I know what you’re probably thinking: Here’s yet another econobox hatchback prettied up with some fancy badging, bigger wheels, and a center-exit exhaust trying to look like it delivers better performance than its cheaper brethren. To that I say, “Hold on a minute.” The new ’13 Ford Focus ST is the exact opposite; it’s more about performance than it is styling and good looks.
We haven’t seen much out of the Ford hot-hatch division in a long time. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but the SVT Focus was the last Ford that could be put in this category. And while countries like the UK have been treated to the Focus RS, we sat and pouted, quietly pondering why it never came to our shores.
The wait is (somewhat) over though. The ST delivers the kind of excitement you expect from a much sportier car, but it’s still civil enough to use as a primary vehicle. It is by no means our version of the RS. Rumors are that the next-gen RS will have a 2.3L turbo engine producing 330-plus bhp, and there’s speculation that it may be sold in North America (yes, please!).
The ST is a tamer version of that car, and it’s a great way to ease us into the thought of a Focus that packs quite a punch and puts a helluva big grin on your face in the corners.
Let’s start off with the powerplant, Ford’s Ecoboost 2.0L, four-cylinder, turbocharged mill with direct injection nets a stout 252 hp and an even healthier dose of torque, rated at 272 lb-ft. Mated to a slick, precise-shifting, six-speed manual, it produces equal amounts of tire smoke and delight.
With modern-day variable valve and cam timing, turbo lag is all but eliminated. Now we complain about a car not building boost at 1,500 rpm, when I remember the days when 3,000 rpm was considered decent. The Focus ST delivers a good punch throughout the entire powerband. It’s easy to notice when all 270 lb-ft are being transferred through the front wheels, because torque steer is prominent in this car. Not “I’m-going-to-drive-you-into-a-ditch-MazdaSpeed3 prominent,” but it’s definitely there.
I have to say I’m very content with and even welcome the ST’s torque steer. It’s what makes part of driving a fast FWD car fun. Without it the experience can seem a bit mundane. So to all of you complaining about it, go buy something slow.
The words understeer and FWD go together like mashed potatoes and gravy, but the engineers at Ford must have decided they were tired of pouring gravy all over their mush. Hell, I think they threw the entire meal away, because the ST is a corner-carving master. It turns in with precision and willingness that most RWD cars don’t possess. I’m not joking, either. The ST’s willingness to rotate is astounding. Chuck it into a corner with enough aggression and the rear end steps out with plenty of angle—so much so that some countersteer is required.
Hallelujah! The mold is finally broken! On handling only, the ST is a winner in my book, but add a great engine with lots of upgrade potential, and you have to be asking yourself what other FWD car in the market will give you this type of fun with great utility to boot?
The answer is none. The Focus ST has redefined what a sports hatchback should be, and it does so in every department.
It’s not perfect, though. It has a few knickknacks I didn’t particularly like. The Microsoft Sync infotainment system is cumbersome and slow to use, while the intake noise generator borders on annoying. I couldn’t get used to the tone it produces because it sounds like a naturally aspirated engine rather than having the whoosh you’d hear from a turbocharged intake tract. However, the well-bolstered Recaro seats are a welcome sight, as is the quick steering ratio. And seeing Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric max performance summer tires shod on the 18-inch rims was a surprise. Again, it goes to show that the folks at Ford are serious about this car.
The Focus ST is a radical departure from most of the “sports” packages available for mass-market FWD compact cars. The ST moniker is the real deal, and it’s about to turn the hot-hatch market upside down.
Specs & Details
’13 Ford Focus ST
Engine 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower 252 hp
Torque 270 lb-ft
Transmission 6-speed manual
Price $24,495 base
’13 Shelby Focus ST
That’s right, Shelby isn’t just about Mustangs and V8s; he’s taken a liking to the new Focus ST and will be producing 500 versions with his signature upgrades that include larger wheels and tires, bigger brakes, better suspension, and a healthy bump in horsepower to the tune of 275 ponies thanks to an exhaust and ECU retune. There are other items, such as a short-throw shifter, stiffer engine mounts (that reduce torque steer), and interior and exterior visual enhancements that make it stand out from a regular ST.
What’s it drive like, though? Pretty damn good. The bump in power gives the Shelby ST noticeable straight-line improvement over the stock ST all the while eliminating some of the torque steer with stiffer motor mounts. The trade-off is slight vibration at low rpm. The Michelin Super Sports are a serious tire for this already capable hatchback and will no doubt improve handling—something I wasn’t about to test on my short drive around local streets.
If you’re into Shelbys or collectible cars, then this just may be up your alley, but be prepared to dish out close to $15K on top of the Focus ST’s original price tag. That’s a hefty price to pay, but then again, that’s what the makes Shelbys so collectible and sought after.
The words understeer and FWD go together like mashed potatoes and gravy, but the engineers at Ford must have decided they were tired of pouring gravy all over their mush.