The 2013 Ford Focus ST’s engine is quite a beast. The all-aluminum, turbocharged 2.0-liter four develops an impressive 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. The soon-to-be-replaced, sixth-generation Volkswagen GTI’s engine is of similar spec but is only rated at 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. The powerful Ford also carries excellent EPA fuel economy numbers: 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. On paper, this is an impressive powertrain.
But as with any engine, it needs to eventually leave the dyno cell and work in an actual car, in the real world. In the Focus, that means getting the power to the ground via the front wheels. While front-wheel drive isn’t necessarily a horrible thing, it’s not the best configuration when we’re talking about a torque figure that’s approaching 300 lb-ft. Fortunately, Ford fits the Focus ST with a few bits of technology that attempt to both diminish the annoying tug through the steering wheel — torque steer — and improve traction.
The first item is what Ford calls Torque Steer Compensation (TSC). When the TSC system senses an imbalance of torque between the front wheels, it adjusts the steering effort in the direction of the tug of the wheel. Another feature is Enhanced Torque Vectoring Control (eTVC). It uses the brakes to help control wheel spin. It’s an inexpensive way to gain some of the benefits of a limited-slip differential.
Living with the Focus ST, my experience has been that the high-tech aids surely help, but that Ford’s hot hatch still regularly wants for traction and is cursed with torque steer. On smooth, warm pavement and when you’re accelerating hard in a straight line, you can sense the systems working and they keep things pretty well in check. But add in ruts and bumps or higher cornering loads and the ST searches for traction and exhibits plenty of torque steer. Unfortunately, we aren’t just talking about first gear. A highway on-ramp under boost in third gear can cause the steering to twitch.
And it’s not just when the Focus ST is driven briskly. Ford’s EcoBoost engine has an annoying tendency to develop a large amount of non-linear boost pressure at low RPMs, even with small throttle applications. In contrast, Volkswagen’s turbo four feels more like a normally aspirated engine with a ton of mid-range punch. Ford’s 2.0-liter needs further tuning to smooth out the transition between no boost and tons of boost. When driven at a moderate pace, the ST will occasionally lunge to the right or left as the inconsistent throttling of the engine overwhelms the front tires.
The ST’s 2.0-liter engine also isn’t the most entertaining at the upper reaches of the tachometer. The standard redline is 6500 rpm and the ECU will allow 3-second blasts up to 6800 rpm. Other than in first or maybe second gear, there is no real reason to play much beyond 6000 rpm. This is very much a mid-range engine; it has enormous thrust from 2500 or 3000 rpm to 6000 rpm. The engine has a very good and quite natural sound, especially for a turbocharged four. The Active Sound Symposer pipes route that sound into the cabin, based upon throttle position, gear selection, and other parameters.
One final note on the subject of torque steer: There are times, such as when driving hard on an empty, smooth road that the tugs and pulls through the steering wheel add to the fun and character of the Focus ST. Although I would still argue that Ford needs to fine-tune the ST’s engine, I don’t want the company to make these changes at the expense of turning the hot-rod Focus into a boring, over-engineered tool. That’s not what a Focus ST should be.