In the sport compact segment, refinement and power are considered mutually exclusive – with one exception. That exception is a car that has been around for decades, and while it hasn’t always been so refined, the modern iterations certainly are. We are, of course, speaking of the Volkswagen GTI.
|1. Powered by a 2.0L turbocharged direct-injection 4-cylinder the Focus ST makes 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque with a 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds.
2. In addition to a complete aero kit, upgrades include a lowered suspension, 18-inch wheels with high performance tires, larger brakes and custom settings for the electronic steering and torque vectoring control.
3. Recaro seats can be had as part of a $2,385 option package.
4. Priced at $23,700 ($24,495 including destination) the ST will arrive at dealers in August.
In the modern era it might not have been able to hold on to the crown in terms of outright performance (thanks to the Mazdaspeed3) and now it can no longer sit pretty as the only hot hatch that treats its driver with respect.
Perhaps most surprising is that this new turbocharged 5-door challenger isn’t from Germany, or Japan, but an American automaker known for V8 engines and rear wheel drive: Ford.
And yet the Focus ST is the very first performance product to result from the brand’s new global approach to cars. Based on the Focus platform, which is sold throughout the world, the ST (Sport Technologies) is also the first performance model to use an EcoBoost engine – which until now has been branded as a down-sized fuel economy alternative.
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Fuel economy is most certainly not the focus here, with 252 hp and an even more impressive 270 lb-ft of torque that comes on full at 2000 rpm. An overboost function doesn’t modify the peak output but does help the mid-range, especially in regards to flatting the torque curve. That car will easily clip a 0-60 time in the mid to low six second range and sounds pretty wild doing it.
Making noises like nothing else on the road, the Focus ST also sounds unnatural, even contrived, and for good reason. Under throttle the note you hear isn’t that of the exhaust but of the Active Sound Symposer, essentially a valve that opens to generate noise similar to what you’d get by adding an aftermarket air intake to a Honda Civic. The down side is that it masks any of the fun sounds associated with a turbocharged car.
The advantage of this system, however, is that, based on throttle input, it generates plenty of noise when you lay on the gas, but the Focus ST remains nearly silent when cruising.
Like the exhaust note, much of the rest of the Focus ST has been massaged with technology as well (living up to the T part in the badge), and the results are in some ways similar, though its hard to fault the impressive results, with power levels just shy of the Mazdaspeed3 and a sophistication to the drive that matches the GTI.
How Ford does this is through its Torque Vectoring Control system and an updated electronic steering system that uses a more responsive version of the car’s “torque steer compensation” system. As anyone who’s driven a Mazdaspeed3 or other high-powered front-drive car can attest to, they can be a handful under power.
Ford’s torque vectoring system is essentially an electronic limited slip differential – using the brakes to slow the inside wheel in a corner rather than actually distribute the power appropriately. Similar to the XDS system in the GTI, it uses the car’s stability control system rather than a heavy and complex mechanical unit.
This is then combined with the torque steer cancelation function, which works to limit the amount of pulling and twitching the steering wheel does in your hands.
Put both systems together in a corner and you not only get the desired grip with less wheel slip, but you don’t have to fight the car to achieve that result. The idea of a front wheel drive car with 270 lb-ft of torque that’s also civilized is almost unthinkable, but the Focus ST is just that.
Compared to the high-powered turbocharged Mazda which just wants to rip the steering wheel right out of your hands, the Focus ST gives just a light tug on the steering wheel, hinting that it’s time to hold on. Stay on the throttle and impressively you don’t need to white knuckle it either, with a light touch all that’s required here.
Helping improve overall grip are thick 235/40/18 Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2 tires, a size wider than what you’d find in the Madaspeed3.
An already impressive handling machine the Focus ST is next-level fun with a revised rear suspension system with a new anti-roll bar. Plus it gets custom shocks and springs helping drop the car 10 mm and lower the overall center of gravity.
Equipped with a stability control system that’s already less intrusive than the standard Focus, Ford gives the ability to turn off traction control as well as a full-off setting. We’re thankful for the latter (and those who want to track their Focus ST will be as well). It’s something a car even like the Golf R doesn’t offer and impressively even with all systems off the Focus ST isn’t at all unwieldy – though if you want there’s plenty of potential for shenanigans.
It certainly looks the part, with its gaping front mouth, rear spoiler, full aero kit, that wild Lamborghini-esque center exit exhaust, big 18-inch wheels and even custom headlights. And let’s not forget the signature Tangerine Scream paint job found on our test car.
Inside the Focus ST has much of the same high-grade interior as the current Focus and gets special touches as well with custom aluminum pedals, a Focus ST leather steering wheel plus dash top gauges to measure everything from the oil pressure to boost level.
Standard will be Focus SE sport seats though Ford will offer an optional Recaro seat that looks absolutely wild and hugs you in ways that feel inappropriate. The side bolsters are solid but the angle of the seat bottom and heavy thigh support are perhaps a bit too much squeeze in the posterior for daily driving.
The partial-leather Recaros and Sony audio system upgrade runs $2,385 while full leather Recaros, HIDs and navigation can be had for $4,435.
Fully equipped, the interior is incredibly premium for this segment, especially when considering rivals like the GTI and Mazdaspeed3 are already a step above the compact segment.
And as though it needed saying, the Focus ST is available exclusively with a slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission.
A global vehicle, the Focus ST is certain to be a hit overseas and here at home, with a product that’s perfectly targeted at a younger generation. While not the wild Mustang-killing RS model some had hoped for, part of its attraction is the $23,700 starting price ($24,495 with destination), which is $300 less than the Mazda.
It is slightly less powerful than that car, but it’s also a few pounds lighter and a head-to-head shootout would be remarkably close. A handful on the street, the Mazda is, however, impressive on the track, and it remains to be seen if the ST’s use of technology in delivering GTI-like refinement hampers its outright performance.
Sitting at the crossroads of hot hatches, between the Mazdaspeed3 and Volkswagen GTI it’s not as raw as the former nor as refined as the latter, but an impressive mix of the two. Using technology to deliver everything from power, to handling, to refinement, this model lives up to its ST badge.