Ford ST showdown: Fiesta v Focus

High-performance Fords are nothing new. From the early days of the Escort RS1600, through the Mustang, the legendary Cosworth-badged models and the GT series, the company have a long history of cars that offer eye-watering performance, and they’re not afraid to let you know about it.

Last April saw the release of the Fiesta ST, the high-octane version of the company’s best-selling supermini. It punches far above its weight in its respective class and can leave many more powerful and expensive cars trembling in the dust.

When we reviewed it , we called it an absolute cracker, and for a time the Fiesta ST ruled the roost for affordable hot hatches.

Until now.

Enter the new Focus ST, the latest in Ford’s line of popular ST models.

Despite only making its global debut a few weeks ago, the Fiesta’s bigger and bolder brother has started off with nothing short of a bang, claiming victory in the world’s first race between a real life car and its virtual counterpart.

With the arrival of the bolshie new Focus model, is the monopoly the Fiesta ST eked out for itself now under threat from its bigger relative?

Both are two of the hottest hatches that Ford have ever put out. Both are also roughly the same size and in roughly the same price bracket to boot. With both compact performance models so similar to each other, even the most frenzied of speed demons will be forced to stand back and take stock of this Cain versus Abel situation.

We’ll cut right to the chase: yes, both are plenty good; and, as it turns out, yes, they’re both plenty different too.

Style

Both the Fiesta and Focus ST models feature the same lean and mean body design, with sporty and bellicose stances, aggressive bumpers and trapezoidal honeycombed grilles.

The three-door Fiesta sits 15mm lower than the regular model with its sports suspension and features attractive 17-inch wheels, with LED running lights and rear privacy glass as standard on the flagship ST2 trim.

A similar theme is present on the Focus, albeit with five doors, with body-coloured side skirts and rear-roof spoiler. In addition, the Focus also has twin hexagonal-centre tailpipes, black lamp bezels and optional 19-inch alloy wheels are also available.

Paint options for both models have appropriately ostentatious names, with colours including a new dark grey finish called Stealth, along with Deep Impact Blue, Frozen White, Panther Black, Race Red and, finally, Tangerine Scream.

With the same choice of colours and the same general styling, both the Fiesta and Focus are aesthetically similar. The addition of hexagonal tailpipes and optional 19-inch alloys on the Focus are a nice touch, however, but the larger five-door body might put off buyers looking for a more compact vehicle.

Interior

Hot hatches have a bit of a reputation for being a little underwhelming inside, but the equipment tally on the Fiesta’s interior is generous, even on the entry-level ST1 trim.

The gear lever and pedals are dressed in the same alloy as the 17-inch wheels, while there’s an unmissable traction control button on the centre console.

DAB digital radio is included, as is Bluetooth and smartphone connectivity, as well as Ford’s voice-activated SYNC 2 system.

Stepping up to the ST2 trim adds SatNav, keyless start, heated seats and cruise control. There’s also a chunky leather steering wheel and leather-trimmed two tone Recaro sports seats for some extra glitz and glamour.

Again, the cabin architecture of the Focus model is similar. There’s the same Recaro seats and upgraded steering wheel, and also the SYNC 2 connectivity system with its voice-activated audio, navigation and climate control features.

However, the Focus has a leg up on the Fiesta in certain respects. For a start, the touchscreen on the SYNC system is larger: eight inches in the Focus, compared to the Fiesta’s comparatively measly 4.2-inch screen.

The signature ST dash-mounted turbocharger pressure, oil pressure and oil temperatures gauges also make a return, and there’s satin chrome door handles and aluminium scuff plates as standard across the range.

As well as that, there are three trim levels available on the Focus as opposed to the two available on the Fiesta. The basic ST1 option comes with a choice of dark fabric upholstery, while ST2 adds a touch more leather in body-matched colours, and finally the range-topping ST3 trim comes with full black leather on the inside.

So far, both models seem to be on a relatively equal footing, so how do they handle on the road?

Performance

Ultimately, this is more than likely what it’ll all boil down to. Both the Fiesta ST and Focus ST are more or less equally matched, with the Focus offering some slightly better interior touches but lacking the three-door option of the Fiesta.

What sets them apart, then, is how they act on the tarmac.

Lurking under the brightly-coloured bonnet of the Focus, the new model packs a choice of updated and powerful engines, including a 2.0-litre 182bhp TDCi option, the first diesel engine ever available in the Focus ST.

Choosing the diesel option will give you the most fuel-efficient performance Ford ever, with a 0-62mph time of just a fraction over eight seconds, with 64.2mph and only 114g/km of CO2 emitted.

A turbocharged 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine is also available that generates a staggering 246bhp. As a result, it’s significantly quicker than the diesel, reaching 62mph from a standstill in just six and a half seconds.

Both engines come with six-speed short throw manual transmissions and optional start/stop technology to further improve fuel efficiency.

The Focus ST also comes with an incredibly tail-happy setup, courtesy of the larger weight at the rear as opposed to the Fiesta, plus tweaked sports suspension and revised power steering. It’s a relatively rare thing for front-wheel drive cars to be as sideways inclined as the Focus’ chassis, but it’s no bad thing.

It’s not all slip and slide, though; the electronic stability functions and traction control will also enable the Focus to keep a firm grip on the road when necessary.

The sideward ability of the Focus doesn’t extend to the Fiesta, however. The smaller dimensions and lower weight of the smaller ST instead delivers an incredibly responsive and direct steering feel that’ll cut through corners with ease where the Focus will be more inclined to sail around them.

Only one engine is available with the Fiesta ST, but it’s a gem. The 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol unit, matched to a six-speed manual transmission, produces a feisty 180bhp and 290Nm of torque.

Despite its size, the numbers on the Fiesta are nothing short of epic; it’ll take you from 0-62 in 6.9 seconds and will go on to do a maximum of 137mph.

The Focus certainly performs well and will no doubt appeal to many drivers for its straight-line performance and ideal build for more creative turning, but few cars will prove to be as entertaining and agile as the Fiesta.

With its fast steering, increased roll stiffness and pedal placement that’s perfect for heel-and-toeing your way around hairpin bends, it’s possibly one of the most immediately engaging and easy to drive cars in its segment.

Practicality

Although it’s marketed as a performance model, the Fiesta ST is still more or less just a three-door Fiesta underneath, and as a result has the same decent rear-seat space that’s not encumbered too much by the Recaro front seats.

As well as this, the Fiesta has a handy 290-litre boot space that can be extended to 974 litres when the rear seats are folded down. There’s also plenty of storage space dotted around the car, including a large glovebox and various bins and holders.

There is, however, the matter of it having only three seats. While this might be ideal for a single driver or somebody who doesn’t carry family or large loads too often, if family or friends are being taken out for a drive, the Recaro seats can make getting in and out of the back a little bit troublesome.

By contrast, the five-door Focus, which is also available as an estate, is much more accessible. According to Ford, the aim with the Focus ST was to make it more useable in everyday life, as well as having high performance figures.

This is reflected, not only in the five doors, but also the increased luggage space. The standard Focus ST has a 316-litre boot that expands to 1,101 litres when the rear seats are folded down. Even more useful yet is the estate version, with a 476-litre boot that can be increased to 1,500 litres, more than enough to take all kinds of luggage, shopping or prams and buggies.

Perrys pick

At the end of the day, there are generallytwo types of people who buy hot hatches.

The first are those who want an everyday car that they can use like any others, for commuting or the school run for example, but who want a little extra thump when they need it. Conversely, the second are those who are looking for a dedicated car that they can simply have fun in.

Perhaps, then, you’ll forgive us for the slight cop-out when we say that our pick of the two is… well, both.

Yes, both are extremely similar. They’re similar looking, priced similar and offer similar performance times. Where they differ, however, is how they can be used.

The Focus is clearly the more sensible option of the pair if you’re looking for an everyday car that you can take the kids to school in and then load up with a weekly shop, before putting the boot down on the scenic route home.

Meanwhile, the Fiesta is the perfect choice for anybody who simply enjoys driving for the sake of driving. If you don’t have too much to carry or too many people looking for lifts and want a cost-effective car that’s decent on the wallet and a fire-breather on the road, then you’d be hard pushed to go wrong with the Fiesta ST.

Prices for the Fiesta ST start at £16,995 for the basic ST1 trim level. Pricing for the 2014 Focus ST has yet to be announced, but Ford have said more information will be available closer to the model’s on-sale date early next year.