A friend of mine just bought a new Ford Focus ST. To listen to his wife tell the story, it was as though I had heard it a hundred times before. He was always into cars and owned some fast stuff in his youth. Though he had matured and become a dad with two young kids, he never lost the taste for speed. He still wanted something quick. He just needed four doors.
The 2016 Ford Focus ST fit his needs nicely, and it’s a good bet that it will fit the needs of many NASA members who seek something as zippy as it is utilitarian. We had the chance to sample a Focus ST at Willow Springs International Raceway during the Motor Press Guild’s Track Days program. We got to drive the car back-to-back against the Fiest ST, which provided interesting contrasts between the two vehicles. More on that in a bit.
First off, the Focus looks great. Ford did an admirable job turning a compact five-door hatchback into something that looks like a proper hot hatch. The front and rear fascias are unique to the ST and they add the aggressive look to the car, with a broad, black honeycomb grille up front and a faux diffuser at the rear with a center exhaust and one of the coolest exhaust tips you’ll find anywhere. Add ST-specific wheels and a spoiler over the rear window and the Focus gets the job done in the looks department.
“Since its debut, Focus ST has been bringing our fun-to-drive DNA to the hot hatch segment with a uniquely Ford blend of driving dynamics, performance and style,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development.
The Focus ST also has some snort to go with its looks. The turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine delivers 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. The torque comes on at 2,500 rpm, which helps compensate for turbo lag. Acceleration is fun and lively for a 3,223-pound hot hatch, but more boost would make it even more fun, but it would sap the already just-OK fuel economy of 25 mpg in combined driving.
Of course, being a modern car in a world filled with drivers who can’t, well, drive, the Focus ST comes with a full complement of nannies to keep you from getting into trouble, but the interesting thing is that they’re not as intrusive as I would have expected. They allow for a little hooligan behavior on track before they start pulsing and buzzing and whirring under foot.
Steering assist is electrical, and it includes a torque-steer compensation feature, which prevents the haunting sideways pull that can occur with boosted front-wheel-drive vehicles. The car also benefits from a torque-vectoring control system, which enhances handling and helps put the power to the ground.
Inside, the Focus ST benefits from better interior materials than were fitted to the Fiesta. Of course, manufacturers always send top-of-the-line stuff to press events, so the car we tested was equipped with the optional flat-bottom, leather-wrapped steering wheel and Recaro seats, both of which made it really easy to get the driver into position for track driving. It’s even roomy enough for a 6-foot 4-inch-tall driver to heel-and-toe without hitting his knee on the dash or the bottom of the wheel. Shorter drivers will have no problem setting the car up for the occasional track day or autocross.
The whole car is more richly appointed than the Fiesta ST, which makes sense because the Fiesta registers a bit lower on the totem pole as a subcompact. The Focus makes for a better daily driver. It’s more plush inside, it’s more roomy and it rides better, but for track duty and autocross, I’d rather drive the Fiesta ST. Yes, the interior materials aren’t as nice and it is supposedly the lesser of the two cars, but it feels tighter on a track. It’s lighter and more tossable and the even the lack of refinement compared with the Focus ST somehow seems more fun.
Since we drove the ST, Ford has introduced the new Ford Focus RS, which is an entirely different car, and one we hope Ford brings to the next MPG Track Days event. With a full 350 horsepower on tap and all-wheel drive, the Focus RS should be a hoot on track and likely will be the undisputed king of Ford’s hot hatchbacks. For now, the Fiesta ST gets the nod for track use, but the Focus ST would be a more comfortable daily driver. It’s as zippy as it is utilitarian, and that’s a tough balance to strike.
|2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4|
|252 @ 5,500 rpm|
|270 @ 2,500 rpm|
|McPherson strut multilink, reverse-L lower control arms|
|Independent, short- and long-arm with dual lower control arms|
Rear axle ratio: