2013 Ford Focus ST Review by Carey Russ
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Ford Buyers Guide
The last hot-rod Focus we got was the SVT, a decade ago. With 170 horsepower and strong midrange torque front a 2.0-liter engine in a 2750-pound car with a properly dialed-in suspension, I found it quick, entertaining, and reasonably good on gas at a 22-mpg average with fun trumping economy in my driving.
What a difference a decade makes.
The new Focus ST absolutely annihilates the SVT. While it's slightly bigger and about 500 pounds heavier, the turbocharging, intercooling, direct fuel injection, and variable cam phasing - among other technical improvements - help get 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque out of the same two-liter capacity... with better fuel economy (although how much better will be determined by the driver).
I saw 23 mpg for my week, with a fair amount of highway droning and balks by the Anti-Destination League on backroads and onramps. Such is life. I made a first acquaintance with the same car at my automotive journalists' association's annual ride-and-drive and track days, so had wide-open throttle mode out of my system. It was one of the best cars on the track, with a wonderfully flexible engine with gobs of torque, and excellent handling when pushed to go-directly-to-jail-do-not-pass-go speeds in the corners. First-rate brakes, too. And it survived a long day flogged hard without a hiccup. Besides a healthy dose of horsepower under the hood and a sport-suspension, the ST gets unique front and rear styling.
The bodywork is relatively low-key for a high-performance hatchback, but the signature "Tangerine Scream" metallic yellow paint is anything but. Inside, the ST builds on the regular Focus with (optional) Recaro front seats and matching rear-seat trim. When I first drove the car on the track, I noticed a loud and slightly strange sound from the engine compartment with the throttle pressed hard. That's not the exhaust, wrong direction. And it's not intake noise. It's the "sound symposer", a resonant chamber on the intake manifold. Sound from it is varied by an electronically-controlled paddle that vibrates with intake pulses. Interesting if a bit silly, but apparently harmless to power production.
What makes the Focus ST one of the best performance hatchbacks yet?
Engine, chassis, and brakes are what counts, and it excels in all categories. For copious power, with abundant torque that makes gear choice often redundant, responsive handling and excellent grip matched with surprising ride comfort for its genre, and brakes that make it decelerate as well as it accelerates, look no further. There's ample room for four adults inside, in comfort and uncrowded -- or two and plenty of stuff. Its appetite for unleaded premium depends on how it's driven -- but excellent low-end torque means economy cruising is easily done when necessary or desired. The only (slight) drawback is a small 12.4 gallon fuel tank, and that's hardly a deal-killer.
APPEARANCE: Differences between the ST and a regular Focus five-door hatch are minimal but make a major difference in looks. The front fascia is changed to remove the cosmetic upper grille of the regular Focus and slightly re-shape the main opening. That looks like a three-piece opening on other Focuses (Foci?); here blacked-out struts make a large single-opening intake. There's a further intake below center for the air conditioning radiator, and faux brake ducts supporting foglamps. Rocker panels are a bit sportier, and the spoiler at the rear edge of the roof is slightly larger. The lower rear fascia gets a faux-diffuser treatment, with an interesting figure-eight exhaust. The overall look is cohesive and not particularly in-your-face… except for that Tangerine Scream paint.
COMFORT: Inside as out, changes are small but make a noticeable difference. 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 as close to a real spare tire as I've seen in a long time!
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 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… I got 23 overall -- which was better than the 22 noted a decade ago in the Focus SVT. YMMV, as they say.
CONCLUSIONS: Ford's Focus ST is an impressive entry in the hot hatch class.
SPECIFICATIONS 2013 Ford Focus ST
Base Price $ 23,700
Price As Tested $ 28,170
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 less 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
Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 23 / 32 / 23
0 to 60 mph 6.0 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Tangerine Scream tricoat paint $ 495
Equipment Group 201A includes: ST2, MyFordTouch with Sony audio and Sirius Satellite Radio, dual-zone climate control $ 2,505
Navigation added to MyFordTouch $ 795
Destination Charge $ 795 Equipment Group Savings -($ 120)