Buying Guide 2005-2011 Fords Focus ST225 DA3
Pound for pound the finest of all fast Fords, the Focus ST225 is a five-cylinder sledgehammer that’s as fun to drive daily as it is to blast around a track. And with prices getting lower, now’s the perfect time to buy a brilliant all-rounder.
BUYING GUIDE MK2 FOCUS ST225 2005-2011
Mk2 Focus ST Buying Guide What to look out for when looking to bag a bargain five-cylinder Ford flier
When it comes to Fast Fords, there is a model forevery budget from cheap and cheerful to six-figure stunners, but if you ask us, the one with the best bang for buck ratio has got to be the Mk2 Focus ST. It’s a genuinely rapid hot hatch that blends a spine- tingling five-cylinder soundtrack with easy everyday practicality. And that engine doesn’t just sound good either, as tuned properly (read expensively) has the potential to breach the 1000bhp mark, however a real world performance boost can be achieved for relatively peanuts. Throw in some lairy factory colour ways and you’ve got a fast and furious show andcan be bagged for a bargain.
In blue oval circles there are certain badges that get the faithful all hot under the collar. These are the icons linked with circuit and rally stage success. Think Cosworth, XR, RS and ST and any model blessed to have these letters after its name seems automatically destined for cult status among those in the know.
When the first generation Focus burst onto the scene in 1998, with its angular styling, excellent handling and chassis dynamics it blew the competition away, even in base model trim. So when the first ST variant was released a few years later, Ford fans were salivating at the prospect. However, packing 170bhp, the appropriately-named ST170 wasn’t quite the rip-snorting hot hatch that was hoped for, but still proved a potent and competent luke-warm hatch, but true petrolheads were definitely left wanting.
Ford obviously knew it had dropped the ball somewhat and vowed to address the situation with the second generation of the car. The Mk2 Focus ST of 2005 was a different beast altogether, ditching the naturally- aspirated four pot motor for a brutal slice of Swedish horsepower in the form of a Volvo derived 2.5-litre turbocharged five cylinder engine packing a torquey 225bhp. But while the powerplant was certainly the star of the show, the rest of the package had been suitably supersized to match. Built by Ford’s Team RS, it was a proper hooligan job that was the perfect accompaniment to the optional ASBO orange paint job.
Available in three sub-generations base STs are now rare having Recaro seats with coloured bolsters, single-disc CD player and no ESP (until the 2008 facelift). ST-2s gained a CD/MP3 head unit, two extra rear speakers, heated windscreen and xenon headlights with washers in the front bumper. ST-3s added heated leather Recaros with two-seat rear bench and six-disc CD head unit. In 2009 it also received privacy glass, keyless entry, and dual-zone climate control.
Fancy a special edition? Why not try an ST500? All were ST-3-based, in Panther Black with silver stickers, red leather upholstery, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and solar-reflect windscreen.
For the third-generation Focus, the ST which came in 2012 was good without being great. Gone was that iconic engine, replaced by a 246bhp 2.0-litre unit of Ford’s own creation, which was faster and punchier but lacked character. It still handled fantastically and looked great, too. Sounds like a brilliant recipe, right? Well, while most rivals moved to limited-slip differentials to control power through the front wheels, Ford persevered with a mock set-up that just didn’t work quite so well. Fast and fantastic in corners – but if you put your foot down too hard it would yank you all over the road.
The fourth and latest generation of the Focus ST was launched in 2019 and came equipped with an electronic limited-slip differential to tame the outgoing model’s torque-steer. It also uses a detuned version of the 2.3-litre engine from the RS, making a healthy 276bhp. For those that like to tweak, it got driving modes for the first time, too, meaning you can switch between sedate road driving and a more aggressive track- focused set-up. The ultimate Focus ST? Quite possibly.
What to look out for
A history check is vital to make sure any ST isn't a ringer, write-off or subject to finance. Check the VIN on the log book matches the numbers on the sticker in the driver’s door shut, stamped under a notch in the carpet on the driver’s side sill (just in front of the seat) and on the nearside dashboard, seen through the windscreen. Many ST replicas are on the market too, but few folk it the proper five-cylinder engine. Even so, ST owners swap trims around, so it’s best to check you’re getting the model you want. It’s also crucial to diligently check for rust, as even the best looking examples can suffer considerable corrosion.
Bodywork & Trim
Even on seemingly cherished examples, paintwork can often be poor – expect the front to have stone chips and flaking lacquer especially on metallics and Electric Orange models. Rust is a major issue, even on low- mileage cars. Corrosion on both front and rear wheel arches is common, and if spotted will likely mean serious corrosion at the lower edges behind the side skirts, along with holes in the sills, which will mean expensive repairs. Look underneath too — surface rust on the floorpan is typical, but run away if the inner sills and floors feel crusty when pressed.
Ensure the plastic underbody shields are still there – the guard beneath the front bumper feeds air to the intercooler, while the under- engine shield directs cold air to the turbo, so both need to be in place. Finally, remember many STs have been stolen, crashed and thrashed, so inspect every panel for misalignment, poor paintwork or overspray.
Engine & Transmission
The ST's Volvo-based five-pot is tough — and can breeze 200,000 miles even when modified — but needs looking after. Oil changes should be 5W30 yearly/every 12,000 miles, and cambelt ideally at 60,000 miles/five years.
However, it does have a tendency to split cylinder liners; early engines are more prone but none are safe. Symptoms are similar to head gasket failure: water in the engine oil and misiring after a cold start. The well- known ‘block mod’ is preventative but may also be done to reduce water leakage on a knackered block — so find out who made the mod and why. Coolant loss could also be from a leaking radiator. They’re thin with weak brackets, so check if the insulation underneath the rad feels damp.
Poor performance may be due to a boost leak or blown sensor, while rough running can be caused by MAP or MAF sensor issues. Air leaks are common, from split intercooler hoses or cheap dump valves; so check for engine management lights.
Not all STs perform equally, but resetting the timing after a new cambelt can help, as does a remap. To check if a Focus is modified, see if the boost gauge climbs up to two thirds under hard acceleration. But make sure it’s been done by a professional, as bad mapping can lead to boost and traction troubles, and some pop/bang maps can wreck turbos — or even entire engines… The Getrag M66 six-speed manual gearbox is strong and unlikely to be showing wear. The stock clutch is another matter, unable to cope even with a Stage 1 remap. Test for clutch slip by driving in fifth gear at 2000rpm and accelerating; if the rev counter spins but the road speed doesn’t increase, the clutch is knackered. An RS clutch is the answer, which is reasonably cost-effective and can handle 450bhp. CV boots tend to split, and if left too long will cause – requiring replacement.
Stock ST225 handling is well-balanced but will feel soggy with wear. Tired oil-filled front wishbone bushes are the most likely cause – polyurethane replacements are the answer, even on an otherwise-stock ST. Knocking from the front could also be from broken anti-roll bar links or a snapped coil spring.
On the test drive, listen for rumbling from worn wheel bearings. Terrible tyres may also be to blame; it’s common to see neglected STs rolling on rubbish Chinese rubber, which suggests the whole car is lacking care/maintenance. Standard size is 225/40/18, but 235/40/18s add grip. Ensure the steering is responsive. On a pre-facelift ST, check under the bonnet for oil splashed around, caused by split power steering hoses and unions. Most were repaired under a recall. Check underneath, and expect to see surface rust on all the suspension components. Not a big problem – it needs sanding/blasting off and painting – but subframes may be rotten and in dire need of replacement.
Standard ST 320mm front brakes should feel great when mated to fast-road/race pads and fresh fluid but may be lacking on a 300bhp machine. If they’re not stopping an ST effectively, there’s something wrong — likely binding from seized sliders or juddering due to warped/contaminated discs/pads.
Interior & Electrics
Durable plastics wear well, even after high miles – but abuse and neglect can make the cabin seem tatty. Recaro seats are fabulous but cloth upholstery shows grime more than leather. All get tired on the bolsters and saggy in the bases, especially if owned by a bulky driver. Seat runners can also snap at their welds, requiring replacement or rewelding.
Feel for damp in the footwells – which leads to rust – and lift the carpets if possible. A rough-looking cockpit is a warning of overall neglect, and if you see rips, holes or tears that aren't reflected in the mileage and price, look for a better example.
Pay attention to dashboard warning lamps, making sure they light up with the ignition and go out again.
A battery warning lamp tells you the alternator is playing up, especially from 70,000 miles upwards. They’re expensive, so ensure the smart-charge system is working: it should charge above 14 volts with the engine running. A wiring loom that’s been messed around with could have popped out of its clips, be chaing or subjected to dodgy connections. Even an RS ECU holder causes random electrical faults and CANbus errors when the loom (atop the gearbox housing) rubs through.
Servicing & Maintenance
The Mk2 ST is a tough old bird, but as with any hot hatch, it will only provide its best if it’s looked after properly. Ford recommends you undertake an oil change service every 12,500 miles or once a year, whichever is soonest, while a major service with cambelt and coolant is every 200,000 miles or 10 years, however, many specialists would suggest that this is too long to wait and could proof costly. At a specialist such as KMS Motorsport in Wigan, you can expect to pay around £145 for an interim service, while the big boy cambelt change will set you back nearer £600.
Speaking to Jay Chadwick at KMS Motorsport, it’s clear that a well maintained 2.5-litre engine is a pretty reliable unit, and you can thank years of tried and tested use in equivalent Volvos for that, but start becoming complacent and skipping servicing and it can start to get expensive. Oil filter housings are one of the casualties of poor maintenance and replacements can be upwards of £300.
“The ST’s stock clutch seems to hold up well on factory power STs, but even a basic remap can see the clutch start to slip due to the additional torque. A popular upgrade is to opt for the beefier RS clutch, but even that can start to struggle when power levels increase. A better option is an RTS uprated clutch kit with single mass flywheel and either a paddle or organic friction plate,” reckons Chadwick. At £1095 fitted, it can hold around 550lb ft and is suitable for all but the brawniest of tuned engines.
When it comes to braking the ST has some decent stoppers, with factory pads costing around £105 for replacements. But KMS recommend shelling out a little extra for some EBC YellowStuff items instead, as for around £30 more, they offer superior performance and less dust. “While you’re at it, it's well worth a swap to some fresh fluid and a set of Hel braided brake lines, as it will sharpen up the pedal feel,” he says.
For track work, Chadwick recommends one of KMS's own big brake kits. Starting at £2000 for the firm's 356mm discs with 6-pot calipers, but with options for mega 405mm discs and 8-pot calipers, they offer the ultimate in stopping power.
If you can find a solid, unmolested example or even a well-maintained, tastefully modified one (both of which are become harder to do as the years go by) a Mk2 Focus ST is a great option as a hot hatch. Decent reliability, practicality and that juicy, yet potent, five-cylinder powerplant combines to put grins on faces with ease. Add in an abundance of cheap and secondhand parts, plus a wealth of tuning options and it’s not hard to see why it’s a winner.
- 2006 Focus ST: £5k; 95,000 miles
- 2007 Focus ST: £5.5k; 94,000 miles
- 2008 Focus ST: £8k; 56,000 miles
- 2006 Focus ST: £10k; 30,000 miles
Check all the gauges work properly in the dash cluster. The 2.5-litre, five-cylinder engine is a peach that can take a serious amount of tuning. ASBO Orange is a firm favourite in ST circles
- Bilstein B14 coilover suspension kit
- Cooling upgrade
- 3in exhaust system downpipe and 300bhp remap
- Performance Friction 348mm two-piece disc upgrade with Ferodo racing pads
- Gripper limited-slip differential