If you’ve been shopping for a fast hatchback any time over the past 30 years, you will have doubtlessly given one Ford or another some consideration. From the humble but fun Fiesta XR2i to the iconic Escort Cosworth, fast Fords have been a staple of the performance family car segment.
To our eyes, Ford has hit a fine balance with both cars when it comes to styling. They look sporty enough to obviously hint at the potential performance, without being so obnoxious that every passer-by thinks you’re a complete oik. The colour options are fairly standard with the exception of one colour for each: the Fiesta is available with the fantastic Molten Orange hue, while the Focus can be chosen in Tangerine Scream – a yellow shade which is just as loud as it sounds. Read our Fiesta ST colour guide and Focus ST colour comparison to see the shades available on each car, and how much extra they’ll cost.
The Fiesta and the Focus have made use of the Ford look for a couple of years now, with its Aston Martin-like front grille and headlights – probably no bad thing unless you own an Aston Martin…
The Fiesta is shorter and more squat than the Focus, and fans of performance wagons can choose the Focus ST as an estate, too. Which you prefer will ultimately come down to personal preference.
The Focus is a family hatchback whereas the Fiesta is a supermini, so you should pick the Focus ST if you need extra space and can justify the extra expense.
Rear legroom is the most obvious area of difference: the Focus has 57mm more legroom for rear-seat passengers than in the Fiesta ST. The back of the Focus is easier to access, too, given the Fiesta is available as a three-door car only. The Focus comes in five-door form only.
However, the differences in boot space between the Fiesta and Focus aren’t as pronounced as you’d expect. The Fiesta offers a reasonable (by supermini standards) 290-litre boot in comparison to the 316-litre Focus – disappointingly small for a car in its class. Of course, the Focus can be chosen in Estate form too, expanding the boot volume to 476 litres.
In terms of appearance, both models have obvious family ties, be it through the upright air vents or the shared switches and knobs. The larger centre console of the Focus makes it feel just a little more grown up, and it suffers from slightly fewer cheap-feeling plastics inside, too. The Sony Audio system fitted to the Fiesta is more fiddly and irritating to use than the much simpler unit in the Focus.
To lift both cars above their standard counterparts, the Fiesta and Focus both benefit from a pair of body-hugging Recaro sports seats in the front, a metal-topped gearknob and subtle ST badging throughout.
The motoring press are big fans of both the Focus and Fiesta ST, but there is one clear winner here. The Fiesta, according to most road testers, is bordering on driving perfection.
The handling is sublime, with incredible body control, accurate steering that tells you exactly how much grip you have, and an uncanny ability to make you grin. The brakes are great, too. It does suffer in one area though: the ride is firm, bordering on uncomfortably so for some testers. The rest would argue that this compromise is entirely worth it.
Although the Focus can’t quite gain the dizzying praise awarded to the Fiesta, there is still plenty to like. It remains flat and composed during hard cornering, and it rides better than the Fiesta, but its extra bulk means that it never feels quite as agile.
Downsides to the Focus? Not many. From a practical point of view, the turning circle is awful, making parking manoeuvres a chore. Once in a while, heavy acceleration can make the front wheels spin, but only enough to remind you of the power lurking under the bonnet…
… and that power is what makes the Focus the faster car of the pair. Despite carrying that extra weight, the Focus boasts 65hp more – 182hp versus 247hp. This results in a 0-62mph time of 6.5 seconds – 0.4 seconds faster than the Fiesta – while the top speed of 154mph is 17mph higher. On the open road the Fiesta feels just as fast as the Focus, thanks in part to an “overboost” function which in short bursts increases peak power to 200hp.
Both cars are praised for their engines. The 1.6-litre turbo petrol in the Fiesta and the 2.0-litre turbo of the Focus are smooth, responsive and sound sporty enough to feel exciting, even at sensible speeds.
Of the two, the Fiesta is more economical. The smaller engine in the lighter body helps it achieve a claimed 47.9mpg. In comparison, the Focus can potentially manage 41.5mpg – but unlike the Fiesta it is available with a diesel engine that can return 67.3mpg, but you have to make do with 182hp and a 0-60mph time of 8.1 seconds.
Value for money
The Fiesta is the smaller, less practical car, and as a result it’s the cheaper of the two. Taking each in their entry-level ST-1 variants, the Fiesta costs £3,800 less. Indeed, the top spec Fiesta ST-3, which adds the likes of heated leather seats, a starter button and a DAB digital radio, is still £1,800 cheaper than the basic Focus ST.
Both cars are very well equipped, with climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and electric windows all offered as standard. Read our Focus ST trim guide and Fiesta ST trim guide to see what’s included with each car.
The Focus is an enjoyable, practical hot hatch that can be used every day. If you frequently need to transport the family around, then the more spacious Focus is the one to have. We’d recommend getting the estate model – it is likely to be rarer than the hatch, is more practical yet is just as fun to drive.
By all other measures though, the Fiesta is the better car. In fact, there are few cars out there that can match the immense fun you get behind the wheel. Consider the fact that it is priced so cheaply and it becomes impossible not to recommend.
Buy your next ST with carwow
Configure your Focus ST or Fiesta ST with carwow to see how much you could save on the list price – you could well save enough to get the top-level ST-3 trim for the same price as the entry-level ST-1 car. Otherwise, take a look at our top hot-hatch roundup, or use our car chooser to find your next motor.