2014 Ford Focus ST Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
Ford Focus ST combines seriously quick performance ability with all of the versatile usefulness of a five-door hatchback
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Ford Buyers Guide
Introduced for 2013, the Ford Focus ST is little-changed for 2014. No change necessary -- it's one of the most entertaining cars made today, with great handling characteristics, excellent brakes, copious power, and, if driven with some degree of moderation and restraint (which can be hard…) a reasonably modest thirst for unleaded premium. Add all of the benefits of a five-door hatchback body style and it's one of the best values in the performance class.
The Focus ST more than holds its own against other compact high-performance hatchbacks, and offers a fine alternative to larger, thirstier sports sedans as well. If you absolutely need a V8 and rear wheel drive, that's not gonna happen here -- but you might want to try a test drive in an ST anyway. Front-wheel drive and high amounts of horsepower and torque can be mutually compatible.
Compared to the previous high-performance Focus, the SVT of a decade ago, the ST is noticeably larger -- not necessarily bad for passenger comfort and/or cargo-carrying ability as it's still small enough to be easily manageable in tight spaces. It weighs 500 pounds more, but more than makes up for that with turbocharging, intercooling, direct fuel injection, variable cam phasing, and advances in computerized engine management. The SVT's naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter engine was good for 170 horsepower. The ST's boosted 2.0-liter makes 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. And goes just as far on a gallon of gas -- going through my records, I found 22 mpg for the SVT, 23 for the ST I drove last year, and 22 for the one I've been driving for the past week. It's possible to do better, but that would miss the point of this car.
The transmission is a six-speed manual, with excellent linkage. Not that there is usually any great need to shift, given the broad, strong torque available. If you're the type of driver who likes to customize the car, you might be out of luck here. There's not much that needs "improvement". With the ST2 package, you get real Recaro seats (plus audio and climate control upgrades) for a price that might be less that the seats alone if sourced from the aftermarket. And, unless you're a fanatic about autocrossing or track days, the suspension and tires need no improvement. My first drive of an ST was on the track, at my local automotive journalist's association's annual ride-and-drive and track day last year. It was a standout. As it was again this year, enough for me to take it out twice. Just to be sure it really was that good… and that same car is this week's test car. None the worse for wear for the experience.
With room for four adults inside, or two and plenty of luggage, a willing but flexible engine and slick shifting, great brakes, and hatchback versatility, the Focus ST is not just a great performance car, it can also work as your daily driver.
APPEARANCE: It's almost stealthy. Almost… Differences between the ST and a regular Focus are small but make a major difference in looks. Most apparent is the grille, which is shaped more like that of the larger Fusion -- or, as of 2014, the smaller Fiesta -- than other Focus models. A flat lower fascia with a hint of a "splitter" air dam, the lower side sill treatment, and a faux-venturi lower rear fascia with twin central exhausts, plus the visor spoiler at the trailing edge of the roof complete the sport-compact look. The front overhang is short enough to keep the splitter from getting split with a bit of car on the part of the driver.
COMFORT: As outside, interior changes are small but notable. Appropriately high-bolstered Recaro seats are trimmed with body-color cloth. Access is easier than appearances might indicate, and comfort and support are as expected -- very, very good. The driver's seat is height-adjustable, which, with the tilt-and-telescope adjustable steering wheel, makes it easy to find a comfortable driving position. Interior design is, unsurprisingly, similar to other Focus models. Soft-touch materials and first-class fit and finish make it seem above its modest price. Backlit main instruments are easily read in all lighting, and cruise, audio, phone, and MyFordTouch controls on the spokes of the leather-rimmed steering wheel add convenience. If you dig deeply enough into the system info, there's even an "Eco Mode score"… yeah, that's a game that will be played a lot by owners, lol. Maybe if the fuel gauge is ignored too long…
Yes, there is a learning curve for MyFordTouch, but there are worse systems out there. And the climate control system works by good old analog knobs as well as through the touchscreen. Audio choices here are AM, FM, and Sirius radio, CD, and, in the console box close to a power point, USB ports and A/V jacks. The five-door (four passenger doors plus hatch) body style means easy rear seat access, and there is much more room there than you might expect. At least for outboard passengers, but there are few cars that really are meant for three in the back. The 40/60 seatback and rear door access makes cargo duty easy, as does the large hatch. There is a bit of compartmented space under the rear load floor -- and a rarity, a real spare tire. This one was a 2215/55R16 93H Conti Pro Contact, close enough in diameter to the 235/40R18 95Y Goodyear Eagle F1s to get you home.
SAFETY: All models of the current Focus were designed and built to meet or exceed worldwide crashworthiness standards for the foreseeable future. That takes care of passive safety. For active safety -- an accident avoided is better than a crash test -- strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes and excellent maneuverability are tools for an aware driver.
RIDE AND HANDLING: A good street sport suspension is not harshly stiff and unyielding. Case in point: the Focus ST. The fully-independent MacPherson strut / multi-link long-and-short arm suspension is firm, for minimal body roll and weight transfer in hard cornering. It's comfortable on the street, considering the genre, allowing for pothole and crack dodging, and more than merely competent on the track, at speeds higher than legal on the street if not race-ready. Variable-ratio steering means easy low-speed maneuvering and good stability at speed. The brakes are up to the level of the engine's performance, and stop the car quickly and securely.
PERFORMANCE: Lack of power will never be a problem. With maximum 252 horsepower (at 5500 rpm) and 270 lb-ft of torque (at a low 2500 rpm), there is a strong kick right off idle and plenty of screaming top end. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is the first in Ford's "EcoBoost" series to be used in a small performance car, and it works very well. An aluminum alloy, 16-valve twincam design, it uses direct fuel injection plus turbocharging with intercooling and independent variable cam phasing to produce clean, efficient, and massive power. The only transmission offered is a six-speed manual, with a short first gear for quick low-speed acceleration and closely-spaced second through sixth for optimum drivability. Shift action and linkage are very good - period, not just "for a front-wheel drive car". Yes, there is torque steer at times. There's torque, too… and that 270 lb-ft is will not be ignored. "Overboost" on wide open throttle improves torque between 3000 and 4500 rpm for up to 15 seconds. Think of it as your own "push to pass" button, no button required. This little beast is indecently quick and way too much fun.
Fuel economy: Ford claims EPA ratings of 23 mpg city, 32 highway, and 26 overall. Horsepower = fuel + air and 252 hp means plenty of both. Drive hard, and you'll get complimentary membership in Friends of OPEC. Shift when the green arrow light on the dash, and you'll miss the point of the car, and maybe meet the EPA specs. Reality is somewhere between… Fuel capacity, at 12.4 gallons, could be greater. But it's adequate, and there really isn't much extra space in the chassis for more.
CONCLUSIONS: The Ford Focus ST combines seriously quick performance ability with all of the versatile usefulness of a five-door hatchback.
2014 Ford Focus ST
Base Price $ 24,115
Price As Tested $ 28,585
Engine Type turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and variable cam phasing on both camshafts
Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower 252 @ 5500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 270 @ 2500 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length 104.3 in. / 171.7 in.
Curb Weight 3223 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 12.8
Fuel Capacity 12.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline for best performance, 87 octane unleaded regular permissible with reduced performance
Tires Goodyear Eagle F1 235/40R18 95Y
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, ESC,
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 23 / 32 / 22 0 to 60 mph 6.0 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Equipment Group 201A -- includes: ST2, MyFordTouch, Sony audio, Sirius/XM satellite radio, dual-zone electronic temperature control, Recaro front seats $ 2,505
Navigation System $ 795
18" Rado gray alloy wheels $ 375
Destination and delivery $ 795
Extra -- 2015 Ford Focus ST
The 2015 Focus ST was recently introduced, appropriately enough at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. It gets its first styling
The interior and exterior freshening is the usual mid-product cycle action. The drivetrain will be unchanged, no complaints there. Stick-only eliminates the poseurs. Interestingly the suspension and steering get revisions, with new front springs and revised front and rear shock dampers, plus work on the electric power steering to improve feel. All too often, performance cars get softened to broaden appeal. That doesn't sound like the case here. Score one for Ford!