Disclaimer: Ford provided the vehicle for this review.
This is not an ordinary car review. I didn't simply putter down to the local fair trade coffee shop for a latte', count the cup holders, check the gas mileage and hand the keys back. No, I had more devious plans. This car was driven half way across the country (2,446 miles total), flogged on a road course, hurled down the drag strip, shined up for a car show, then driven back to the beginning (you can read about the entire road trip here). The prep for this expedition consisted of tightening the lug nuts and checking the fluids. That's it. No tire changes, no brake changes, nothing. The car had to run the gauntlet in stock spec while performing flawlessly. And it did so with aplomb. But then again, that is what it was built to do.
Let's turn back the clock a few years. The Focus ST isn't the first performance Focus that Ford has produced. The SVT Focus was a great little car and has developed quite a cult following. You got great handling and decent power in a neat package. And with the hatchback body you got decent utility as a bonus. So how do you capitalize on a previous success while upping the ante? Why better handling and even more power of course!
From the start Ford had to know that stellar handling was going to be a requirement. After spending a day at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit attending the Ford Performance Driving School I was left in awe. This car absolutely claws its way around track. Run hard to the corner, stand on the brakes, cut the wheel then bury the throttle. The front wheels feel like they are going to rip the track apart as they pull the rest of the car through the turn. There were several times when I was thinking "there is no way this car can make this corner" as I powered through a turn. On the straights there was plenty of power to keep up with traffic. In the hands of veteran race car driver Steve McCarley the Focus ST not only kept up with Mustangs, Shelbys and Boss 302s on the track, it was passing them! Remember, this car was bone stock, as delivered to the show room floor.
At the drag strip the Focus ST was a little out of its element but still put on a show. Launching the car was a bit of a trial-and-error experience as there is plentiful power on tap. Leave the line at about 2,500 and hope you got the tires warm enough, because if you hit the 1-2 shift hard it will spin like crazy. I was only able to get low 15s from the car due to my awful technique, but the mid 90mph trap speeds told me there was more in the car if I was a better driver. The next day I shined up the little beast and entered it into an All Ford Super Show. While no awards were won, it garnered plenty of looks and a ton of questions from the attendees.
So it is a track day hero, but how is it to live with? Quite easy actually. The seats are amazingly comfortable while still being extremely supportive. The deep bolsters that keep you in place on the track also make for extremely comfortable driving. I spent 46 hours behind the wheel of this car and at no point was the seat a problem or did I feel uncomfortable. The ride is a great balance between taught and sporty. Cornering is tight with responsive steering without being twitchy at highway speeds. The hatchback has plenty of room for everyday life but the real functionally comes from the rear doors. As a parent of two boys the ability to tote kids around is a must for me. I easily fit both kids with car seats in the rear while my wife was quite comfortable in the passenger seat. Dad-mobile test: passed.
Power delivery from the 2.0L EcoBoost engine is exactly what I look for in a turbo car...but better. Turbo cars of old had to rely on low compression ratios in order to live comfortably with forced induction. Not so thanks to the wonder of direct injection. The 2.0L EcoBoost has a healthy 9.3:1 compression ratio which delivers 252 horsepower and plenty of off-boost power. Around town and on the highway there is plenty of power for motoring about. But the magic happens when you start tipping into the boost. Power builds fast but is not explosive, just a great sense of urgency in your forward motion. Driving down the highway in sixth gear it is no problem to pass slower traffic with just a touch of the pedal. Even better was the ease in which the Focus ST climbed the mountains of Tennessee while in sixth gear. No fuss, just plentiful power pushing you uphill.
It was hard handing this car back when my two weeks were up. Outstanding performance combined with real world functionality make the Focus ST a great choice for those who want a single car that can do it all.
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