Fifth Place – 2014 Ford Focus ST
The Ford Focus ST remains something of an enigma to me. On the one hand, I love its European styling, high quality interior, supple ride quality and powerful engine (highest torque output of the bunch at 270 lb-ft). But on the other, the seating position is high and cramped, the handling can be a bit quirky thanks to the torque vectoring going on across both axles, and the power delivery falls off sharply after a lap or two (presumably from heat soak or the computer pulling timing and/or reducing boost pressure when it starts to see temperatures or some other data points that scare it).
SEE ALSO: Ford Focus ST Handling Secrets Revealed
As a result, I’d describe the Focus ST as a bit of a one-lap wonder. It’s really fast on that first lap when the engine is cool and making full power, and the torque vectoring and e-diff work best when the brakes are cool, too. But after that, lap times fall off and so does the fun factor.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Ford Focus ST vs 2013 Mazdaspeed3
Still, with the second quickest lap time of the bunch and a big grin on my face during that one magical lap, it is a very engaging car to drive. It rotates like very few front-wheel drive cars before it, even if that rotation is being achieved “artificially” via its brake-based torque vectoring system, and it jumps out of the corners with real purpose thanks to that mountain of turbocharged torque.
Lap time: 1:26.884 (2nd) Top Speed: 95.6 MPH (5th) Max Cornering G-Force: 1.17 (2nd) Max Braking G-Force: 0.79 (4th) Fun To Drive On The Track (out of 25): 20 (4th) Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 252 HP, 270 lb-ft Transmission: Six-speed manual Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive, eTVC differential Fuel Economy Ratings: 23 MPG City, 32 MPG Highway Fuel Economy Observed: 34.6 MPG Price: $29,000 after destination charges
GALLERY: 2014 Ford Focus ST
Fourth Place – 2015 Volkswagen GTI
I really thought the new Volkswagen GTI was in with a chance at fastest lap time and the overall win. On paper it’s got the right stuff to be a contender, and yet somehow it underwhelmed me with its performance around our test track.
It has almost as much torque as the Focus ST, yet weighs 200-lbs less. Plus the 2013 GTI I tested last summer was surprisingly willing to rotate in the corners, so I was expecting this 7th generation 2015 GTI to be even better.
SEE ALSO: VW GTI vs Subaru BRZ
And it wasn’t all-bad, posting the 3rd quickest lap time, 2nd highest top speed, and 2nd highest braking g-forces. Where it failed to keep up was in the corners, where the GTI was only 6th best in lateral g-force rankings and simply didn’t show the same willingness to rotate as either of the Fords or the rear-wheel drive cars.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Volkswagen GTI Review
It’s ironic that the manual 6-speed gearbox, something I would normally argue as essential in a fun-to-drive car, may have actually detracted from the GTI’s performance compared to the DSG (dual-clutch automatic) version I tested last year. Plus, the lack of side bolstering makes it a struggle to stay in place on those tartan-covered seats, and there just isn’t enough communication via the steering wheel or the chassis to stimulate my senses the way the top three cars do.
Lap time: 1:27.425 (3rd) Top Speed: 98.7 MPH (2nd) Max Cornering G-Force: 1.08 (6th) Max Braking G-Force: 0.81 (2nd) Fun To Drive On The Track (out of 25): 19 (5th) Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 210 HP, 258 lb-ft Transmission: Six-speed manual Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive, XDS brake-activated electronic-differential Fuel Economy Ratings: 25 MPG City, 34 MPG Highway Fuel Economy Observed: 31.4 MPG Price: $25,815 after destination charges