Wait, is this really an article comparing two cars from an American brand in european car magazine? Yes, it is. Let's not forget both the Focus and the Fiesta were originally European offerings, born and raised on the twisty roads across the pond. In addition, these are not your stock run-of-the-mill Ford STs, either. These are Fords worked over from front to back by the gentlemen at FSWerks, the Ford customization division of Euro Sport Accessories, who have specialized in tuning Volkswagens since 1988. Now that we've got where this all fits in in this magazine, we'll continue.
We set out from FSWerks' headquarters in Anaheim, California, traversing city streets, freeways, and eventually on some of our favorite canyon roads to try and determine which of these hot hatches we'd recommend to our readers. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll let you know that the Focus is actually owned by european car. Luckily, who holds the title of the car doesn't hold any weight as soon as you start the engine.
My first drive was in the '14 Fiesta ST. The exterior of the car looks fantastic. It's not overtly showy in tuner decals and graphics, and instead is much more a wolf in sheep's clothing. The small FSWerks decals on the rear spoiler and a Triple R Composites front splitter are the only hints that something more lies beneath.
Under the hood, the car features an FSWerks Cool-Flo air intake kit, an ATP front mount intercooler, and a COBB V3 Accessport ECU flasher that combined give the car 190 wheel horsepower and 245 lb-ft at the wheel. First gear goes by so fast that any real performance gains aren't obvious, but slotting into second with the slick short-shifter from FSWerks and the turbo whines before planting your back into the ultra-huggy stock ST seats.
Speaking of the seats, I use "ultra-huggy" on purpose in that they almost offer too much side support, making for a snug fit while casually driving, but do hold me in place in the corners. Inside, the stock steering wheel feels great in-hand—it's got a firm feel I can completely wrap my hands around and isn't overly stuffed.
In the corners, the car turns quickly and stays neutral when pushed. It's easy to get the back end to rotate with a quick throttle lift but stays predictable. The car reacts near telepathically and goes exactly where you want it to go. It's like a terrier the way it enthusiastically attacks every corner. Unfortunately, there is a slight problem that pops up when pushed to its limits.
The car has Rotiform 18x8" three-piece SJC forged race wheels (which look brilliant by the way) with Conti ExtremeContact tires that are 10 mm wider than stock. Combined with the car being lowered, the tires rub the fender lip every time it is driven in anger, eliminating the smile from my face and contorting it into a grimace with just a touch of body shudder. It was an instant buzzkill at a moment when you wanted to have fun the most. This is where the demands of show-car aesthetics butts heads with driver's car functionality. At lower speeds, the car tackles 90-degree corners and U-turns with ease. I can still be a glass-half-full kinda guy.
There are plenty of positives with the suspension. Once we get past the rubbing, the ride-handling mix is fantastic. The Fiesta features H&R coilovers, allowing for comfort during normal street driving, but they are definitely up to the task in the canyons.
The FSWerks exhaust, a 2.5-inch exhaust system with a 3-inch COBB downpipe, provides a nice exhaust purr without drone or being obnoxiously loud. This is a combination I could live with as a daily driver with no problem.
Overall, despite the rubbing issues, it's a fun car to drive—and the Focus ST is going to have to do something amazing to impress me at this point.
This is the car european car magazine built, in record time, for the 2012 SEMA show. With the intent to show off its European heritage, the car is even painted in the same gray Porsche uses for its GT3 RS and wears Porsche replica wheels from Privat.
Immediately, I recognize the Focus knows how to lay on the power. It starts out with the advantage of an additional 400 cc of displacement over the Fiesta; it is also equipped with FSWerk's Cool-Flo air intake and front-mounted intercooler, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's putting 260 hp to the wheels, a full 70 hp more than the Fiesta. But in fairness, stock versus stock, the Focus ST is gifted with more than 50 hp more than its little brother.
This does come at a price as the Focus has a decent amount of torque steer while accelerating both straight and exiting corners. And about those corners.
Heading into any tight corner, the car is not only more hesitant but not as stable as the Fiesta, it just isn't as planted. Any time you're powering out of a corner, the car feels slippery and unpredictable. I had to be gentle on the gas coming out of corners; I couldn't get into the boost until well after the corner was cleared. Even with a much wider, much stickier Continental Extreme Contact tire, the Focus feels wastefully overpowered compared to the Fiesta's joyfully just-overpowered.
The Focus is a beefy car, noticeably so when parked next to the Fiesta, and it comes across during the drive. Back to back, it felt remarkably heavy, perhaps not surprising given the 600 pounds the Focus has over the Fiesta.
At idle, the Focus vibrates like a muscle car with a big cam. The 3-inch downpipe and 3-inch catback exhaust from FSWerks creates a loud drive as well. The noise is OK in short doses like during the canyon drive, but the commute back home at the end of the day made me think this car would be more enjoyable wearing a helmet. Also, while FSWerks does have a short shifter for this car, it was not installed at the time and the throws in the Focus seemed quite long compared to the Fiesta. All was not bad in the Focus, however.
The Recaro Sportster seats are supremely comfortable, in contrast to the Fiesta's stock seats, and offered a good amount of lateral support while fighting the wheel of the car. Also, the H&R coilovers, while lowering the car, did not make the ride uncomfortably stiff, but rather fairly nice over the bumps and road imperfections. The Hawk Performance brake pads were nice while approaching the curves, but the race compound definitely made enough noise to let you know they weren't stock. I also thought the overall exterior look of the car was nice, but definitely doesn't let you blend in with traffic. The gray and orange accents work well, if that's the sort of thing you're after.
I'd have to agree with the magazine's Editor-in-Chief Michael Febbo in that the Focus, the first of the U.S. ST models, comes across as a first step for what the Fiesta is now. It was as if Ford took everything it wanted in an ST, threw it all onto the Focus, and then fine-tuned everything in time for the peppy, well-balanced little brother. The modifications that FSWerks has made to the car have only better refined the car and put an engineering cherry on top of the great work already done by Ford.
So, should you find yourself wondering which Ford compact to purchase and explore through customizations, my recommendation is heavily toward the Fiesta ST. A post-purchase stop by FSWerks will only make it that much better.