The market introduction of the fourth-generation Ford Focus has been a slightly piecemeal and incremental process, but it’s nonetheless now nearing the point where the Blue Oval might tentatively call it complete.

Having introduced the five-door hatchback in the summer of last year and added a couple of extra engine choices, an estate bodystyle and top-level Vignale trim in the autumn, Ford has now revealed the next Focus ST. We’ve also just driven the big addition to the Focus model ranks: the crossover-flavoured Focus Active. Gradually, then, the pieces are coming together.

Launching the car in stages doesn’t seem to have made the Focus much less popular. Even in a major model replacement year, the car retained its top-five overall sales status in the UK market in 2018 (only narrowly missing out on the top three) and looks on course to take up a top-10 berth among Europe’s most popular new cars in 2019.

Ford should be cautiously happy, then, about the health of its big-selling family hatchback. But what about its soul? Although we’ve had to wait longer than anticipated to do it, this week we’ve got an example of the car in its most promisingly dynamic mechanical specification (until that new ST arrives, of course) with which to assess exactly how sporty and involving the segment’s most driver-focused hatchback can be in its latest form.

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In this case, under the bonnet is Ford’s line-topping 180bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol three-pot engine; at the rear axle you’ll find the Focus’s more sophisticated suspension option, the acclaimed ‘control blade’ independent set-up; and above that there are the 18in alloy wheels that come as standard with ST-Line X cars and optional ‘continuously controlled’ adaptive dampers.

This, therefore, ought to mark a dynamic step-change for the Focus MkIV model line. So exactly how good is it to drive?

Price £25,650 Power 180bhp Torque 177lb ft 0-60mph 8.9sec 30-70mph in fourth 11.4sec Fuel economy 29.5mpg CO2 emissions 126g/km 70-0mph 55.1m

The Ford Focus range at a glance

Putting the load-lugging Estate and crossover-influenced Active to one side, the mainstream Focus line-up currently consists of five petrol variants and three diesels. Entry-level Style models can be outfitted with a 1.0-litre, 83bhp three-cylinder petrol, with step-up Zetec versions starting with a more potent 98bhp 1.0-litre. That engine can also be had in 123bhp tune, while a 1.5-litre three-pot can be had in 148 and 180bhp outputs from ST-Line trim level and up. Those after a diesel can choose from a 1.5-litre in 93bhp and 118bhp states of tune, or 2.0-litre with 148bhp.

The more potent Focus ST can be had in either petrol or diesel guise, with the lower-powered 2.0-litre EcoBlue version also resigned to a six-speed manual gearbox. The petrol ST is the real star, using the 2.3-litre engine also found in the Ecoboost Mustang, tuned here to send 276bhp through the front wheels. At the time of writing, we're still at least a year or two away from a range-topping RS model from joining the ranks.

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