Ford pulled the rabbit out the hat with the 2005-2011 Focus ST. Its predecessor was a bit average, but this Mk2 model lays claim to be one of the great hot hatches, one that sold in healthy enough numbers to give you plenty of choice on the secondhand market today. For bargain-hunters, itâ€™s great news.
There were three models, cannily called ST-1, ST-2 and ST-3, offered as either three-door or five-door. The ST-1 is too basic, so most start with ST-2, which builds on the standard carâ€™s Recaro seats with xenon headlights, heated windscreen, ESP and a better stereo. The ST-3 adds leather, but the rear seat becomes a two-seat bench, rather than a three-seater.
Read more: Ford Fiesta ST ReviewÂ
The ST was facelifted in 2010, gaining standard DAB radio, dual-zone climate control and rear privacy glass All models got ESP and (fake) carbonfibre was added to the dashboard, along with keyless-go. Facelifted cars are literally that â€“ a restyled nose and headlights, with a matching new bumper at the rear.
The engine remained the same â€“ a five-cylinder 2.5-litre turbocharged engine sourced from Volvo, producing 222bhp and 236bhp. It even had a sound symposer, feeding noise back into the cabin, and Fordâ€™s official Mountune Performance Pack upped power to 252bhp. It will easily go further, to 300bhp, but beware of cars with more than this.
Steve Bennet from ST-Focus.com sells them, and reckons itâ€™s the greatest hot hatch ever. I love the idea that one day a Ford exec said: â€˜I know, letâ€™s chuck this big old five-cylinder motor in a Focus.â€™
â€œIâ€™ve been selling them for more than eight years and Iâ€™ve sold hundreds. It has its niggles â€“ split liners, weak clutch, whistling oil filler â€“ but theyâ€™re rare. On the whole, itâ€™s reliable. Prices for the best late cars have stabilised. Youâ€™ll easily pay over Â£11,000. Partly itâ€™s because the current car isnâ€™t as good and partly because late, low-mile Mk2 STs are getting rarer. Buy one while you can.â€
What to pay:
Â£2500-Â£4000:Â Early ST-2s (and the odd ST-1) with high mileages (from 80-200k)
Â£4000-Â£5000:Â 2005-07 ST-2 and ST-3 with average mileages
Â£5000-Â£6500:Â Plenty of 2007-08 ST-2 and ST-3 with sensible miles and service histories â€“ and fresh clutch and timing belts
Â£6500-Â£9000:Â Facelifted 2007-08 cars with around 60,000 miles. Go later if you donâ€™t mind higher miles
Â£9000-Â£11,000:Â The finest 2009-11 ST-2 and ST-3
You need to do your checks, though, particularly with pre-2008 cars. They can suffer split cylinder liners, which can be detected by misfiring, white exhaust smoke or oil filler â€˜mayonnaiseâ€™. The turbo boost gauge should also read to half way; if it only goes up to a quarter, check the solenoid boost valve. Chipped cars go to three-quarters. Make sure the battery light doesnâ€™t actually light up: it indicates a failed alternator.
Clutches on early cars are weak. The RS unit is stronger, but expensive, as you also have to fit a dual-mass flywheel, slave cylinder and thrust bearing. Anti-roll bar droplinks can wear, which will cause knocking, and both excessive torque steer and inner tyre wear.
Naturally, check for crash repairs, and look around the rear arches for corrosion. Rain can leak into the boot, and the screen wash bottle can also leak. Otherwise, interiors are robust, but seat bases can crack.
Generally, later cars will be more robust, but all should prove generally reliable, so long as they havenâ€™t been thrashed. Itâ€™s a solid hot hatch to buy, then, as well as being one of the finest. Itâ€™s easy to see why itâ€™s so popular.