Originally Published: September 2, 2013
The Ford Focus was a game-changer for Ford – a new way of thinking about how they produce cars worldwide. Instead of producing different models for different regions, they put all their resources into building a single platform that could be used everywhere with small alterations to satisfy local requirements. The ho-hum Ford Escort morphed into the modern (if not polarizing) Focus, in 1999 for North American markets. Sales were brisk for the first-generation Focus, and it was fairly easy to see why: it offered traditional American bang-for-the-buck mixed with a helping of European sophistication. Auto enthusiasts have long complained about getting the short end of the stick when it comes to comparable models available both here and in Europe, so getting the “World” Focus (as well as this 2013 Ford Focus ST) was a nice change of pace.
The third-generation Focus couldn’t come soon enough for the 2010 market. It was generally well-received for its attractive styling, good road manners, and of course value. There were some initial gripes about the somewhat risky MyFordTouch system, but they have been ironed out. The model to be excited for was this high-performance ST model, which became available in 2012. It ticked all the right boxes: hot-hatchback configuration, a big dose of horsepower (thanks to Ecoboost technology), a selection of youthful colours, and aggressive body kits. We actually tested the Focus ST for a short time earlier this year, but Ford wanted us to have a proper week’s road test, so they handed me a Tangerine Scream(!) model, loaded up to the gills. This included the 201A equipment package (upgraded Sony audio with subwoofer, 8” centre display, and dual-zone climate control).
The first thing I noticed with my Focus ST was how yellow it was. In a sea of silver, white, and beige, the ST really stands out. Compared to the regular Focus, the ST features a much larger front grille that helps pass air through the front-mount intercooler. An aggressive front skirt and projector-beam HID headlamps compliments the look. Out back, the wing on top of the hatch is also aggressive, but not annoyingly huge. Another point of interest is the centre-mount exhaust. The tailpipe is stylized and definitely makes a big statement. The ST wears unique 18” wheels with high-performance summer-only Goodyear F1 Asymmetric 2 tires in size 235/40R18. Overall, the exterior fully fits in with the hot-hatch image. It’s a bit of a shame that front license plates are required here. It takes up a lot of space in the front grille and looks a little goofy at the same time.
Inside, some amazing leather Recaro seats do a great job holding you in and keeping you comfortable. Range of motion and adjustment is a little restrictive but I was able to settle on an excellent driving position. The centre dash and console dominate the interior of the ST. It’s almost a little too big combined with the big Recaros. The passenger footwell is a little narrow as a result. The top-mounted gauges are a nice touch: oil temperature, boost pressure, and oil pressure. All are important when driving the ST at the limit. MyFordTouch is useful and very comprehensive feature-wise, but does add some complexity and distraction to an otherwise focused car (no pun intended!). I did have some issues with MyFordTouch losing Bluetooth synchronization with my phone. Nothing I did got the ST and my phone talking to each other. I eventually gave up and the problem fixed itself while the car sat overnight.
Part of owning a hot-hatchback is being able to use it every day. Many dedicated sports cars give up on the practicality side of the equation. The hot-hatchback should be able to carry lots of people and their stuff, because young people like to do things together. A colleague of mine recently purchased a 55” LED TV from the local electronics retailer. I folded down the seats, opened the hatch, and the TV fit perfectly on the (almost) flat load floor, with the rear hatch closed. I love practical tools, and the Focus ST happens to be one of those practical tools. The other part of the everyday equation is comfort, and the ST does a pretty good job there as well. Springs and damping are obviously firmer than on the regular Focus, but not jarringly so. The sticky tires even behave on the highway.
The hot-hatchback also needs gratuitous amounts of horsepower over their normal counterparts. Powered by a 2.0L “EcoBoost” turbocharged, direct-injected, and intercooled four-cylinder motor, it produces 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. The powerband is very flat and the motor produces more than enough torque both in and out of boost. The clutch and shifter are of good quality and feel, with the former being especially easy to modulate and be smooth with. The shifter throws are just slightly long but engagement is positive. The electronic throttle assists you in smoothing out your inputs and pedal dancing, which was a little unexpected at first but is useful in preventing passenger sickness. The ST is rated at 7.7L/100km in a combined cycle. No thanks to my heavier right foot for the week, I managed an average of 9.4L/100km. Premium fuel is required.
Being able to toss the Focus ST into a corner feels natural – it is light on its feet. Thanks to the stiff rear anti-roll bar, the ST loves to rotate into a corner to help you get on your way quicker. You feel the rear come around ever so slightly when you enter a corner at speed, but it never loses its composure. It is quite a strange feeling at first in a front-drive hatchback, but you learn to have a lot of fun with it. Thankfully, you are able to fully defeat the stability control for maximum fun. The electric steering is surprisingly good – nicely weighted and fast but still accurate. Feedback through the wheel is also pretty decent. The ST also features brake-based torque vectoring. Under hard cornering, it will automatically slightly brake one wheel, which helps bring the front end back in line, almost eliminating understeer. It is pretty seamless. By the end of the week, both front wheels were properly covered in dark brake dust: the cost of having fun.
Several people asked me about the torque steer. When a lot of power is funnelled through the front wheels, you may feel the motor tugging at the steering wheel in one direction as the horsepower builds. There definitely is some torque steer in the ST, but nowhere near as bad as I had expected. The Mazdaspeed3 we tested earlier this summer felt far worse in this regard. Torque steer in third gear is a little unsettling in that car. Boost in the ST builds linearly from about 2500 rpm onward, and I never felt wanting more power. In certain situations on the highway, sixth gear puts you out of the powerband, necessitating a downshift to fifth gear for a pass. Getting back to the steering for one item: the suspension geometry changes Ford put into the ST to make it what it is has one downside: the turning circle is quite bad at 12 metres. A small car shouldn’t have to do so many three-point turns to get around.
The other important numbers to note are: $29,999 for the base Focus ST. To have the privilege of being so yellow, one must add $300 for the Tangerine Scream paint. The aforementioned 201A technology package added $1000. Navigation integration into MyFordTouch was another $1000, and the power sunroof was $1200. This brings the subtotal with options to $33,329. The Mazdaspeed3, similarly equipped, is within $1000 of the ST. I find the ‘Speed3 to be a little more raw than the Focus ST, with less getting in the way of the driving experience. Another competitor is the standard Subaru WRX hatchback. Also starting within $1000 of the loaded ST, you get all-wheel-drive but give up on some technology and luxury features, as well as a sixth gear. The original hot-hatch, the VW Golf GTI, is also in the same price range, but for what you get in refinement and clean design, you give up some raw horsepower and at-the-limit performance. It totally depends on what your priorities are. Either way, the ST is priced aggressively for a lot of kit.
The Ford Focus ST is the answer hot-hatchback fans in North America have been waiting for. Aggressive pricing, equipment, and style, lots of well-thought-out power and delivery, the extra-useful five-door hatchback configuration, and good looks – all come together to make an interesting and fun package. The question I asked myself is whether I would get the yellow, and the answer is: probably not. The car does excel at attracting attention nearly everywhere it goes, but I like to have my fun in a low-key way. I personally would have the car in Performance Blue: have my cake, and eat it too.