How good is the Ford Focus ST on the track? This street car doesn’t even represent the ultimate Ford performance series. That would be the RS, a line that relegates STs to step-up status from standard models. Rumor is that Ford will bring the RS version of the current Focus to the U.S., to become the first Rally Sport model sold here.
Rather than wait for that to happen, I took the Focus ST to Grattan Raceway, in Western Michigan, to find out how well it handles proper track work.
I enjoy brisk, early morning drives to a track as much as the actual track, and my journey to Grattan did not disappoint. The Focus ST has so much grip and poise that the scenery on the back roads outside Ada, Michigan flashed by more quickly than would have been the case in many other road cars—even those far more powerful and expensive. The Focus’ confidence-inspiring brakes, rewarding gear changes, strong midrange power and impressive chassis damping combine to make it quick, easy and rewarding at its dynamic limits on a country road.
It was impressive on the race circuit, as well. There is a surprising lack of understeer in the ST, especially for a front-wheel drive road car. It has a ton of front-end grip and its ability to rotate—even oversteer—is rare in car that puts its power solely to the front axle. Sure, you need to respect your throttle applications in the low-speed corners and the quick steering doesn’t communicate much of what the front wheels are doing, but the Focus had a few owners of more pedigreed cars wondering how a Ford hatchback passed them at Grattan.
The brakes were a letdown though, having to work double-time on the track, both slowing the car and controlling its wheelspin via the electronic limited-slip differential. The track was damp for my first session, and the brakes struggled to control wheelspin, which extended well into third gear. This caused severe fade, and I had to circulate the track slowly after my run as smoke billowed from the front binders.
Later sessions were dry but the more favorable conditions didn’t help much. A fast, six-lap session ended with a soft pedal and smoking brakes once again. The engine gave full power for a few laps, then it felt like the ECU was dialing back turbo boost and engine timing. I no longer felt the ST’s strong pull down the front straight, and my speeds were slower before braking later in the run. The Focus ST lacks the stamina necessary for extended track work.
We also had the Automobile Magazine Four Seasons Subaru BRZ at the track. While the rear-drive coupe doesn’t have the punch of the Focus—it gives up a mammoth 119 lb-ft of torque to the Ford—it feels far more at home, especially on extended runs. We didn’t run comparison laps with timing gear but I have little doubt that the Ford could post a slightly faster time than the BRZ. Still, the Subaru would likely win the race over a longer stint, especially at a challenging, twisting track like Grattan.
My Grattan track day revealed a lot about the Focus ST. The journey to and from the track reminded me that the Ford carries the rare, key characteristics that make it a great automobile on the right road. It’s fast and rewarding on smooth back roads. Its shortcomings on the track are acceptable, considering the ST’s price point and intended audience. What’s more, the planned Focus RS will no doubt come with a mechanical limited slip differential and upgraded brakes and cooling, befitting proper circuit work. Let’s hope it also comes with more comfortable Recaro seats, a more cohesive interior design and that it loses the ghastly MyFordTouch system.