Motors: Ford Focus ST TDCi

2015 Ford Focus ST Wagon. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

2015 Ford Focus ST Wagon. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

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WHAT’S NEW?: Shock, horror! Ford has put a diesel engine in the Focus ST for the first time. Is it the end of performance Fords as we know them, or just another chapter in an enduring Anglo-American love story?

The engine in question is a tuned-up version of the same 2.0-litre one you’ll find elsewhere in the Focus range, so it’s far from being any sort of race-bred or sports-inspired motor. Instead, it gives Ford’s hatchback standard bearer low running costs for the first time ever.

LOOKS AND IMAGE: Here’s an eyebrow-raiser for the purists: there are no visual differences between this and the full-fat 247bhp petrol-engined hooligan-mobile. None. You also get the same choice of colours, including the new Stealth Grey ably modelled by the ‘Wagon’ estate you see in the pictures.

The petrol Focus ST has earned a reputation as a bit of a lout and we love it for that. It’s not the most powerful hot hatch but every one of its horses runs riot at the first chance. The diesel simply can’t walk the same walk, but its styling talks the talk and will command respect.

SPACE AND PRACTICALITY: If you’re desperately scratching for ways to make a case to your better half in favour of buying an ST, you could technically argue that the lowered suspension makes it easier to get bags in and out of the boot. Those springs do create something of a busy ride, though.

Rejoice, for the awful dashboard of the previous model has been replaced with a much neater setup, divided into three sections covering audio, heating and infotainment. The latter comes courtesy of an eight-inch touch-screen bejewelled with colourful graphics and the capacity for split-screen usefulness.

BEHIND THE WHEEL: The diesel pulls hard out of bends through second and third, tugging at the steering wheel even in the dry, but soon, from the gloriously figure-hugging front seats, you realise you’ve reached its limits. It’s good fun, but it still sounds like a diesel and its performance ceiling is much lower than its petrol twin’s. The Wagon has a slightly dubious power-steering calibration, too, with a strong urge to self-centre all the time.

Mind you, when you press on along a twisty road you get a glimpse of its impressive balance and outright cross-country potential. It’s like a gazelle after a heavy lunch; ultimately agile and alert, but hampered by a bit of extra weight that it’s better off without.

It makes more sense as a fast cruiser, where its more laid-back engine dynamics and stable chassis gobble up miles like kids unleashed upon free chocolate. If only that ride quality wasn’t so persistently active.

VALUE FOR MONEY: Buying diesel brings you a road tax bill of a piffling £20 per year. And if you’re as gentle as a breeze in Toytown in your dealings with the throttle, apparently you could get 67mpg. But don’t count on it.

On the other hand the diesel is exactly the same price as the petrol, making even the top-spec ST-3 a very tempting £25,995 - a good chunk cheaper than its rivals. You’ll be asked for £22,195 for an ST-1 model but don’t pay it. Some measure of dealer discount should be offered on all versions.

WHO WOULD BUY ONE?: The petrol ST is for out-and-out thrill-seekers. The sort of people who enjoy bungee-jumping over shark-infested waters while drinking black market tequila with Tabasco sauce chasers. The diesel is designed for people who want the ST’s looks and a measure of the performance, but with running costs that are much less likely to cause heart problems.

THIS CAR SUMMED UP IN A SINGLE WORD: Proteus

IF THIS CAR WAS A...: Bakery showpiece it would be a three-tier, ultra-indulgent iced fruit cake, but with half the fat.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Ford Focus ST TDCi, from £22,195

Engine: Four-cylinder diesel producing 182bhp and 295lb/ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels

Performance: Top speed 135mph, 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds

Fuel Economy: 67.3mpg

Emissions: 110g/km