Disclaimer: The interior pictures featured in this article are that of a 2015 Ford Focus ST, not the actual car that is depicted in this review. The 2015 version will appear later in a separate photo shoot article.
You might be asking yourself, “Is that a bright yellow Ford Focus I see? And why does it look like it came out of a Fast and Furious movie?” Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the Ford Focus ST. After reviewing a 2012 Focus sedan, I was impressed at how far Ford had come. With sharp styling, enjoyable handling, decent levels of equipment, I can see why the Ford Focus was a hit with the consumers. It all started when Ford finally consolidated its global models and started producing the same models for every market. Here in America, Ford previously concentrated its efforts on its sport utility vehicles and its trucks and neglected its passenger cars. Meanwhile in Europe, Ford’s lineup was of high quality and class-leading passenger cars. Europeans got a better Focus and Mondeo (European equivalent to Taurus/Fusion) than we Americans did. After the recession hit, Ford decided to combine its global portfolio and produce the same cars for every market. What this means is that we finally get the good cars that Europeans get which brings me to my point. In Europe, there is a very popular segment of hot hatches: sporty hatchbacks that deliver the thrills and performance of a sporty car while providing the versatility and comfort of a family hatchback. Ford did attempt this here in the U.S with the 2001-2004 Focus SVT, but as a two-door/four-door hatchback that was hard to live with on a daily basis, it never really caught the attention of most consumers except hardcore enthusiasts. There was also a 2004-2007 ST version of the sedan, but it was really a half-baked attempt to inject sportiness in the sedan when in reality it was just a top-of-the-line version with a manual transmission. Ford Europe introduced the first Focus ST in 2005, a sporty version of the Focus with 225 horsepower and a top speed of 152 mph. For the 2013 model year, a Focus ST version was added to the Focus lineup globally. Little backstory behind this car. This car is owned by one of my good friends, and we both are car enthusiasts as well as manual transmission aficionados. The owner named the ST, “Pikachu.” Let’s see if Pikachu is as exciting as its Tangerine Scream paint and rear spoiler suggests.
Make no doubt about it, this Focus ST is anything but subtle. All the good aesthetics of the regular Focus are retained; the ST adds just enough visual tweaks to differentiate it from a regular Focus but not so much that it screams desperate. A mesh grille and an aggressive bumper adorn the front. The large headlights and hood do not look very sporty, but they blend in nicely with the overall profile of the front. If I had to nitpick, I do not like how the line between the grille and the hood creates the illusion that the hood is not shut or there is a big panel gap. In my opinion, I like the front as it looks both simple but dynamic enough so that people will not mistake the ST for a regular Focus. The side profile is contemporary enough with a rising character line that transitions seamlessly into the rear taillights. Other than the side skirts and the spoiler, the profile is reminiscent of a regular hatchback. When you look at the back of the ST, you know it is a ST. A large rear spoiler, bold bumper design, and center mounted exhaust pipes basically sum it up. Did I mention center mounted exhaust pipes? Normally, I would just think that this is absurd, and that center mounted exhaust pipes belong on a Corvette. But somehow, it all meshes well together. I cannot explain it. Let’s not forget the spidery wheels. I usually refrain from talking about wheel designs, because they do not draw my attention as much as the rest of the car does, but the ST’s wheel designs are absolutely fantastic. The interior does not mirror the outrageous exterior, but there are enough sporting touches to let you know that you are in a ST. I do wish that the interior was less stark, however.
The Focus ST is probably one of the best cars I have driven. The feeling you get when you drive this car is unreal. It simply cannot be put into words. But I will try. The Focus ST is like a well put together orchestra. There are many different parts in play here, but they all have the right rhythm and by working together, they produce beautiful music. It is many different components all working together in harmony. The steering feels alive with just the right amount of weight and effort, and it is constantly streaming road patches and textures to your fingertips. You always feel in control, no matter the situation, speed, or environment. Body lean is nonexistent. This thing corners as if it is on rails, and despite being a high horsepower front wheel driver, there is actual front end grip in corners. In mid-corner, there is enough grip from the front end to make subtle steering inputs. The steering and the suspension work in such balance that the car feels like an extension of your arms and legs. Everything is instant. Turn the steering wheel a bit, and it reacts instantly. I guarantee that if you placed an apple in the middle of a corner, you can get the Focus ST to hit it. It is that precise. However, the ride is firm, and you are prone to getting jostled by every bump at low speeds. But it irons out as the speed rises. Personally, the stiff ride is an acceptable trade-off for the driving enjoyment that the ST delivers. The brakes are ultra-sharp and take some time to get used to, but with brakes like these, you never feel unsafe.
Aside from the enlightened driving dynamics, another key point of the ST is its powertrain. The sole powertrain is a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine mated to a six speed manual transmission (Save the Manuals!). The result? 252 horsepower and 270 lbs-ft of torque. Does that sound fast to you? Trust me, it is with a 0-60 of six seconds flat. For a $25k compact economy car, that is pretty outstanding. Granted, due to its front wheel drive layout, there is the inevitable torque steer (tugging of the steering wheel whenever you demand more power), especially in first and second gears. However, it is very manageable. There is very minimal turbo lag; you would have to be carefully watching the tachometer to notice the delay in response, but it is not felt at all. The turbo four is a delight. It loves to rev, and power delivery is linear and instant. The six speed manual transmission is a bit mechanical in its linkage and shifts, but that only adds to the sporty nature of this car. It complements the engine excellently, and you would not be amiss if you thought that the manual transmission and the engine are a match made in heaven.
Refinement-wise, you do have to compromise if you buy a ST. Wind noise is reasonably hushed for such a sporty car, but road noise is prevalent no matter what speed you are going. The low profile tires slap on the pavement very noticeably. With that said, you could do worse. The turbo four emits an intoxicating growl when pressed. It is music to my ears.
The interior is nicely constructed with soft touch plastics abound. Granted, there are some cheap plastics here and there, but for the price ($25k), it is hard to fault. The ST2 version of the ST (The ST comes in ST1, ST2, and ST3) comes with navigation, Recaro seats, and fancy subs. I am sure that I missed on a bunch of extra stuff that the ST2 comes with, but those are the three main things that you get when you upgrade from the ST1 to ST2. The Sync navigation system takes some time getting used to, and the display washes out in direct sunlight, but it becomes intuitive after a while. The gauges are crisp and attractive, and the driving position is superb. I say the driving position feels superb because the moment you sit in the car, you are thinking, “I am home.” The Recaro seats are fantastic as they grip you tightly yet provide decent comfort. Mind you, these seats are not for everybody as not everybody likes feeling snug in the seat. Headroom and legroom are commendable, and visibility, while not stellar in the rear, is decent. Access is easy, and the hatchback body style allows for generous cargo room. The rear is a bit cramped with middling headroom, but it is not bad.
Really, the only thing you need to know about this car is that even though the owner is one of my closest friends, I secretly hate him purely on the fact that he gets to drive a Focus ST while I am driving an automatic Honda Pilot. Jealousy issues aside, the Focus ST is truly remarkable. The way it drives is just unbelievable. When you are driving, and the super communicative steering wheel is in your cars, everything just feels right. At that point, nothing else matters. It is just you and the car cultivating that special relationship between man and machine. Yes, I realize these are deep words, but I am telling you, the Focus ST is worthy of such thoughts. Not only that, it is practical and comfortable, that is if you can forgive the stiff ride. Like the name “Pikachu” suggests, the Focus ST is a car that you can confidently claim as your companion. In fact, the owner is actually doing a 2,000 miles trip all over the country for spring break. Would I get this car? Absolutely, but make mine blue please. And yes, I still secretly hate the owner of this car.