My Focus ST170 - Is it really everything I wanted?

I wanted an upgrade but my first Focus left a mark, so how about another one with a bit more of everything?

13w ago

Cars are very much a fluid thing, from person to person, we all buy a car on a list of set needs which will hopefully make our lives easier or more enjoyable. For me, I just wanted my first car but with more. It was perfect for daily needs but then could also put on it's clown face and give you a good laugh when the roads got twisty. So, the ST170, can it really be the complete car for me?

Finding The One.. 70

It's an old Ford. Guess what? It rusts quicker than how it was produced. Even the youngest examples are 16 years old now, so finding one in the condition I wanted was bloody difficult. I was looking for around 6 months, checking every sales website you could think of, all the notifications set to active on any and every ST170 in the country. This really wasn't an easy task, the term needle in a haystack doesn't even cut it.

One random morning, I was just checking my phone as you do. Facebook had the regular suggested crap but then a ST170. That's interesting! Not in the colour I wanted, but it looked to be in decent condition and apparently enthusiast owned with plenty of documents to go with it, surely not though? It's Facebook Marketplace after all, it's about as reliable as a 17 year old going into work a few hours after going on the ‘sesh'.

I messaged the bloke as curiosity got the better of me and it all seemed to check out well enough, even a quick look at the MOT history deemed it to be sufficient. Still, after my previous purchase there was no way I was running into this one, I'd learnt my lesson there. Even so, potential is better than nothing. Off I went with my dad to go have a butchers and the rest is history.

It certainly is a looker, looked so different at the time of release.

It certainly is a looker, looked so different at the time of release.

The One, but is it all it lived up to be?

So, do I feel like Colin McRae?! Uhh, no. That'd just be a stupid statement to make, but it does make you feel special in a very weird way. Coming from a low spec with one of the smallest engines in the range, to one that has most gizmos of the early 2000s is quite cool. The seats with their leather hugging bolsters and the blue centre inserts really do make it feel like a nice place to be. Even the digital climate control (ooo, fancy!) makes it feel like I'm immersed in the Rolls Royce of Focus MK1s. No, honestly! It has a personality disorder, that's for sure. It's a hot hatch, it's a comfy cruiser and it's also a decent runabout, apart from the MPG (I don't want to talk about that). This car is not stiffly sprung like you'd imagine, it's subtle and doesn't crash and bash around like much younger hot hatches, but somehow it'll still go around corners like Sonic on speed. It's engineering brilliance.

Look at me! I'm all fancy with my 6CD changer! Wait. It's 2021, nevermind.

Look at me! I'm all fancy with my 6CD changer! Wait. It's 2021, nevermind.

I'll be honest, the engine - gearbox combination isn't exactly perfect. I like the engine, I never expected anything like this from a Zetec derived engine. Don't get me wrong, a regular 2.0 Zetec engine is a great engine, they're like an old Labrador - it'll still keep going and be by your side, even well after 50,000 miles of neglect and 20 years of a hard life - note: don't drive dogs, but you get the point, it'll always be there with you. But they weren't exactly power houses, but when Ford went away and fettled with it, they made something brilliant. Low down it's all regular and nothing too lairy, but after 4,000rpm you'll quickly be smacking into the limiter at 7,200rpm. It's no VTEC, but it's still bloody fun!

The gearbox then? Yes, I'll admit the issue lies here. It's a mixture of tall gearing, then short gearing and a sub-par feel. So, first and second are quite long which means you have to get the engine to work a little (still fun), but then if you want fourth, fifth and sixth you'll be changing into them consecutively very quickly. They're just too short. I understand wanting to be in the power range for easy overtakes, but then I also want it to shut up a little more at 70, it's not bad but it would add to it's personality of being able to be a decent cruiser when you're not on a mad one. The feel isn't bad as such, but it's a heavy change and you have to be precise, the gearbox in my other was a much better feel.

The car I wanted then?

I can't think of anything else I'd want in the price bracket. I mean sure, as a daily car I'd much prefer a brand new Focus ST, but that's more for ease of life than the car itself. If I was offered either one of them to drive for the rest of my life, the 170 every single time. I can't explain it. Before I'd even bought my first Focus MK1, I wasn't a huge fan of them, I always though I wanted the Escort (oo-er) more than the Focus. But I don't. The ST170 is a car that makes me feel brilliant, I know it wants to be driven the way it was intended. There's quite a bit of soul injected into this thing. When this car was designed, you could tell it was miles ahead of the Escort, it made VW have brown marks in their pants and put Ford back on top - Ford's hatchback wasn't a joke anymore, it was a serious car.

Plenty of people, even completely random people in the street have commented on this car and I certainly didn't realise the love for them. It is certainly overshadowed by it's younger ST brother - the ST225. But, why? It looks like the car you played with on the Playstation 2 with either McRae or Sainz at the wheel, it drives so utterly well and does not feel it's age. If you add the correct infotainment into this thing, it'll be as good or even better than what's on offer today. I think the most important aspect in a car is the way it makes you feel, it's not something you can explain, but this has it. It is everything I wanted and everything in-between, I went in blind and came out with a new love.

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Comments (21)

  • Take a look

      3 months ago
  • Great article.

    Original Focus, even in poverty spec, is an amazing car.

      3 months ago
  • Hi, Thomas! That's a nice article you wrote up and your story resembles mine. I used to own a regular pre-facelift Aquamarine frost 1.6 petrol Focus as my first car some years ago. I was kinda sceptical about going into Fords, I was mainly in the market for an Astra G, A3 or Golf IV but I just reminded why I loved WRC as a kid so much and accidentally got a Focus. The car served me for a few years (more than I was planning to use it) and didn't got me into major troubles. Very reliable. It was an Ambiente trim, I think that is the equivalent of the LX for the UK market.

    One day, I decided I wanted another car. I was just in University and was working as a boy-doing-everything at a local Ford Dealership so my budget was not quite high but I wanted that next car so bad. And I started searching. I was also checking ST170 ads but nothing caught up my attention. One day, after almost an year of searching I was looking at a Mk4 Mondeo hatch 2.0 petrol Titanium at my then employer's second hand car lot. The car had original 120k miles and lots of service history. Some bodywork had to be done and then I went to talk with a senior colleague from the sales department about what he thinks about it. Then he brought up that he was thinking of selling his ST... 170! My eyes went wide. I was working for an year already and I remembered an Imperial Blue five door ST170 infront of the office. He didn't drove it often since he had two more almost brand new Fords.

    That very same ST170 is the one on the picture and it's mine for a few years now.

    Congratulations on your purchase! Greeting from Bulgaria!

    *If you have any questions I'm available.

      3 months ago
    • Cheers for the in-depth response Constantine! Really cool story on your 170, I'm glad you're enjoying it!

        3 months ago
  • Enjoy it man. There’s definitely something about an older hot hatch. The fact u can drive it at 99% if it’s abilities on the road make u feel great. I currently have a 320bhp st225 and even that is too quick for the roads. I have an mg zr 160 as well and love driving that! Long live the moderately powered hot hatch!

      2 months ago
    • Hit the nail on the head! I don’t understand 500hp remaps on front wheel drive hot hatches, really takes away from the drivability of them which is a huge shame..

        2 months ago
  • Great write, if they stay cheap I’ll probably do the MK1 1.4-ST170 Jump too!

      2 months ago