My Ford Focus ST-3

On September 5th, about 10 hours after arriving back in the country from a holiday, I picked up my new car. I don’t think I’ve written much about it since, or before. There’s more to this new car than meets the eye.

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I’m the guy who visits Auto Trader several times a day, looking for my next car – looking to see what I can basically swap mine for. Can I get a decent low milage R34 Skyline, or E46 M3 that hasn’t been ruined? I’d do the maths, look for insurance prices, tax costs, common and probable issues, estimated fuel costs, service costs, but always end up at the same conclusion: What if it goes horribly wrong?

By ‘horribly wrong’, I mean mechanical issues that cost thousands to fix, not finding out it’s stolen or something like that.

The only logical solution to that problem (in my mind) is to get a new car. But I’d never be able to afford a new car, right? Not a decent one anyway.

I did some research to see what I could get if I sold my 335i privately, and that seemed to be about £7000. Thing is, I didn’t want the hassle of selling it privately. Having to write listings for the big classified sites, having people come over for test drives & wasting my time, and so on. Not to mention the few impending mechanical issues possibly causing issues with people who came to look (both turbos were on their way out I believe).

The only way to get rid of it that satisfied my lazy streak was to part exchange it – I know they don’t look at the cars closely at all, so I was good-to-go with my turbo-breakage woes. A good friend of mine, his dad is a car dealer for one of the major manufactures1, and he said dealers tend to offer 10-15% below market value for part-exchange. That meant, if I exchanged that day, I would get around £6000 for it. The longer I left it, the lower that value would be – approximately £250 per month with my usual mileage.

I also had to work out the exact costs of running the 335i, including insurance tax, fuel, servicing, tyres, and more.

With that knowledge, I looked at BMW, Audi, VW, Skoda, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai, Vauxhall, Renault, Peugeot, Seat, Ford, and more, to see what I could get with my deposit, and what the typical running costs would be for me.


But wait, why get rid of the BMW?

Fair question. I should’ve said earlier. So the BMW was costing me a lot of money. I’d spent a few thousand fixing various issues, it was thirsty, tyres were around £180 per corner, road tax was £480 per year, and it was getting a bit old. The slightest rattle annoys the hell out of me, and I get anxious if anything feels out of place. With age, you get more of both.

Mechanical issues aside, I wanted the safety of having a good warranty – if something went wrong with the BMW, it could cost me a few quid, of a few thousand. I didn’t want that thought looming over my shoulder.

As Hayley & I save to buy our first house, what we need is financial stability, and predictable outgoings. Running a car that was coming up on 100,000 miles and 10 years of age doesn’t fill me with confidence, not when a big bill can put us a month of more behind schedule.


What I wanted

I should explain what I wanted from a car, before I delve into reasons for not picking your favourite.

  • Practical, probably 4 doors
  • Not be popular with people my age, who live on benefits and have 4 kids already.
  • Fast(ish)
  • Handle well
  • Easy to get regular maintenance carried out
  • More economical than the 335i
  • Not have a reputation (at least where I live) for being driven by idiots
  • Sat nav
  • More (useful) toys than the 335i had
  • Look good
  • A warranty

The different car brands

A lot of people couldn’t give a shit what their car is, less even what brand. I do care. A lot.

I’m not Jeremy Clarkson – I don’t have expert knowledge in all the car brands, but I maybe share some of his opinions on them.

French Cars

I’ve been in a couple French cars in my life, and I’ve never really felt like they were made terribly well. You can throw all the stats you want at me, but to me they felt like they were held together with sticky tape. Looking at the interior of some modern French cars, they’re not exactly inspiring – They feel childish.

Japanese Cars

I like a lot of Japanese cars – especially the kind that people drift with – but the modern cars in my price range are flimsy chocolate box trays aimed at people with hearing aids, or those who drive with the fog lights lit on a clear, dry summers evening. (That actually goes for most French cars too)

BMW, Audi, Mercedes

I’m not a massive fan of Mercedes (thought I won’t say no to an AMG GT), but sadly, after looking at the finance options, no decent car from these brands were in budget. I could’ve got a BMW 116d/i, or Audi A3 1.9 diesel, but they must be like driving a bowl of soup – they are made as company cars, or fashion items. I wanted someone with a bit more go.

Vauxhall

In the South East of England, Vauxhall’s (aka Opal’s) are either company cars, or for kids who’ve just past their test and think a 1.2 Corsa with similar styling to a VXR is a VXR. I’ve also never really liked Vauxhall. Dunno why, I know the Astra VXR is a good car, and does look nice.

VW, Skoda, Seat

Skoda’s design doesn’t really talk to me. 90% of private taxis here are white diesel Octavia’s – they blend into the scenery like a tree.

VW and Seat both have a car I’d like _ the Gold R and Leon Cupra, but the finance terms weren’t on my level, even for base engines. It’s a shame, because a Golf R would be nice.

The decision

My first car was a Ford Focus, so I have a soft-spot for them. It’s pretty much the only car from them that I’d happily own though. I looked at the range of engines and trim on offer, and settled on the infamous 125bhp 1.0 litre Focus Zetec S, thinking it would be the sensible choice, and still be relatively fun.

Then I came to my senses and remembered the ST trim. I had a look at the numbers, and though it was significantly more expensive per month than the Zetec, it would be a closer match to what I was loosing.

Side note, but both my mum and hair dresser told me this same thing: If I got the sensible choice (the 1.0), I’d be bored in a month and regret my choice for the next 3 years. I think they were right.

I looked into the ST more and more, watching hours upon hours of reviews on YouTube – both from journalists and owners. The more I watched, the more I looked, the more I read, the more I liked it.

I set my sights on a Focus ST.

Meeting the dealer

I filled out the ‘free valuation’ form on my local Ford main-dealers website, expecting it to give me a value there & then. It did email me a price range (depending on condition), and that was that.

Early the next day, I got a phone call. I didn’t recognise the number, but answered anyway. Turned out to be a salesman at the dealer. He didn’t really talk about what or why I was selling, but asked what I was after. I told him what I wanted, he did a quick search of current UK stock with my exact options, but none were available. He suggested I pop in for a chat, so that’s what I did.

A couple days later, I was sat in the showroom with the salesman. I lucked out, because the guy can’t have been any older than me. I liked this. We bonded over a love of fast RWD cars, and he understood that I wouldn’t want the silly safety feature options, because we can both drive.

So, we sat for an hour looking at various options, colours, etc. We did find a lovely ST-3 in silver, with all the options I wanted. He phoned the showroom who held it, but funnily, the branch manager had bought it for himself a few hours earlier!

The search continued, swapping out one option for another, adding something I didn’t need, loosing some things I wanted, but ultimately we ended up at a dead end.

The only real choice was to order a fresh car from factory, so that’s exactly what we did. It meant waiting a couple months for it to be delivered, but it meant I could have exactly what I wanted.

The Spec

The car we ordered, was:

  • ST-3 trim
  • Heated leaver seats
  • 8” display
  • Sat nav
  • 18” Grey wheels
  • Red brake callipers
  • Illuminated door sills
  • Panther Black paint2
  • Door edge protectors – I love these, they protect the edges of the doors from touching any other surface like walls or other cars (Not for my benefit, but passengers)
  • Keyless – leave the key in your pocket and forget about it

as I said above I’ve had it for 3 months now, so I feel like I’m in a good place to talk about it now.

Likes

There are many things I like about this car. I’m sure most of them are due to being a modern car but I still like them enough to mention.

  • The mirrors fold in and out when you lock and unlock the car
  • The front windscreen is heated, much like the rear on ever other car
  • Automatic lights, wipers, and auto-dimming centre mirror
  • Like all new Ford’s, it tells you when to change up or down a gear, to get optimum efficiency (if that’s what I’m going for at that particular moment)
  • The standard tyres (Goodyear Eagle F1’s) are grippy, and relatively cheap!
  • I can stream music via Bluetooth or the 2 USB’s – useful for trips with friends who all want to be DJ.
  • All the windows are one-touch up and down. It’s common for the drivers window to go all the way up or down when you press the button further, but all 4 do it on this
  • The heated seats warm up real quick – I’m sure I’ve burnt my arse a few times
  • The seats are all-electric, and can adjust in many ways – my knees are a good few inches above my waist

Gripes

Ford build the car wrong. After a few visits to work out why I still don’t have the navigation I paid for, it turns out the car wasn’t build with sat nav at all. All of my order forms say ‘ST-3 Nav’, but the form I was given when the car had been ordered to be built, didn’t say ‘Nav’. I don’t know if this is my salesman’s fault, or Ford’s, but I’m working to get it sorted.

The window switches are set a bit far back for my liking. I’m tall, so I sit far back anyway, and I still have to squeeze my elbow between the seat and B pillar to open or close any of the windows. And this isnt the cars fault, but I keep accidental opening the rear window when I mean to open the front.

The colour temperature of the fog lights is different to the main beam xenon’s. It’s a silly thing, but it annoys me. Nothing a few new LED’s won’t fix though.

I didn’t go for the upgraded Sony stereo. My initial research told me that isn’t much better than the standard stereo. I think that was a mistake on my part – the standard stereo is fucking shocking. Hayley’s Ford Fiesta Studio (bottom of the range) sounds better. The 10-speaker stereo in the BMW was all sorts of amazing, and I miss is greatly. Sigh. I do plan on replacing all the speakers (with new hidden amps and high pass filters) and adding a small sub in the boot.

Overall?

I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not as fast as the BMW, and it’s not as well thought-out, but it’s good enough. I think I’ll be happy with it until September 2018 when my agreement ends and I can go shopping again.

I still look back at it when I park up. That’s petty much all that matters at the end of the day.

  1. Is that diesel emissions I smell?
  2. The same colour as my first Focus!