What is it?
This is a limited edition special of Ford's excellent hot hatch. The Focus ST-3 was limited to just 200 units in Australia, but brought with it technology that has since become available on the new, premium Focus ST X.
The headline-grabbing addition for the ST-3 is the blue oval's Advanced Lighting System, which uses a camera to scan the road markings and direct the adaptive headlights towards the corner, allowing the driver to get a clearer view of the road at night.
But a new headlight system isn't enough to justify a special edition, so the ST-3 is also equipped with a panoramic glass roof, a head-up display and heated and electronically-adjustable Recaro sports seats on top of the standard Focus ST gear to ensure it's suitably special.
Does it have any racing pedigree?
Despite being active in a variety of competition from NASCAR to the World Rally Championship this latest Focus doesn't have a direct racing connection. Instead, it benefits from Ford's knowledge with its ‘EcoBoost' turbocharging technology.
EcoBoost has become the brand's key performance engine technology with the Ford GT skipping a V8 in favour of a 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 and the WRC Puma Rally1 entry featuring an EcoBoost four-cylinder paired with a hybrid system.
What's under the bonnet?
The ST-3 gets the same 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine as the standard Focus ST. It also makes the same 206kW of power and 420Nm of torque. This is effectively the same engine as found in the now-departed Focus RS, albeit it de-tuned slightly to accomodate for the ST being front-wheel drive (rather than all-wheel drive like the RS).
As we found in the standard Focus ST the new engine is an excellent addition, providing not just more outright performance but a broader torque curve that helps it feel strong across the rev range.
What makes the ST-3 special is instead of having a manual transmission option, it's paired exclusively to the seven-speed automatic transmission. Typically we'd probably be in favour of such a scenario, but the auto in the Focus isn't a rapid-fire dual-clutch. It's a traditional torque converter-style automatic and it feels like it's tuned more for efficiency rather than performance.
It prefers to hunt for taller gears to keep the revs low, rather than hold them and take advantage of the extra performance from the engine.
Particularly disappointing is the absence of a switch that allows you to lock it into ‘manual mode' and use the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters without the car overriding and defaulting back to automatic mode. It's a glaring problem for what's meant to be a ‘driver first' car and hopefully one Ford can correct with future updates.
How does it handle?
Ford made a substantial amount of upgrades to the Focus ST, so the ST-3 keeps it the same but swaps the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber for new Pirelli P Zero tyres on the 19-inch alloy rims. Our test car kept the orginal French rubber, so there isn't much that's ultimately very different about how it handles.
The (theoretical) tyre swap is in addition to what was already fitted to the ST to turn it from a sensible small car into a red-hot hot hatch. Ford Performance gave it a 10mm ride height reduction, a 15 per cent faster steering ratio, adaptive dampers and an electronically-controlled mechanical limited slip differential (eLSD).
Not surprisingly this means the ST-3 feels just like the regular ST, which is no bad thing because it was an enjoyable hot hatch. The combination of the quicker steering and the adaptive dampers, that can stiffen depending on the drive mode you select, means the Focus feels direct and responsive on the road.
However, as enjoyable as it is, ultimately the Focus ST doesn't feel quite as enjoyable as some of its competitors. The transmission issues in combination with the lack of a customisable drive mode options leave it a step behind its rivals.
Where would you most like to drive it?
At the risk of repeating ourselves, as we said in our original Focus ST review in 2020 the one place we haven't driven this model yet is the track. Which is a shame because based on our experiences on the road it feels like it would make a highly-capable track machine.
What's the interior like?
This is one area where the ST-3 diverges significantly from the standard ST. The addition of the panoramic glass roof, head-up display and the heated and electronically-adjustable Recaro sports seats means the cabin has a noticeably more premium look and feel.
How much does the Focus ST-3 cost?
The Focus ST-3 is priced from $47,990 (plus on-road costs), a $3100 premium over the regular Focus ST. That positions it slightly below the Hyundai i30 N Premium with sunroof, which starts at $49,000, and Volkswagen Golf GTI (from $54,490).
Would I buy one?
While the additional extras on the ST-3 make the Focus more appealing that before, the reality is the Ford is still slightly behind its most direct rival – the i30 N – in some key areas. Most notably the disappointing automatic gearbox and lack of drive mode adjustment.
2022 Ford Focus ST-3 price and specifications
|From $47,990 plus on-road costs
|2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
|206kW at 5500rpm
|420Nm at 3000rpm
|Seven-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
|5.7 seconds (claimed)