Sport Technologies. That is what that ST badge stands for in case you didn’t know. After years of begging and pleading with Ford brass to bring over some hotter versions of some of their cars, they decided to give in a little and brought the Focus ST to our shores. You are not a real enthusiast if you don’t know how competitive the hot hatch segment is. For years now, VW has been pretty much the sole supplier of the hot hatch with their GTI. Mazda decided to enter the foray with its Mazdaspeed 3 and Subaru threw their name into the hat with their WRX hatchback. A domestic automaker hasn’t had anything of significance in the compact hot hatch segment since the old Ford Focus SVT. Thankfully, that has changed.
Ford gave us a hot hatch to remember. They took the Ford Focus and dropped in the 2.0-liter EcoBoost motor that graces itself in other Ford products, gave the car some serious boy racer looks, and called it a day. The end result is quite a potent little pocket rocket. The turbo 2.0-liter pushes out 252 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 270 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,500 rpm (on Premium fuel, regular yields less), and routes all that power through the front wheels. The result? Torque steer heaven! Forget the gym, your arms will be the size of Glenn Quagmire’s in that episode of Family Guy when he found out about internet porn. Clearly I’m exaggerating, but there is an abundance of torque steer and it feels great. No lie, I have left the longest burnout strip I have ever laid down on asphalt using a front driver. Oh, and no limited slip differential, but we’ll get to that in due time.
If you are in high school, you will certainly appreciate the boy racer looks of our Race Red ST. The giant maw, the exaggerated spoiler on the hatch, the 18” wheels, and the central exhaust outlet certainly won’t give you a mature first impression. The front end is either a love it or hate it design. Instead of slim grille and a wider lower opening like you have with the regular Focus, the ST forgoes both for one massive opening, with a very small slit just above the air dam. Peruse any forums that talk about this car, and you won’t go a page without someone saying it looks like a cat fish. Granted, it is a little awkward, but the reason for the gaping mouth is to feed as much air as possible to the intercooler and radiator. I would have preferred to see the regular Focus front end with a more aggressive air dam instead, but we all have different tastes.
The front end is either a love it or hate it design.
On either side of its large mouth are two other grille openings that house the fog lamps and allow for extra cooling. The headlights on our tester are halogen projector lamps sans the HID bulbs. As far as I know, Ford doesn’t even offer HID head lights on the ST. The rest of the car works well, and falls in line with the non-ST Focus hatchbacks, which is a clean look with a nice beltline that flows & sweeps into the rear quarter panel, then into the tail lights . The rear exhaust outlet looks like Ford tried too hard to make it look “cool”. It looks like a SEMA-ready body kit instead, which doesn’t necessarily translate well onto cars in real life. I prefer the more traditional looking exhausts instead of a central one, but it matches the rest of the car’s persona quite well. Hiding behind the aforementioned 18” wheels are 12.6” rotors in the front and 10.6” rotors in the back. They look great and really bring out a more aggressive appearance than the regular Focus.
Make your way into the car, and your eyes immediately fall onto the seats with RECARO embroidered on them. It was very cool to see and when you first sit in them, you realize this car is all about play. They are very snug and for anyone that is not slim, forget it, this car isn’t meant for you. They are perfect for when you toss the car around corners but on a commute, their race first design takes its toll. The thigh support is great and will hold you in place, but if you wish to spread your legs a little and want to relax, forget it.
You are stuck in that position. Same for the side bolsters. They are very snug and do their job in holding you in, but you have little to no ability to adjust yourself when driving. Once you get in the seat, you are staying in that position. I’d keep the regular seats if I were optioning out this car for myself. The front and rear seats match well with the dark interior, and the smoke leather accents on the seats gave the interior a nice contrast. Opt for the next higher package, and you can get exterior color matching accents which may or may not look gaudy.
Make your way into the car, and your eyes immediately fall onto the seats with RECARO embroidered on them….you realize this car is all about play.
The controls in this car are straight forward. Everything is rather easy to figure out, and for those of you who complain about not having buttons in Fords lately can rest easy. You can control the climate control with use of the dials in the lower part of the center stack, but the shifter can be in the way at times. Me? I prefer SYNC and Ford’s MyTouch system. If you have read my other reviews of Ford’s products, you know that I love it. Does it take time to learn? Of course, but so does your Apple or Droid phone; however, you don’t seem to complain about that.
The voice recognition is pretty much flawless, although sometimes it does take the system a little time to recognize the input and act on it. I don’t think I’ve even used the buttons for the climate control or the radio on the center stack. At the very top of the center stack is an information touch screen that is recessed into the dash, which is hard to reach to use. It is slow to respond to inputs, so again, this is where the SYNC and MFT come into play. The navigation provides a bird’s eye view of the road ahead, and is clear and easy to see.
The gauge cluster is laid out in a clean fashion. The tachometer is on the left, and the speedometer on the right. You have a fuel gauge and temperature gauge taking up the lower middle of the cluster with a LCD information screen above it. Much like the central information screen in the center of the dash, it too will display navigation, audio, phone, and climate settings as well as give you vehicle information such as the odometer, trip mileage, and average fuel economy among other things. Spend some time perusing through the menus and sub-menus, and you will come across a neat screen that shows you how you have been driving. It has three categories; anticipation, speed, and gear shifting. Excel any of these categories, and a leaf will be gifted to you for your efforts. Moreover, if you collect all five, you get a star shaped leaf for your efforts. How did I do? I had all five leaves for speed (of course I would), I collected three stars for anticipation, and absolutely failed when it came to gear shifting.
Ford explains that if you drive according to their general guidelines and practice their eco-driving methods, you will attain fuel economy nirvana. This, of course, means no fun.
All in all, it is a bit gimmicky and didn’t make me want to drive it responsibly to attain the best fuel economy I could on country roads. Ford explains that if you drive according to their general guidelines and practice their eco-driving methods, you will attain fuel economy nirvana. This, of course, means no fun. Personally, I don’t like being told how to drive. A nice thing about the interior that I really like is a small hood at the very top of the dash in the center that is turned to face the driver. The hood houses from left to right: an oil temperature gauge, a boost gauge, and an oil pressure gauge. Unlike many aftermarket units that clash with the rest of the car, these gauges flow with the style of the interior, and are very cleanly executed. Drive with authority, and you can make that boost needle dance around effortlessly. If you do the eco-driving that Ford recommends, you will barely see that needle move…but where is the fun in that?
The steering wheel is big and meaty, and has a ST plaque on the bottom of the rim, letting you know that this is no ordinary Focus. You know, just in case you couldn’t tell from looking at the car. The steering wheel is littered in buttons, maybe too many buttons, and they control just about everything. It will take a while to get used to their location, since there are two directional pads on the top spokes and two sets of buttons in between the spokes attached to the main “hub” of the steering wheel. Take your time to map out where the buttons are, and what they control when you get in, so you can familiarize yourself with their functions. I unfortunately did not have the time to when I picked up the car in Manhattan, and learning as you are driving in NYC is not recommended. Cycling through the small information screen within the gauge cluster will require taking your eyes off the road, because there are different categories and sub-categories.
It is quite possibly the best handling front-wheel drive car I’ve driven in quite some time.
I found the interior of the Focus ST, and the Focus in general, to be very upscale. The top part of the dash is covered in leather, and the plastics are of high quality, which doesn’t give you a low rent feel. There is ample space for just about everybody in the front, while the rears will require some getting used to if you are tall. With the front seats adjusted to suit my comfortable positioning, the rear ingress was rather difficult, and required contorting my legs and ankles to get in. It is a bit of a squeeze, but I would never recommend almost any adult to sit in the back. Moving the front seat forward a few inches certainly helped make the rear seats a lot more comfortable.
The rear bench is a 60/40 split, which allows for more cargo space. They do not fold down completely flat, and have a slight angle to them, so it might limit what you can carry. I didn’t find it to be an issue, as just about everything I had fit in the cargo area. My tennis bag, gym bag, shoes, as well as Garry’s (our photographer) gear all fit in without an issue. Ford claims that there is 23.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row and 44.8 cubic feet behind the first row of seats. It was ample enough for us although, the thick sides of the cargo area and the sub woofer may make it difficult for some.
Driving the ST was a fun experience. The car handles great. It is quite possibly the best handling front-wheel drive car I’ve driven in quite some time. The 235 section width Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires do a great job of keeping the ST glued to the road in wet or dry conditions. The suspension is taut but not overly stiff. I found it to be well damped with minimal body roll. It is stiffer than the average Focus by a considerable margin, but not in the sense that it will rattle your fillings. You tend to feel more bumps and road imperfections transmitted through to the cabin, but that isn’t a feeling of poor tuning; rather, one of solidity, which I found to be fantastic.
The cabin in general is rather quiet and very well insulated, so it keeps out quite a bit of road and wind noise. However, you do get the right amount of engine noise that filters in to keep things interesting. You are driving a wild hot hatch remember? During some point in my time with the car, a hose must have came lose because the turbo spooling sound was accentuated rather profoundly. One day it was quiet the next day, all hell broke loose under the hood. I couldn’t trace the problem, but it didn’t effect the drivability of the car in any way so I ignored it. It sounded great though, with the spool up sound and the release of excess gases was phenomenal.
Hold the traction control button for a while longer to turn everything off and you have full blown lunacy on your hands.
The ST has three different driving modes. Eco-Mode, which is the default setting, Sport Mode, and OFF. Sport Mode backs off the baby-sitting software and allows for some hooliganism. Hold the traction control button for a while longer to turn everything off and you have full blown lunacy on your hands. On legal roads, Sport Mode is more than enough, and lets you have plenty of fun without intruding unless things go completely horrible. This means that traction control won’t kick on and keep you from having fun, however the AdvanceTrac Stability system only interferes when needed. Leave it in Sport, it’s all you need in this car to have fun.
I don’t like driving cars – that I’m not familiar with – very hard, especially the cars that I only have a week to review, because I don’t know all their characteristics. We at CF Blog try to use real-world driving to explain to you how the car will feel to the average driver (emphasis on the try). The ST however, is one that I was extremely comfortable with pushing to its limits, and more importantly, my limits which are lower than the cars on legal roads (insurance/legal purposes). I love cars that will rotate and have the rear follow you around and dance out on occasion. The ST does just that. The front end has considerable bite and is very quick to change direction, almost Lancer Evolution like in a way, and it’s easy to get into a nice rhythm on your favorite twisty roads. The ST will tend to oversteer, which can be loads of fun, but enter a corner too deep, and it will certainly push just like every other hot hatch currently sold in the US.
I love cars that will rotate and have the rear follow you around and dance out on occasion. The ST does just that.
Bumps and potholes do very little to upset the chassis and because the car feels so well balanced and so solid, it’s easy to make corrections and continue driving hard without a second thought. I think a few engineers who worked on the ST’s suspension and chassis should make their way to the Mustang team. The flat torque plateau really works in your favor, as you have plenty of torque to keep things interesting. It also allows you to charge with a head full of steam from corner to corner. The brakes are great…and feel very strong. The pedal is rather touchy, so it will take you a bit of getting used to, but it is incredibly confidence-inspiring, which begs you to drive it hard.
You will find yourself braking later and later the more you get used to it, unless you like to keep a nice rhythm, and not brake at all on your canyon runs. You know how I said that this car doesn’t have a limited slip differential? It doesn’t. Ford uses torque vectoring, which utilizes the front brakes to slow down the inside wheel in a corner (or whichever wheel has the least amount of grip) to maintain traction in adverse conditions. It combines the EPAS (electronic power assisted steering) also by counteracting the forces to keep the wheels as straight as possible.
Of course, I can’t give you the fun parts without telling you about its more docile nature. Around town and through traffic, the car is just easy to drive. It will default to Eco-Mode when you turn it on and a shift indicator in the central information screen in the gauge cluster will show a green arrow pointing up letting you know when to shift to achieve maximum fuel economy. The shifter is very light and easy to handle. The throws are short, however, they are not like the Miata’s toggle switch-like shifter. The gates are evenly spaced, and makes finding the right gear incredibly easy. The clutch is light and easy to use, and its travel will make it easy to modulate in stop and go traffic situations. Drive it conservatively, as per Ford’s guidelines, and you won’t be able to tell the difference between the ST and your run of the mill non-turbo Focus. You can just go about your errands with as little drama as possible, and maintain as much civility as you can in a car that screams COP MAGNET!
The clutch is light and easy to use, and its travel will make it easy to modulate in stop and go traffic situations.
The variable ratio rack and pinion steering is accurate, which makes the car easy to drive in almost all situations. To make life easier, the ST is also equipped with a hill-hold feature that will apply the brakes for a short amount of time on a hill so the car doesn’t roll back. It is a great feature to have for beginners and those who are in the intermediate levels of driving a manual but if you are adept at wrangling a manual and the three pedal shuffle, you might find yourself stalling out on hills. I found that I had to be slow to respond to the system so that it doesn’t happen.
So far so good…
My issue with the manual gearbox is that it is quite sloppy, as is typical with most cable link shifters. There is considerable play when in gear, and it doesn’t feel like it’s holding a gear when you drive it hard. Garry echoed my sentiments and said, “it is quite vague and feels disjointed and rubbery.” For a beginner, this is perfect since you can move the shifter into the general area of the gear you want and it will engage the gear, but for someone who loves manual gearboxes it is a bit of a let down. I can’t fault Ford for doing it, because if you want an easy car to drive with a manual gearbox while giving you tons of fun in return, there really isn’t much else left on the market.
My issue with the manual gearbox is that it is quite sloppy, as is typical with most cable link shifters. There is considerable play when in gear, and it doesn’t feel like it’s holding a gear when you drive it hard.
The steering is devoid of feedback and if you think you are getting feedback, it is artificial. The EPS rack gives the steering some heft, but it is dead-on center and a few degrees off-center in either direction. When you are driving the ST with gusto, the steering stiffens up and turning the wheel is a whole bunch of confusion. It’s like the EPAS prevents you from turning. It fights you a little bit and provides resistance off-center, but when you keep turning the wheel it stops fighting. It is like the system wants you to keep the wheel straight. This seems a bit counterintuitive to me, because a car this sporty should have a steering that is easy to turn in and follows your inputs. The steering is like the first time you asked someone who didn’t know how to dance, to dance. They’re rather rigid and look at your feet instead of just flowing with your movements.
I said the car has ample torque steer, and believe me, it has plenty! The steering rack makes things disconcerting here too. Combined with torque vectoring that Ford uses, the car just feels unnatural. Launch the car around 3-4000 rpm and you will get a one wheel burn out and as typical of front drivers, the wheels will pull the steering wheel. Your natural tendency is to tug the steering in the opposite direction but the steering rack doesn’t like for you to turn the wheel too much off-center. If you continue to do so (all of a sudden), it will let go, and the wheel will turn over more than you anticipated. You’ll find yourself tugging at the other direction, but the system is now trying to turn it the direction you had originally wanted and it’s just a royal pain in the…..you know what.
I think proper pedal placement should be mandated, just as much as CAFE is.
In the torque-steer king that is the Mazdaspeed3, I have found that when you are wrangling the steering in an attempt to keep the car in line, the steering system doesn’t fight you, but instead you are fighting the power of the car. The ST is quite different, in that you are fighting both the power and the steering and it’s hard to figure out how to get it to not, if you wish to drive it hard. Rev the turbo mill to 5000 and drop the clutch, and you will be gifted with perfect burnouts. Watch the tach needle, because it will hit redline very quickly, but shift at the right moments, and you can keep smoking the tires well into third gear. Both tires, not just one. I can proudly say that this is the only front-wheel drive car that I was able to leave the longest tire marks on the road with.
The pedal placement is odd. The pedals are tiered with the clutch pedal being the highest, with the brake pedal an inch or so further away and with the gas pedal an inch and a half recessed from the brake pedal. The brake and clutch pedals are small and look like little shields. It is almost impossible to heel toe this car, which takes away a bit of the fun for me. I can look past the sloppy shifter, and I can even overlook the steering issue (maybe), but the pedals? I don’t think I can let it slide. As a daily driver for 99% of the population, this is a non-issue, so don’t worry about it.
But for me, it’s a big problem. I have had such fun driving this car hard, on some of the twisty roads that Connecticut has to offer, but with the pedals placed the way they are, I could only imagine how much more fun I could be having. I still feel like I’m missing out on this car’s potential. I am the type that would purchase a driver’s car based on certain criteria such as the pedal placement, shift feel, steering feedback etc…so this automatically excludes me from the rest of the population. But this car would just be so much more fun if I could heel-toe. I think proper pedal placement should be mandated, just as much as CAFE is.
Despite my personal preferences, the ST has it where it counts. It is fun to drive, spacious, has a great infotainment system, and the EPA rated fuel economy of 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway for a 26 mpg combined is great reason to give this car a serious look. With my aggressiveness in driving this car, I was hovering around the city estimates, but was able to get up past the 26 mpg combined estimate. All while running regular gasoline which can’t be said for other hot hatchbacks in the ST’s segment. Our test car came optioned with 201A Equipment Group, which adds the nice RECARO seats, Ford MyTouch, and a dual zone climate control for $2,505. If I were to guess, I’d say that most of that amount is for the RECARO seats. The optional equipment was the navigation feature that went along with the Ford MyTouch system for $795, bringing the total price of the ST to $27,795.00 (which includes the $795 destination charge).
This car is all about having fun and for the price, it is lots of fun, and will keep you grinning every time you floor the pedal. But at the same time, it is also practical and is a great grocery getter; however, this is just a hot hatch and not a driver’s car. It just doesn’t have that “it” factor that many driver’s cars have, but for anyone that is looking for a hatchback that isn’t a completely snooze fest, definitely give the ST a look. If you are in your mid 20’s to low 30’s (or older) and wish to have a fun little car to get you from point A to point B and provide some excitement along the way, this is for you.
This car is all about having fun and for the price, it is lots of fun, and will keep you grinning every time you floor the pedal.
THE CAR FANATICS BLOG TAKE
An excellent hot hatch with some wild looks. Definitely a car you should put on your shopping list to seriously consider.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Garry Gulledge / Car Fanatics Blog