For years, we in the U.S. market have craved some of the goodness delivered to the European world in hot-hatch form. We had a craving from one company in particular to screw their heads on straight and bring us the Euro-Focus. For years, the closest we’ve got was the Mazda 3, which is a great car and based on the Euro-Focus platform, but this didn’t stop us from pushing Ford. Finally, in 2011, they did just that. The car sitting on dealer lots here in the U.S. is basically the same as its overseas brother. We’ve spent lots of time in the 2012 model and have no doubt that Ford made the right decision to bring this car to us, but for us enthusiasts, there was still something missing. Something with more power. Something that we’ve only seen in magazines, YouTube clips, and TopGear reviews. In another stroke of brilliance, Ford has brought this hot-hatch to the states as well.
This car isn’t alone in its market these days. We’ve seen and reviewed lots of fun-to-drive sedans and hatchbacks lately so we were eager to see how the ST would stack up to its competition.
Let’s get right into what makes this ST so much more special than any Focus before it. First, in the U.S. market, you might be more familiar with Ford giving their special cars the moniker of SVT. And SVT does stand for Special Vehicle Team, so where did ST come from? The ST name is from their European market and stands for Sport Technologies. Get used to hearing it as we’ll be seeing more ST models coming our way soon as well. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine. This is matched up only with a 6-speed manual transmission. This setup pushes out 252-horsepower at 5,500-rpm and 270-lb.-ft. of torque at 2,500-rpm. This kind of power in a small hatchback being pulled down the road by its front wheels is pretty stellar!
Straight line acceleration gives you the feeling of being in a true muscle car. You get pushed back in your RECARO seat as you tear furiously toward the horizon. Slipping the wheels during second and third gear shifts is an easy task with the power you’re putting down. You’ll quickly become addicted to this maneuver, not just for the childish hooning, but also to get another earful of that exhaust note. I’ve heard very few 4-cylinder engines – or even 6-cylinder ones – that sound quite as good as this does.
As a quick comparison to our last review – the 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo – you get 52-more ponies pulling you along, but your acceleration feels much greater. Unlike the Veloster though, the Focus ST really comes into its own in the corners. I can only really compare the steering in this car to one other – and that’s the BOSS 302 Mustang. Ford has developed a new Sport Steering System that has a variable ratio steering rack designed to increase the agility of the car. The steering kept consistent through the bends and made it easy to tell just how much lock to give the wheel to perfectly execute a corner. It’s easily one of the best driving cars I’ve driven in this segment.
Ford paid special attention to the shifter in the ST making sure that the ratios especially that of the sixth-gear were perfectly in tune. The shifter has very short throws making it easy to slam through the gears. It fits really well in your hand and is comfortable shifting around. The clutch has a good feel – not too heavy, not too light – and makes quick gear changing easy.
So obviously we’re in love with the overall driving dynamics of the ST as it’s fast, planted, sounds great, and tons of fun. What about the looks though? The ST gets some special bits including a new one-piece design interpretation of Ford’s signature trapezoidal grille in the front. Around the side they’ve sculpted the side-skirts to look more aggressive and dynamic. Around back you’ll notice the center mounted exhaust tip with its angled and rectangular shape. You’ll also notice the prominent diffuser-style vents in the lower rear fascia. Ford says that the design changes have made a significant impact in its aerodynamic stability compared to the base models, but it just looks cool too.
Inside, they’ve really focused on the driver first as this is a driver’s car. It’s already based on a great interior, but they’ve really stepped it up a notch by adding more sporty and aggressive styling and accents. Like we briefly mentioned before, the seats are RECARO’s and come in two-tone leather and cloth where the leather accent matches the exterior of the car. On top of the dash, above the navigation screen, you get some gauges that any enthusiast would crave: water temp, oil psi, and of course a boost gauge. Much of the rest of the interior is quite like other Focus models, which is a great thing. This car is comfortable to drive; it has nice materials throughout, great technology, and lots of room. I not only used this to hoon on back country roads, but I also got lots of practical use out of it by getting groceries for the family and taking the kids to school and baseball games. The Focus ST handled everyday life as well as it does the corners.
In consideration of everyday life, you might be concerned with what all this boost, horsepower, and hoonary does to your fuel economy. The EPA rates the ST at 32-mpg highway and 23-mpg city. These rating beat those of the MazdaSpeed3 and Volkswagen GTI, although we have yet to give these a real world test. During our week of fun and functional driving, we averaged 22.1-mpg. For a normal hatchback, that doesn’t sound that great, but for as much fun as we had, I’m definitely okay with it.
So the two main rivals of the Focus ST have yet to have pulled into our garage for a full review, so it’s difficult to compare them at this time. I can say that out of the big three, the Focus definitely looks the best in my eye. Base MSRP starts at $23,700 and our tester priced out at only $27,775. This seems to be a great bargain for how good this car really is. In comparison, the MazdaSpeed3 and GTI both start at around $24k and can be priced up over $27k.