Our current automotive era emphasizes safety, and so the choice of cars that offer stick-shifted smiles per mile has become limited, even though the ones that remain are rich with power and ability, like this Focus ST.
But the Focus ST has one thing about it that could blow the whole deal.
We’ll get to that in a bit. First, the extremely good news is that the Focus ST is a righteous kick in the pants. The car people at Ford had their way with the ST, imbuing it with burly ability and some neat track aids. Based as it is on the practical Focus, the ST is an expressive entry into the storied field of hot hatchbacks.
Focus ST buyers are probably also thinking about the Volkswagen GTI and the Subaru WRX, and the ST’s near-$25K entry price puts it about $900 below the VW (which is the among the few nuggets you can pull from VW’s miserably fact-free website) and a bit more than $2K below the Subaru.
The Focus ST is no strippo. Start with those beefy Recaro seats and their chunky bolsters that freeze you in place. Model year 2015 brings a flat-bottomed steering wheel to make it easier to properly plant yourself in there. There’s the trademark ST tri-gauge cluster measuring turbo boost pressure and oil temperature and pressure. Crank it up, and the ST’s exhaust barks to life. No question, the Focus ST means business.
The ST’s turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter engine does not disappoint. Its 252 horses (42 more than the GTI, 16 less than the WRX) come charging after just a hint of turbo lag, and they don’t let up as you climb the power band. Up top at the ST’s 6,500-rpm redline, there’s an engine over-rev feature that gives you three seconds of above-redline activity, with a max-out at 6,800 rpm. Drop it below 6,300 rpm, and the timer resets for another three-second thrill.
Ford also included an overboost period to extend the RPM range for the peak torque curves, which is there to enhance performance in off-the-line acceleration and passing. There are no timers or adjustments for overboost: Ford says it is built in.
Then there are the handling enhancements. Ford’s AdvanceTrac stability control is given three settings – Normal, Sport (which allows for more wheel slip) and, blessedly, Off. In addition, there’s the ST’s Enhanced Torque Vectoring Control, which aims to cut understeer in cornering by applying brake torque to the inner wheel, as well as controlling the car’s yaw response.
This is high-tech stuff, and it’s many kinds of awesome that Ford’s engineers expended such energy to build in different kinds of fun, depending on your driving mood. Of course, many of these enhancements set up the ST for track use; on public roads, you’d have to hurl the ST around at license-melting velocities to truly get a sense of each feature’s value. However Ford states that racing can void the warranty, and so there’s a line you must toe to enjoy all that Ford built into the Focus ST, while still treating it like the new-car investment that it is.
Fortunately, you don’t have to probe the ST’s limits to appreciate it; the test car delivered ample information from the 18-inch tires (Ford says steering feel is enhanced for 2015, and we’d welcome that), and the body stays even-keeled. Bumps and ruts are felt but not harmfully so. Unlike some hot hatches of the past, you wouldn’t mind the SF-to-LA jaunt in an ST, although my back sure did get sweaty from being locked into a cove of meshy material.
Midst all the praise for the Focus ST is the nuisance that showed itself just about every time we drove it: the shockingly wide turning diameter. Whatever deal with the devil Ford’s engineers struck to give the ST its death grip on the road found its price in the turning diameter of 39.4 feet. Even a full-sized Chevy Impala cuts a tighter circle at 38.8.
This has a deep impact on your confidence in urban driving, to the point where you’re not comfortable swinging a U-turn to nab a parking spot because you’ll be holding up two lanes of traffic as you go back and forth in your many-point turn. It’s absurd for a compact hatchback to be so cumbersome, and it’s surprising that such a capable car can feel so neutered by one of its key elements. The ultra-quick steering ratio seems to further highlight this unfortunate flaw.
The rest of the car has the usual Focus ups and downs, with good roominess albeit with a slightly closed-in feeling, along with SYNC’s useful features and occasionally odd logic flow. Overall, the Focus ST has provisos, not deal-breakers.
Except for that one. Fix the turning circle, and and this car would be something that just about all enthusiasts would enjoy. Until then, the brilliant Focus ST is marked with an asterisk.
2014 Ford Focus ST
Base Price: $24,910 (including delivery)
Price as Tested: $28,585
Equipment Group 201A – ST2 Package, MyFord Touch/Sony/Sirius, Dual Zone Electronic Temperature Control: $2,505
Navigation System: $795
18″ Rado Grey Alloy Wheels: $375
Terrific performance, tossable handling
Neat track aids
Grippy Recaro seats
Shockingly wide turning circle
Roomy, but with an enclosed feeling