We’ve driven the manual and loved it – what does an seven-speed automatic do to Ford’s fabled Focus ST?
One of my favourite YouTube comments on the Focus ST review was where I spent thirty seconds talking about the automatic. The commenter took great exception to this and decided he could watch no longer. I thought that was a bit odd, because it was an important point – it makes the ST desirable to more people.
I hope he reads this review. He probably won’t, but a big hello to you if you’re out there. Lovely to have you on board.
Anyway, you’ve read or seen the reviews of the manual. I was…sceptical of a torque converter auto doing good things for the Focus ST. I’ll tell you now, it’s going to sell and it’s going to sell well in the context of Focus ST sales.
Like the auto Golf GTI, people are looking for that top of the range hatchback with some grunt and they have the money to spend. You can do a lot worse than a Focus and you can do a hell of a lot worse than this tame-when-you-want-it Focus ST. Adding the automatic broadens its appeal significantly in a market averse to changing its own gears and is probably key to the Focus ST’s survival as a product over the coming years.
How much is a 2020 Ford Focus ST automatic and what do I get?
2020 Ford Focus ST auto: $44,690 + ORC
2020 Ford Focus ST manual: $44,690 + ORC
These prices are a big increase on the LZ ST’s $38,990 but the seven-speed automatic is a no-cost option. Which is nice.
You get 19-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, electronic damping, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, auto LED headlights, sat nav, auto high beam, heated front seats from Recaro, launch control, leather wheel and seats, powered and heated door mirrors, wireless Qi charging pad, heated steering wheel and a space-saver spare.
The SYNC3 system comes with ten B&O speakers, which is pretty nifty. The 8.0-inch touchscreen sits high in the dashboard and is easy to reach. The sat nav is a bit of a pain to use and the standard keyboard is ABC rather than QWERTY which is super-irritating. Thankfully, you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which makes all that drama go away.
You can add a sunroof for a colossal $2500 which doesn’t seem like great value to me. Only Frozen White and Race Red are free colours, the rest (Agate Black, Ford Performance Blue, Orange Fury and Ruby Red) are $650. That’s kind of annoying, but the price is pretty sharp to begin with and Ford dealers aren’t averse to arm-twisting (except for the Fiesta ST)
Safety – 5 stars (ANCAP)
The Focus ST comes loaded with safety gear. Six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward collision warning (low speed), forward AEB with pedestrian avoidance, reverse AEB, reverse collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, speed sign recognition and reverse cross-traffic alert.
The auto picks up active lane keep assist as well, further strengthening its value-for-money proposition against the manual.
There are three top-tether and two ISOFIX points for baby and child seats.
The Focus scored five ANCAP stars in September 2019.
Warranty and Servicing
Ford has an excellent after-sales package, with a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and seven years of roadside assist as long as you keep your car serviced with Ford.
Which is worth doing, because the fixed-price servicing of $299 per service for the first four years/60,000km is reasonable for a car with this kind of performance. Service intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km.
Ford will loan you a car for the day of your service (remember to book) and offer assurances on tyre and brake costs.
It’s a good deal and the only thing I’ll complain about is that the warranty length doesn’t match Kia’s. Kia doesn’t have a Focus ST rival, though, so that’s kind of moot.
The EcoBoost 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo. delivers a stonking 206kW and 420Nm. That’s an increase of 22kW and 60Nm over the LZ, which was no slouch. It’s reaching for LZ RS numbers, too and I bet the tuners have got those without too much trouble.
Its flexibility comes from the clever anti-lag system which keeps the engine fuelled on lift-off to keep the gases flowing. Ford says the anti-lag is off the amazing Ford GT.
The turbo is a twin-scroll unit and has an intercooler to keep things from getting too hot.
The seven-speed automatic is the same basic unit as the one in the ST-Line but with a gear missing. Ford said in the launch press conference that the second gear from the other cars was a waste (the first two gears are very close), so dropped it out to make the seven-speeder.
The underguts are identical to the manual, with the obvious differences to accommodate the gearbox.
I’ve written at great length about the Focus ST already, so here’s a recap. Electronic front diff with a pair of clutches, 20 percent stiffer dampers up front, 13 percent at the rear (which is Ford’s SLA setup).
The torque steer is tempered by the electric power steering which “filters” out the worst of it, which is quite clever.
Brakes are 330mm up front and 302mm at the rear. And, again, I said they’re Brembos in the video, they’re not. Oops.
Look, it shouldn’t be a surprise that just because there’s an auto the Focus ST is still a blast to drive.
That engine is so strong, smooth and torquey. The automatic does a good job managing things but you can play boy-racer with the paddles if you fancy it. The auto’s shifts are smooth and fast in all modes, with a bit of an edge in the upper modes.
For some folks, the opportunity to get places a little quicker will sway them on the automatic. It’s quick off the line, shifts faster and even uses a little less fuel. As I get older and drive more cars, I still love a manual but I wonder where the crossover point is to push me towards an auto.
The Focus ST is fast, really fast. Like its Fiesta ST cousin (where it’s highly unlikely an auto fit for the job would squeeze in), I reckon it’s on that limit. Modern hot hatches would probably show a Ferrari 355 a clean pair of heels on a tight country road. That’s how fast these cars have become in a specific set of circumstances. And that means that a lot is happening.
Why am I telling you that? Because the auto Focus ST is a good entry point for a performance car, in the same way an auto Golf GTI is. You get all the fun of the fair, I mean, chassis, but with every day usability and if your significant other won’t/can’t drive a manual, they can’t stop you having your plaything.
If you need an automatic, things are opening up for you. The DSG Golf GTI changed the hot hatch game and the Megane and now Focus have piled in behind it. The DCT i30 N is coming, too.
I really like the way the Focus ST goes about its business and the auto means you can get on with having fun while also making it more liveable in the driving most of us have to contend with day-in, day-out.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.