2013 Ford Focus ST Perhaps the new benchmark in performance compacts.
The rest of the details remain unchanged, although the output numbers, now SAE certified, have seen slight upticks. Ford’s turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder sits under the hood, with a unique intake and exhaust. The aforementioned 252 hp comes at 5500 rpm. Maximum torque is 270 lb-ft at 2700 rpm, and an overboost feature helps preserve a nearly flat torque curve by allowing higher turbo pressures for up to 15 seconds at a time. The front brakes are bigger than on a standard Focus, the suspension is lowered 0.4 inch, the springs and dampers are specially tuned, and the rear suspension is revised with a unique mount for the anti-roll bar.
What’s more, as Ford promised, the Focus ST has the same mechanical specification worldwide, right down to the 235/40-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric tires. Which is not to say our Focus ST is outfitted identically to those in every other market—most notably, U.S.-market STs do not come standard with the Recaro seats shown in the model at auto shows. Those come as part of the $2385 ST2 package, which also includes automatic climate control and an 8.0-inch touch screen. For an extra $4435, the ST3 package adds heat and full leather to those seats, plus amenities such as HID headlights, LED daytime running lamps, and navigation.
Consider the Recaros mandatory—they hug your sides slightly tighter, you sit a little deeper than in a regular Focus. As such, you can look at the ST’s base price not as the advertised $24,495 but instead the $26,880 required with the ST2 package included. Even so equipped, the ST matches up favorably in terms of price and features against the Volkswagen GTI and Mazdaspeed 3, as well as Subaru’s WRX and BRZ, Ford’s own V-6 Mustang, and the rest of the crowded sub-$30,000 performance segment.
In the absence of those vehicles for a direct comparison, the Focus ST is, well, pretty amazing. Our drive route took us through southern France, and on both highway and two-lane mountain roads, the Focus appears to fulfill the promise of the affordable daily-driver performance car. When you first sit down in the driver’s seat, you notice the unique interior pieces immediately. A trio of gauges—oil temperature, boost pressure, and oil pressure—sit atop the dashboard. The steering wheel is covered in soft leather with wax paper–like grippiness and thin, high-density foam padding underneath. Less obvious is the stability-control switch in front of the shift lever, absent on lesser Foci, which toggles between full on, sport mode, and fully off.
Willing and Able
The ST proves easy to drive in traffic, with plenty of low-end torque and an easy-to-master clutch and shifter. At higher speeds, the cabin is quiet, as is the exhaust. Drop from sixth to third gear, though, and a smooth engine note fills the cabin—almost a refined blat. The steering—electrically assisted via a rack-mounted motor—is quick at 1.8 turns lock-to-lock. This is partially due to the variable rack, and partially due to the lack of steering angle; the Focus ST’s biggest fault may be its appalling 39.4-foot turning radius. The quick steering feels natural during cornering, and it dials in its substantial heft as well as any electric system.
Hold your right foot down long enough, and the ST will rev past redline to a soft 6800-rpm fuel cutoff. Sweeping up through the rev range is smooth and linear, and feels stronger than the horsepower rating suggests. Ford claims a 0-to-60 time of 6.2 seconds, which seems conservative—we’re thinking something more like six flat. The torque-steer compensation does a decent job, but a tug on the wheel can be provoked with a quick hit of the throttle. Considering all the twist routed through the front wheels, though, we find the system effective.
Equally impressive is the suspension, which handles bumps with a single up-down motion. It’s stiff enough for some head toss when the road undulates heavily, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off for the handling. As we suspected from our preview, this is a car that goes exactly where you point it, all the more remarkable due to its front-wheel-drive layout. And the tail-happy nature is still present, although it’s less prevalent in the dry than during the damp day in Lommel.
Let’s get back to the ST’s main competitors, the GTI and the Mazdaspeed 3. Both have powertrains that essentially date back years to previous generations. That speaks to the essential goodness of both cars, especially in the case of the 10Best-winning VW, but it also gives the impression that neither company is much interested in making significant progress.
The Focus, then, exploits some of that weakness. Where the GTI can be criticized—a softness in suspension and brakes when pushed hard, some lack of power—the ST simply cannot. And where the Mazdaspeed shows its rough edges—wheel-wrestling torque steer and a harsh ride—the ST is smooth. In terms of feel, the Ford splits the gap between these two cars, delivering a good deal of the creamy usability of the VW and much of the balls-out raucousness of the Mazda. An inevitable comparison test will show where the Ford ranks in direct competition, but we can say with certainty that the Focus ST should be on any car enthusiast’s shopping list.