NICE, France - The latest Ford Focus ST looks hot and has performance figures to suggest it's quite the mover, but does it carry as much clout powered, as it is, by a lowly four-cylinder? We headed to the twisties in the south of France to find out more. Image galleryVehicle specsFord’s recent win in the International Engine of the Year competition has the automaker on a serious buzz. While the 1.0 turbocharged EcoBoost engine is seemingly hogging all the attention for the Blue Oval right now, on the opposite side of the spectrum Ford’s followed through on the hype with the introduction of its latest Focus ST. It will be launched in South Africa in November, 2012. WATCH OUT!South African hot-hatch lovers adore their Volkswagen Golf GTIs but if first impressions are anything to go by, the guys from Wolfburg should be slightly concerned. Sure, the Focus looks the part with its new front bumper with a bigger grille and gaping air intakes, a very characteristic centre-mounted twin tailpipe, huge 18” alloys and ST-specific goodies in the cabin, but it’s on the road where the true battle waits to be fought. For this ST, Ford’s had to do without the 2.5-litre, turbocharged, five-cylinder, Volvo engine that gave the previous version its distinctive burble and earned it scores of fans. In its place is Ford’s own EcoBoost engine – a turbo four-cylinder sending 184kW and 360Nm to the front wheels of what is Ford’s most powerful ST yet and its first global performance car. Dieter Schwarz, head of Ford Team RS, admitted the “most challenging task on this (ST) project” was managing the move from five to four cylinders and making sure fans would not be disappointed by the new soundtrack. To sort that out, the engine has a redesigned intake system with an “active sound symposer” to cleverly relay the engine rumble (from as low down as 2000rpm) directly to the cabin. To warm the cockles of the true enthusiast’s heart, only a slick six-speed manual is offered at this stage.A FEW TRICKS UP THE SLEEVEWhile this certainly seems to be a handful, Ford’s added some clever tricks to make the experience more fun, less frightening. There’s the new electric variable steering that's less sensitive in the straight-ahead position but requires less turning, for example, through a hairpin. This is supplemented by a Torque Steer Compensation system that, along with the steering, uses software to counteract torque steer. Furthermore, to allow the ST to be a cornering demon, the car is also fitted with an improved Dynamic Cornering Control system for a quicker and lighter turn-in and it figures out the torque distribution to the front wheels before you’ve even had time to think about it. Based on the ST’s handling prowess, it’s hard to imagine it being related to the regular Focus. It’s utterly composed, cornering fast and flat while a prod of the throttle serves to pull the tail back into line while the (standard) Recaro sport seats do a good job of preventing the front passenger from spilling out in faster switches. As fun as that may seem, Ford’s mandate for the Focus ST has always been about more than outright performance – it has to be comfortable as a daily driver, too. The latest version certainly doesn’t disappoint. BALANCED HOT HATCHThe Focus ST’s ride was incredibly comfortable on the motorway and rural sections of the route through the south of France and the dramatically revised chassis did a good job of soaking up the rough patches and dips. Suspension enhancements for this ST include uprated shocks and springs and a revised rear suspension with new knuckles and an all-new anti-roll bar. Compared to other Focus models, the ST’s chassis is also 10mm lower, but, in its pursuit of a sportier ST, Ford has not let the side down by compromising on the sporty hatch’s comfort levels. It’s an incredibly drivable hot hatch yet also super-refined. It definitely leaves you in no doubt of its capabilities when you floor the accelerator but short-shift to sixth for a spot of cruising and a pleasantly quiet cabin. The new Focus ST will be available in hatchback and wagon form in European markets; South Africa will only receive the traditional hatch and it will be launched here in November 2012.