The automaker best defined by the Super Duty finally has a proper performance compact once again. The 2013 Ford Focus ST comes to us a decade after the world class 2002-04 Focus SVT, our domesticated version of the first-generation Euro Focus ST, languished on dealership lots. The excellent independent rear-suspension that blessed all Mark I Focus models reacted brilliantly to the performance modifications. The SVT featured a Cosworth-fettled 170-horsepower engine and it ran circles around the lackluster Mark IV Volkswagen GTI.
Ford of Europe then developed a second-generation Focus ST, full of character with its 222-horsepower turbocharged five-cylinder engine providing an offbeat engine soundtrack. I spent a couple of weeks with one in the UK in 2006 and loved it. Excellent steering and chassis dampening allowed the ST to tackle England’s bumpy, cambered B roads at an almost-inconceivable pace. Sadly, Americans were never offered that great Ford, even in base-Focus trim.
As Volkswagen revitalized its GTI with the fifth-generation model (our 2007 Automobile of the Year), Ford had nothing in North America that could battle the legendary German hot hatch. Then Alan Mulally’s “One Ford” re-converged the North American Focus with the new, Mark III European Focus, and an ST soon followed.
The ST has won many comparison tests against cars like the Mark VI VW GTI, but that doesn't mean the 252-horsepower Focus is good to drive on a daily basis. So I'm going to live with one for a few months to find out how good it is.
I've always been a fan of performance hatchbacks. My first car was a 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI. I've also owned a 1995 Volkswagen GTI VR6 (with a handful of modifications by Techtonics Tuning), a 2002 Mini Cooper S and a 2003 Mini Cooper S. When I lived in England, my daily driver was a first-generation Focus TDCi (diesel) with sport suspension. When I moved back to the States in late 2004, my wife’s pregnancy put a damper on my plans to buy a VW R32. Our children are now a bit older and the four-door hatchback setup of the Focus ST is perfect.
I’m driving a 2013 ST2 model. A base ST1 starts at $24,495. For $26,880, the ST2 package adds a Sony 10-speaker stereo, MyFord Touch, dual automatic climate control, HD/Sirius satellite radio, and partial leather Recaro seats with manual adjustments. My car is also fitted with an optional $895 moonroof. Total MSRP is $27,775 (with a $120 equipment group discount). The ST3 adds heated power Recaro seats with leather, heated mirrors, a folding rear armrest, Xenon headlights, cornering lamps, LED signature lights, interior ambient lighting, an overhead console, and navigation (a $795 option on the ST2, not fitted to my car). An ST3 stickers for $29,825 with the optional sunroof.
After a few weeks of driving the Ford, my impressions are positive. The engine sounds great and the ST is very quick, with mountains of mid-range punch. I like the styling, the slick six-speed gearbox, its strong brakes, and its quick steering. The rack is less than two turns lock-to-lock and turn-in is brilliant. I wouldn't say the steering has a ton of feel but very few modern cars do. Suspension damping is very good and the inevitable trade-off, ride quality, isn't bad, even on the horrible Michigan roads.
So far, I don't like MyFord Touch. It’s slow and frustrating. Often it won’t react to any input and my iPhone 5 inconsistently pairs up through the Bluetooth connection. A software update at the local Ford dealership didn't improve it. The rear cargo space is quite small and I’m not sure about the optional Recaro seats. I've loved the support and comfort of Recaros in past cars I’ve owned, but these don’t fit me well, and I constantly have to adjust the manual levers to get comfortable.
Another gripe is torque steer. This shouldn't be a surprise, what with the 2.0-liter turbo putting 270 pound-feet through the front wheels, but traction, especially in the wet, tends to be a struggle.
There is much to explore with the 2013 Ford Focus ST. I have interviewed Ford engineers and will be writing about that experience in future blogs. I've already played with a handful of minor modifications, and I will explore the differences between the U.S.-spec Focus ST and the Euro version. I'll continue to review the Focus ST online forums, too. Stay tuned for the results. - Marc Noordeloos