I’ve been touting for the past couple years that the Ford Fiesta ST is the best thing under $30,000 since sliced bread. A couple of my colleagues disagree and claim that its bigger brother, the Focus ST is the superior car. Since my last go in a Focus ST (about two years ago), the DoubleClutch.ca garage has seen every single one of its competitors come through, and I figured it was time for a revisit. This year, Ford has given the hot hatch some massaging in the styling department and some new options, so it was only appropriate for me to borrow a 2015 Ford Focus ST for the week and see how it compares to the new Volkswagen GTI.
With the all-new Focus RS on the horizon, the Focus ST has plenty of buzz around its existence right now. A freshening wasn’t just a recommendation for this car, it was a requirement. The last time I drove it, I liked it a lot, but I didn’t love it. I thought it was a great affordable autocross toy, but it just didn’t tickle my fancy as a daily driver. The GTI was just more livable as a daily driver. For some reason though, the Fiesta ST enamored me in ways I never thought possible by a Ford hatchback. Of course, the key conversation piece in the ST is the brilliant engine.
Under the hood of the Ford Focus ST is the same 2.0L turbocharged EcoBoost 4-cylinder that it’s packed since its introduction to the North American market in 2013. It’s good for 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, which kicks in at just 2500RPM. These numbers are both greater to those of the new Volkswagen GTI, as well as the Honda Civic Si and Scion FR-S. The Focus ST is front-wheel-drive only, in typical hot hatch fashion. There’s plenty of power, and thanks to the Ford sound symposer, there’s plenty of oomph felt in the cabin. The center-mounted exhaust on the rear bumper is a nice touch for sure as well.
The torque is plentiful, almost too much for a front-wheel-drive chassis in fact. Torque steer is prominent thanks to the lack of a limited-slip differential, but the Focus ST isn’t nearly as floppy as the now-defunct Mazdaspeed3. The torque steer in this car is so hilarious that it adds some extra fun factor to the Focus; it’s not as easy to drive quickly as a GTI and the added challenge is a huge bonus for me. When cruising along the highway in sixth gear, the Focus is quiet and comfortable, and feels just as planted as cars twice its size – not an easy feat for a compact.
Despite being a FWD setup, the Focus ST is a particularly sharp handler; the wheel is the perfect size and 1.8 turns lock-to-lock make it a hoot to push through the twisties. Focus be nimble, Focus be quick indeed, but the overall turning radius is still not great. For 2015, the electrically-assisted power steering has been revised. I wasn’t really able to notice a huge difference from the previous model, but the car does feel more refined and manageable overall. It’s more comfortable, but this doesn’t mean the intense driving experience has been compromised at all. Ride quality remains firmer than the GTI, something that’s key here.
For 2015, Ford has updated the front and rear fascia, redesigned the wheels, made the HIDs standard equipment, added LED lighting, mixed up the colour palette to have some funky new paint, and improved some interior materials. What they’ve done is take a great recipe and hone it to near-perfection in this segment. Much like the regular Focus it’s based on, the ST has a phenomenal chassis and is a blast to drive. It’s both engaging and relaxed, depending on the environment you choose to be in, and the standard six-speed manual transmission is excellent in operation. The shifter is a bit on the notchy side, but easy to get used to and quite pleasant. The clutch is simply superb for a factory setup.
Adding onto the Focus ST’s appeal as a hot hatch, it’s particularly green too, when driven conservatively. We put it through two combined cycles, one with primarily city driving and the second with a healthy mix of highway. Ford rates this car at 9.3L/100km in the city and 6.7L/100km on the highway. On the first cycle, we observed 8.4L/100km, and later on, 6.9L/100km. Because the Focus ST is turbocharged, we highly recommend sticking with premium 91-octane fuel to avoid any sort of drama. Plus, the engine performs much smoother, it’s more efficient, and produces maximum power on the good stuff.
The Focus ST is just about $5,000 more than its sibling, the Fiesta ST, and starts at $29,999 before rebates, tax, or freight. My test car was loaded to the gills, and added the $1,250 Technology Package, an $800 navigation system, premium wheels, and some black exterior stripes for $500. The Technology Package adds dual-zone climate control, a ten-speaker Sony stereo, full MyFordTouch infotainment, and satellite radio. The grand total came to about $33,000 before fees. Things like a sunroof, supportive Recaro seats, and all the gizmos such as Bluetooth connectivity, USB ports, and a reverse camera. This particular Focus comes in about $7,000 more than a comparable Honda Civic Si, and thanks to the added practicality of the hatchback body style, is more useful all around. Plus, the extra 50 horsepower doesn’t hurt.
Where the Focus ST struggles in my eyes is that despite how hard it tries, it’s just not as polished as the GTI. I wouldn’t buy a car like this as a daily driver, but I would gladly have one as a weekend autocross or track toy. The GTI and even the Civic Si are just more refined for those days when you want to forget about your woes and drive home in silence. The Focus, as great as it is, permanently has a huge grin on its face and wants to dance. It’s like that extremely eager puppy that wants to play all day long, and has no “mute” button. I’d personally pass on the optional racing stripes, and stick with a more conspicuous colour like Tuxedo Black, because I’m a low-key kind of driver.
I have one more issue with the Focus ST, and it essentially extends to the entire Focus line. The center stack protrudes a bit too much, invading valuable legroom. At 6’1/175 with particularly long legs, there wasn’t enough legroom for me, even though I’m extremely comfortable in the smaller Fiesta. The ergonomics overall are very good – the driving position is excellent and the shifter and steering wheel (now flat-bottomed) are bang-on. The instrument cluster is perfectly legible and looks as though it belongs in a hot hatch, and all materials on the interior are decent quality. There are a few plastic bits around, but the Focus is built to a $16,000 price point, so there are no complaints from me in this regard.
The Volkswagen GTI was redesigned for 2015 and got an all-new platform. Though it’s more livable and slightly more advanced, it’s a little bit more expensive and almost too technical. The 2015 Ford Focus ST offers something that most of its competitors don’t; a focused (pun intended) driving experience and loads of soul. This is a car that will keep a smile on your face 365 days of the year, and demand very little in terms of costs. The only competitor that comes anywhere close to delivering this smiles-per-dollar factor is the Subaru WRX, which is identically priced. Until the Focus RS shows up next year, the ST is a real winner for the Ford lineup and one of the best in its segment.