot (even subtle) differences between models, but even to myself this just looks like the sport pack you pay a bit extra for to have on your mid-range Focus. This is a disappointment because it really doesn’t do this car’s performance and handling justice - if I’d buy this car, I’d instantly start searching for some sort of more aggressive body kit to spruce it up.

What’s Missing from the 2020 Ford Focus ST?

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There just isn’t enough differentiation between the ST, which is the pinnacle of the front-wheel-drive Focus range, and the Focus ST-Line, which looks almost exactly the same as the actual ST. The front bumper is almost exactly the same - the Focus ST does have the same diamond pattern from the bigger grille above continued in the smaller lower grille, whereas the ST-Line just has horizontal bars in the lower grille, but this is literally the only difference.

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The Focus ST also comes with full LED headlights as standard, but you can also get what appear to be the exact same clusters as an option on the Focus ST-Line. The side skirts are identical, though, as are the mirrors and the trunk lid spoiler. Granted, the rear bumper is bespoke to the ST and it does look a lot more aggressive than the one fitted to the ST-Line.

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Bigger wheels also help the Focus ST stand out alongside an ST Line, but to my mind I think it just isn’t enough. The first time I saw the new Focus ST, at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed, I honestly thought that they had just brought out a new orange color for the ST-Line only to discover moments later that it was indeed the new full-blown ST.

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And the visual disappointment continues inside. The interior of the new Focus is probably one of the nicest in the class - it has great materials, a great layout and the driving position is spot on. However, you would be hard-pressed to know you’re in any kind of hot hatch when you’re aboard a Focus ST. All that appears to be different are the seats and the steering wheel. The seats do look like proper hot hatch seats, with massive side bolsters that make the sports seats in an ST-Line look puny.
The only other difference I spotted inside has to do with the gear lever knob - in the ST-Line, part of it has a chrome finish, whereas in the ST it has a darker more satin-like finish to set it apart. But all of this really isn’t enough, and I think Ford should have done a lot more to visually separate the ST from the ST-Line.

It just needed to be a bit more flamboyant, aggressive, and noticeable. As it stands, it doesn’t look like a car that has better in-gear punch than the previous-gen Focus RS or one that sprints to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 5.7 seconds (0.8 seconds faster than the old Focus ST).

2019 Ford Focus ST 2018 Ford Focus ST 2019 Ford Focus ST-Line
Engine 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol with twin-scroll turbo and anti-lag 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine 1.5-liter EcoBoost
Horsepower 276 HP 252 HP @ 5,500 RPM 182 HP
Torque 310 LB-FT 270 LB-FT @ 2,500 RPM 273 LB-FT
Transmission six-speed manual six-speed manual six-speed manual
0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) 5.7 seconds 6.5 seconds 8.4 seconds

How do other manufacturers do it?

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Ford is not the only manufacturer to offer a stepping stone model between the regular range and the hot hatch model. In Ford’s case, it’s the Focus ST-Line, but Renault also does it with the Megane GT (which sits one step below the mad new Megane RS), as does Hyundai with the i30 N Line that sits below the actual i30 N in the range.

The Renault Megane GT has bespoke front and rear bumpers that have a different design compare to both lesser models in the range and the range topping RentaultSport model. You really can’t confuse one for the other, especially since the hot Megane RS actually has bulging fenders that the keen eye of an enthusiast will immediately notice and know what he or she is looking at. And the Megane GT also has a unique engine that cannot be had in any other Megane models - it’s an enticing proposition for those who want a 200+ horsepower warm hatch, but it won’t pass for the Megane RS because they look quite different.

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Hyundai’s N Line pack for the i30 can be specified on cars equipped with the 138-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbo engine. It swaps the standard i30 front bumper for one that is inspired by what the i30 N has (but is less extreme) and a sportier rear bumper with a faux diffuser and twin exhaust tips. It also comes with 18-inch rims that, again, are inspired by those of the i30 N but have a more toned-down design and bigger brakes behind them in the front. It is therefore a version of the i30 that is clearly only inspired by the i30 N and not a nearly exact copy of it but with less actual performance.

What are the most flamboyant hot hatches on sale today?

Honda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior
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By contrast to the dull-looking Focus ST, Honda has gone a bit overboard in turning the Civic into the Civic Type R that reviewers have been showering with praise ever since it came out in 2018. It is probably the most focused and capable front-wheel-drive hot hatch on the market right now and you are left in no doubt about that even just by looking at it. It looks like an actual touring car compared to lesser Civics, with massive aero parts, unique wheels, and huge brakes that all add up to quite a dramatic looking car.

The Civic Type R is the least understated hot hatch you can buy, and it may not be to everybody’s taste, especially since it doesn’t actually need some of the bits that are on it (they are there purely for design). However, I totally understand what Honda’s designers and engineers tried to achieve, and the result is a car that you really do notice when it drives by and you will not confuse it with a lower trim level Civic.

Ford Focus ST vs Honda Civic Type R
2019 Ford Focus ST 2019 Honda Civic Type R
Engine 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol with twin-scroll turbo and anti-lag 2.0-liter turbocharged i-VTEC four-cylinder
Horsepower 276 HP 306 HP @ 6,500 RPM
Torque 310 LB-FT 295 LB-FT @ 7,000 RPM
0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) 5.7 seconds 5.7 seconds

Read our full review on the 2019 Honda Civic Type R.

Renault Megane RS

2018 Renault Megane R.S.
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The Renault Megane RS is another hot hatch that’s quite different to the regular hatch it is based on. Firstly, it has swollen fenders that accommodate larger wheels and tires, it has dramatic front and rear bumpers that look nothing like what the standard car (or even the warm GT model) comes with and it rides on very dramatic looking alloy wheels. Oh, and in the back, the massive exhaust tip is located in the center of the diffuser and it looks like what you’d see on a Lamborghini or some other supercar - there is a lot of visual drama with the Megane RS. The point is that you immediately know it is the RenaultSport model and not something else.

2019 Ford Focus ST vs 2019 Renault Megane RS
2019 Ford Focus ST 2019 Renault Megane RS
Engine 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol with twin-scroll turbo and anti-lag 4-cylinder turbo direct injection
Horsepower 276 HP 280 HP @ 6,000 RPM
Torque 310 LB-FT 287 LB-FT @ 2,400 RPM
Transmission six-speed manual Dual-clutch EDC automatic gearbox
0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) 5.7 seconds 5.9 seconds

Read our full review on the 2019 Renault Megane RS.

What do reviewers say about the 2020 Ford Focus ST?

While the Focus ST may look almost exactly like the ST-Line, it does drive quite a bit differently - its suspension is harder, steering is quicker, gear shifter throws shorter and, last but not least, it has considerably more power than any lesser Focus. If it continues the tradition set by older incarnations of Focus ST, it’s probably one of the best hot hatches you can buy. However, some buyers may want more visual differentiation if they spend the extra cash on the full-blown Focus hot hatch.

What I mean is that those who are just looking for a slightly sportier looking Focus will just take the ST-Line that already injects some extra sportiness into the regular Focus. The new Focus ST doesn’t address those who necessarily want to stand out through their hot hatch purchase, but prefer a more sleeper-like approach; driving by very quickly, but unnoticed.

Here’s what the reviewers who have had a chance to drive it have to say about it:

Should I Buy a 2020 Ford Focus ST?

The 2020 Ford Focus ST Might Be Fast, but It's Boring to Look At
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There’s no getting around it - I am disappointed by how little Ford did to make the latest Focus ST look like an aggressive hot hatch that just wants to eat corners. It is not a bad looking thing - it’s actually considerably prettier and better proportioned than the Focus it replaces - but to my eyes, it’s just not special enough to look at or sit in.

If I was looking to buy a hot hatch right now, even though I have great appreciation for fast Fords and would usually pick a fast Ford over the equivalent rival car, when it comes to the new Focus ST, I’d either buy it with the intent of putting some sort of body kit on it or just buy something else with more visual zing and more presence.

Maybe Ford has a more hardcore version of the Focus ST planned, one to go up against Renault’s new track-focused Megane RS Trophy R (a car that rides on red wheels and has an actual livery on its body as standard, on top of the multiple performance upgrades). As things stand, though, the new Focus ST just doesn’t do it for me and that’s a shame because I really wanted it to.

Further reading

2019 Ford Focus ST Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Ford Focus ST.

2019 Ford Focus Interior Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Ford Focus.

2015 Ford Focus ST
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Read our full review on the 2017 Ford Focus ST.

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