Today, there is no box that you can check to assign your Ford Focus ST an automatic transmission. There is no ST sedan. Here, Ford's 252hp, turbocharged EcoBoost engine is also non-negotiable. And all of that is just fine.
In 1999, Ford Motor Co. introduced the Focus to America—a car that, as it turns out, is about as European as afternoon tea. Base models coughed up a measly 110 hp, you could get a four-door if you wanted, and it was considered just well enough above average to become one of America's 10 best-selling cars for average people with average expectations who were looking for an average driving experience.
Today's ST is not that Ford Focus. Step on the gas pedal and push yourself back into one of the factory-supplied Recaros and all of a sudden you realize that Ford has done a whole lot of things right. Do it in an ST revised by Southern California Focus experts FSWerks and you realize two other things: There isn't a whole lot you can do to make the ST any better, and that 350 lb-ft of torque emanating this quickly from a front-wheel drive's transaxle shouldn't be this manageable.
But first you're wondering how exactly Raffi Kazanjian—the man behind FSWerks—was able to seduce another 80 lb-ft of torque from an engine just shy of 2,000 cc worth of pistons and cylinders. The answer is simpler than you think and has a little to do with the more efficient FSWerks intercooler and better-flowing intake and exhaust and a lot to do with the COBB Tuning-modified ECU.
It's the COBB Accessport—tuned at the hand of Kazanjian—that makes idling no different than what Ford had planned in the first place, and that makes the FSWerks ST so tame under normal driving conditions that even your Aunt Marge would do well behind the wheel. Except for going in and out of driveways. Aunt Marge would probably mangle up the Triple R Composites front splitter and side skirts doing anything like that.
At the heart of Ford's Focus de-wussification development are things like the ST's factory-turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine, 18-inch wheels, and an electronic torque vectoring system that does its best to lightly apply brake pressure to individual wheels to manipulate power delivery across the front axle. As it turns out, though, without a bona fide, mechanical, limited-slip differential, wheelspin is inevitable and that extra 80 lb-ft of torque isn't on your side until you're able to compose all of this.
Still, though, jump into a turn too quickly or stab the throttle too soon and you'll want that torque-vectoring to start doing its thing, addressing all of that understeer in very complicated ways. But be patient because once traction's been discovered, the ST remains markedly planted. If the ST falls short any other place, it's with its shocks. But nitpicking a car's suspension for being too soft—one that was designed to deal with everything from mall parking lot speed bumps to the 405 Freeway's potholes will never make sense. And that's exactly where companies like FSWerks prove their worth, knowing exactly the sort of changes that ought to be made to something like the company's ST demo car that debuted at last year's SEMA show but without disrupting the car's natural balance or ability to let Aunt Marge schlep it to the drugstore.
FSWerk's Focus is equipped with Ford's ST2 Package, both that and ST3 cars include features like Recaros, Xenon lights and carbon-fiber bits throughout. Kazanjian picked up where Ford left off with the FSWerks ST2, replacing the factory shocks and springs with adjustable coilovers from H&R and FSWerks' own lower stress bars that tighten up the metal. It doesn't sound like much because it isn't, but with a car that starts off well developed, it's exactly what the Focus ST needs.
You think that 350 lb-ft of front-wheel-dispersed muscle will send you into a torque-steered frenzy toward the center divider, and you're wrong. Ford and its electronic vectoring mumbo jumbo take care of that, as does Kazanjian's tune-up, which spreads out all of that torque in a linear sort of way and means that driving with the steering wheel cocked at a 45-degree angle when romping on the accelerator won't be necessary.
That StopTech big-brake kit that's positioned behind the Rotiform wheels inside of sticky Continental ExtremeContact DW tires, as it turns out, is entirely necessary. Getting up to the kind of speeds that'll get you arrested in a regular ST isn't hard. Doing the same in Kazanjian's is exponentially easier. Here, boost edges on sooner than you'd expect—mostly because the factory compressor and turbine with their internal wastegate haven't been upsized, but also because Kazanjian's tuning acumen and COBB's Accessport make for a good combination.
Call the Focus ST a "hot hatch" just like the auto scribes who get excited over things like CVT transmissions or the web commenters who relentlessly compare anything with an upward-swinging rear door to a Type R Honda and you're doing the ST a disservice. It's a capable car by any name or comparison and has proven itself a worthy precursor to the 350hp Focus RS that you really want. Until then, though, dollar for dollar, you'll be hard-pressed to beat the sort of hatchback Kazanjian and company have cooked up.