5 crucial chapters in Ford’s hot hatch history

<i> Image: Newspress </i>
<i> Image: Newspress </i>

Ford shows its new Focus ST. But how did the blue oval brand’s hot hatch legacy start and progress?

READ: The new Ford Focus ST has a bigger engine, and naturally, more power

With the reveal of Ford’s latest Focus ST, the blue oval brand adds a new chapter to its storied history of hot hatchbacks. How did Ford’s family car motoring history get to where it is? To help understand the evolution and legacy which has delivered the 2018 ST, we remember some of Ford’s very best hot hatches. 


A uniquely South African project and envied by all other global Ford performance motoring fans. Built in the mid-1980s to enable Ford’s South African circuit racing ambitions, the idea was simple but brutally effective: drop a Mustang 5-litre V8 into the lighter and smaller Sierra bodyshell.

The result was a veritable superhatch decades before the concept was popularised by the likes of AMG and Audi.

The carburettor-fed V8 engine was good for a touch more than 160kW, which was ridiculous power for a Ford family car in the 1980s.

XR8 managed to run the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint in a touch under 7 second, too – no doubt helped by the traction sag of a comparatively soft suspension set-up. With limited production numbers and the Mzansi-only market novelty, these are perhaps the most valuable of all Ford hot hatchbacks. 

Focus ST170

An amazingly stealth hot hatch, often forgotten because of its lack of outright power - but revered for its agility and stability.

The first-generation Focus set new standards for a Ford compact car with its technically astute rear-suspension geometry gifting the oddly styled hatchback amazing high-speed stability and tight-radius cornering ability.

Ford Focus

                                                                       Image: Net Car Show

South Africa was not a destination market for the turbocharged first-generation Focus RS, but we did get the ST170.

Although the Cosworth edition 2-iltre engine had great acoustics and 127kW, VW rival Golf GTi was turbocharged and in South Africa’s highveld air, the performance discrepancy felt noticeable.

For purist drivers, who valued chassis balance and throttle management reward of a naturally-aspirated hot hatch powerplant, ST170 was the more authentic choice…

Fiesta ST

If there was one weakness in VW’s hot hatch empire during the mid-noughties, it was in the compact hatchback segment. Polo GTi was simply too much of a high-speed cruiser, and not enough of a roundabout hooligan, and Ford seized on this opportunity.

Ford Fiesta ST

                                                                        Image: Net Car Show

The fifth-generation Fiesta would introduce Fiesta ST to South Africa and despite its shouty styling, complete with go-faster bonnet-to-tailgate roof stripes, this was a ridiculously fun and sorted car.

The naturally-aspirated 110kW 2-litre engine was in perfect harmony with its deft chassis balance and made for a hugely credible junior hot hatch. Never truly rivalled during its product life-cycle. 

Focus ST

The second-generation Ford Focus brought with it a turbocharged ST in outrageously vivid colours with a generously spacious cabin.

Ford Focus ST

                                                                            Image: Net Car Show

It proved the most credible rival to VW’s Golf GTi in decades and South Africans warmed to the people’s performance car, with the five-cylinder powered Focus ST warbling its way into many a performance enthusiast’s garage – and heart.

Focus RS

South Africa was not be denied a second-generation Focus RS, with a small consignment of these desirable front-wheel drive hot hatches landing locally in 2010.

                                                                        Image: Newspress

A trick Quaife differential and impeccable engineering refinement by Ford’s engineers ensured that the second-generation Focus RS managed to do the impossible: delivering 224kW through the front wheels, without any issues.

Continuing the theme of outrageous exterior colours – especially the 'Shrek' green – these most rapid of all front-wheel drive Fords are regarded as some of the best handling hot hatches ever built. 

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