Thumbs Up: Kurt: The best front-drive hot hatch currently on the market. Mike: Yeah, what he said…
Thumbs Down: Limited rear seat leg room. Mike: Interior may be a little too over-stylized for some people.
Buy This Car If: You want a blend of entertaining and practical, and don’t need the rear legroom. Mike: OR if you’ve got a teenager at home, your car is boring, and you want something that’s a pisser to drive on weekends.
Kurt: In the time it took for Ford to bring the eagerly-anticipated Focus ST hot hatch to market in the United States, you could have gotten married, had a few kids, put them through college and started to eat into your retirement savings – or so it seemed. Some two years elapsed between the confirmation that the car would come to the United States (delivered at the 2010 Paris Motor Show) and the car’s actual appearance in 2012 as a 2013 model. Delay after delay after delay seemed to plague the 2013 Ford Focus ST, which begs the question: was it worth the wait?
The answer is a resounding “yes,” and in terms of the total package, you won’t find a better front-drive hot hatch on the market today (though to be fair, I haven’t driven the limited-edition MINI John Cooper Works GP yet). Its power delivery is relatively seamless, its handling precise and even the exhaust note is just right. It will hang with a Mazdaspeed 3 and an APR Stage One VW GTI, while serving up minimal torque steer and a surprisingly comfortable ride. The Mazdaspeed 3 is still the best bargain in its class, and the GTI still wins on interior room and comfort, but the Focus ST wins in just about every other category we can name.
Mike: It should come as no surprise that small-displacement turbocharged engines are not my thing. I mean I am a man right? That means I should like big honkin’ V8’s that rumble, spit fuel and kill kittens. However this Focus ST is somewhat of a burr in my ass because I really, really like it. Yes, it took some time to get to the U.S., but dammit if it wasn’t worth waiting for. It goes like stink, handles great, is relatively inexpensive AND, unless your fat like me, is pretty comfy inside.
Kurt: Even its exterior styling is remarkably refined, though I wouldn’t recommend “Tangerine Scream” tri-coat paint if you want to stay below the radar. Aside from the subtle ST badging on the car’s gloss black grill, nothing up front screams “ticket me,” although the ST’s gaping maw is quite a bit more pronounced than on other Focus hatchback models.
Mike: Definitely agree with Kurt on the “Tangerine Scream” paint, but then again, I don’t feel I’m Ford’s target audience for this car. Infused with youth, the Focus ST is a hot-hatch for those 20 and 30-somethings who want a lot of fun in an inexpensive wrapper. It’s no giant killer mind you, but more so a car that reminds you of why you love driving in the first place. FYI – I’d go for either the “Performance Blue” or “Tuxedo Black”, but hey, that’s just me.
Kurt: From the side, only the ST’s roof spoiler gives away the fact that this isn’t your ordinary hatchback. Sure, the 18-inch wheels don’t exactly say “econobox,” but I’ve seen plenty of grocery-getters sporting even bigger wheels fresh from the dealer’s showroom. Park this in your driveway, and none of the neighbors will be ribbing you about your mid-life crisis; instead, you’re likely to get comments from the automotive uninformed along the lines of “what kind of mileage does it get,” or, “hey, that’s a sharp ride.”
Mike: Kurt hit the nail on the head with this. Whether at the gas station, market or stoplight, the Focus ST garners A LOT of questions from people ranging from “Is it fast?” to “How much does it cost?”. Let’s face it, this is a good looking automobile that has all the right elements of a good conversation. Big wheels – check. Built in spoiler – check. Center mounted exhaust – check. This isn’t some cobbled together gimmick of a car, but rather a well engineered performance hatch that’s big on economy, performance and curb appeal.
Kurt: Even the rear is an exercise in restraint. There are no giant diffusers or comically flared fenders; in fact, the only performance tip-off (aside from the previously-mentioned spoiler) is the oversized, center-exit exhaust. While the Focus ST will appeal to younger buyers, those old enough to remember the Focus SVT won’t feel out of place behind the wheel, either.
Mike: The interior of the Focus ST is a sensory experience. From the black, gray and yellow Recaro seats, to the highly stylized gauges and center stack, this is a car that packs a visual KA-POWW the moment you open the door. What’s great is that, as stylized as it may be, all the information you could ever need is there and presented to the driver clearly. Dead center sits a nice large tachometer and speedometer along with a small digital screen that can be configured in any number of ways to show trip, fuel economy and interior settings. Never once was I wondering about speed, revs and or engine temp. Ford really did a great job of laying out the ergonomics of this car.
Kurt: Inside, the Focus ST is neither as Audi-esque as the VW GTI nor as funky as the Mazdaspeed3. Instead, Ford managed to achieve a “just right” mix of comfort, sport and practicality in the ST’s cabin. The soft-topped dash will be familiar to anyone who’s driven a new Focus (or a new Fiesta, for that matter), but an ancillary gauge panel atop the center stack serves up (limited) information on boost, oil pressure and oil temperature. There’s a sport steering wheel, too, though to be honest, the flat-bottomed wheel in the GTI is still our favorite. As with most vehicles in the Ford catalog, the SYNC / MyFord Touch infotainment system is an available option (though I should point out it doesn’t make the car go any faster).
The Focus ST’s primary instruments deliver all of what you need and none of what you don’t. Hooded pods cover the tachometer and speedometer, while the fuel and coolant temperature gauges sit below the LCD driver information display. The instruments aren’t fancy, but the metallic trim on the gauge surrounds is a nice, upscale touch.
Mike: Let’s face it, Recaro makes some wonderful seats, and the ones in this ST2 packaged Focus ST are no exception. After an afternoon of flogging the Focus through the canyons, I came away with zero fatigue, something that can’t be said about the seats in other hot-hatches in this segment. Rear seat room is tight but not unusable, and anyone under 5’10” should fit fine with minimal complaints. Interior storage, especially with the rear seats folded down, is also very good. You should also be aware that tucked under the deck panel in the rear is a full sized spare tire, something that seems to have become void in newer cars these days.
Kurt: Front seats (in my case, the optional Recaros that come in the ST2 package) are superb, offering up just the right amount of cradling for high-performance driving without being intrusive over long distances. I’d have liked an adjustable lumbar support, but to be fair the supportive seats really didn’t need one. I also liked the leather and cloth blend (though full leather Recaros come in the ST3 package) and wish more automakers would embrace this concept.
Rear seats carry over the same patterned cloth as the front, but don’t offer any side or hip bolstering. There isn’t much leg room for second row passengers, though the head room seems to be better than average for the segment. If you need to regularly haul three passengers, or if you carry a rear-facing baby seat, the Focus ST may be a little tight for your needs.
The heart of this hot hatch is its turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, rated at 252 horsepower and 270 pound feet of torque. Like the Mazdaspeed3, the sole transmission choice is a six-speed manual, which can get the car from 0-60 mph in around 6.2 seconds. There’s surprisingly little torque steer (at least compared to the Mazdaspeed 3), and the engine seems to build boost quickly, producing linear acceleration. While no one will buy a Focus ST for its fuel economy alone, the EPA rates the car at 23 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined, but beware: enthusiastic driving will deliver closer to 21 mpg in the city, which is about what we saw indicated.
Mike: I experienced around 25 mpg with a combination of regular and spirited driving. Jump in the car and mash the gas and you’ll find that the intake noise is quite intoxicating. So much so in fact that I was taking this thing up to redline every time I got in the car. Power delivery comes on smooth and is transferred to the front wheels by way of a buttery smooth 6-speed manual transmission. As far as the engine and drive-train go, Ford nailed it with this Focus ST.
Kurt: On a twisty road, all fuel economy and rear seat legroom sins are forgiven. Clutch effort is relatively light, the steering is precise and nicely weighted and even the gear throws aren’t overly long. Brakes have a good pedal feel, and produce relatively short stopping distances, even with the stock pads. Unlike the Volkswagen GTI, the Focus allows you to completely deactivate the stability control system, too, which a big plus for owners who plan on tracking their cars. While body roll is minimal and grip ample (thanks in part to the 235/40-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires), there’s still the expected amount of push in corners, as the Focus ST carries the bulk of its weight over the front tires. Of the hot hatch trio I mentioned before, the Focus ST is definitely the most entertaining, followed by the Mazdaspeed3, followed by the VW GTI. When the chance to take a cross-country trip on entertaining roads comes up, however, we’re grabbing the keys to the GTI.
Mike: To really understand this car you’ve got to be aware of a few things. First off, the Ford Focus was designed from the beginning to be an economy car, not a sports car. However that doesn’t mean that Ford hasn’t gone to great lengths to redefine what a Focus can be. By infusing a little hot-rod turbo four, some good suspension and brakes, Ford has managed to turn the otherwise mundane Focus into something that’s not only a great drivers car, but one that’s also economical.
Steering feel in the ST is firm and offers great feedback especially while driving the car at the limit. Turn-in is quick and there is some initial push, but nothing that one wouldn’t expect from a front wheel drive car. As mentioned torque steer is also minimal, however if you’re coming from a rear-drive car it’s something that may spook you at first, so be ready for that. I had a great opportunity to do a little dicing with a current generation BMW M3 on some tight twisty canyon roads, and while this car is not in the same class as the BMW both financially or performance wise, it was great at the end of our run to have the M3 driver throw out a nice wave and a thumbs up. Considering this car is sum $40,000 cheaper, I’d take that as a good sign.
Kurt: Ford supplied the 2013 Focus ST for my review. Base price on the car was $24,495, including a $795 delivery charge, and the options included the $2,505 Equipment Group 201A (ST2 package with Recaro cloth and leather seats, MyFord Touch, dual-zone automatic climate control, Sony audio system, HD and satellite radio), the $795 Voice-Activated Navigation System and the $495 Tangerine Scream Tri-Coat Paint, for a total sticker price of $28,170.00.
For comparison, a similarly-equipped Mazdaspeed3 with the Tech Package would list for $25,425, while the four-door Volkswagen GTI Autobahn would sticker at $31,390.
Mike: Oddly enough, Kurt and myself happened to get twin Focus ST’s at the same time which is why we put up this joint review. At days end we had some contrasting opinions, but both agree on one thing; this is a good car that’s not only worth the money, but is a blast to drive and one that would be a pleasure to live with on a daily basis.