The bomb in the sport compact segment
OTTAWA, Ontario – Ford, it would seem, has taken the North American market by the horns, fully intent on stuffing it with cars that are impossible to ignore. With the likes of the 2013 Taurus 2.0T EcoBoost version, the 2013 Mustang, the 2013 Fusion and the 2013 Escape, no segment is safe from the Blue Oval onslaught. And, there’s that F-150 Raptor thingy too...
The new Ford Focus, launched here in early 2011, was a pivotal introduction that cemented Ford’s intention to produce and sell world cars, to the world. Based on the success that the Focus has known in a relatively short period of time, and the incessant haggling and bitching from auto journos, Ford announced and has delivered the 2013 Ford Focus ST.
Move over, Mustang
The hot-hatch segment has been an underground favorite of car enthusiasts for decades. Nameplates from the 80s and 90s like Volkswagen GTI, Peugeot 205 GTi, Renault Clio and Citroen Saxo spawned a whole new category of cars that carries on today. Consider the Mazdaspeed3, the 5-door Subaru WRX and the current GTI.
These cars represent an ideal mix between daily driver and weekend track-day hero. All of these cars provide the driver with plenty of performance without sacrificing convenience or fuel consumption, in most cases.
The latest and darn-near greatest addition to this club is the Focus ST. If there is a car currently available in Ford’s stable, capable of attracting a younger audience, the ST is the one. Europe has a Fiesta ST and, not to mention, they will be privy to a Focus ST wagon (!) but I won’t push it... I’m happy that we at least have an ST.
To further the point, the car has been featured in XBOX’s Forza 4 since late last year. In fact, I put it to Ford to knock the always-fun Mustang down a notch and put more energy and emphasis on the Focus. More on this in an upcoming blog.
Worst kept secret: EcoBoost
EcoBoost has quickly become synonymous with good times, be it in a Taurus or an F-150. Under the bonnet of the 2013 Ford Focus ST lies a Valencia, Spain built 2.0L 4-cylinder which has been given the full 21st century-do, including direct injection and low-inertia turbocharging.
All said and when fed premium fuel, the high-strung mill produces 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque, plenty enough to push the ST to 100 km/h in about 6.5 seconds, and on its way to a top speed of 250 km/h.
The best part of this powertrain is its overboost function that, much like a turbo-boost button in a video game, gives you a 15-second burst of extra oomph on acceleration. All the driver has to do to tap into it is keep the “go” pedal firmly nestled against the floor. Between 3,000 and 4,500 rpm is when the boost kicks in. It’s fantastic.
To it is mated a wheel-heeled 6-speed manual gearbox that is designed to be shifted with conviction. The pedals are perfectly spaced for heel-toeing and the shifter travels mere inches between cogs. My only issue is with the positioning of the centre armrest; it is too large and close to the shifter, and my elbow would come into contact with it.
The ST is quick, not quite fast but energetic enough to land a smile on the driver’s face at every outing. Its power delivery reminds me of the Volkswagen Golf R which is that of a perfect balance between horsepower and chassis. In the juicy bits of the power band, the ST snarls forward with plenty of authority, but it never feels like it will get away from you.
Electronics and the drive
The 2013 Ford Focus ST’s chassis is superb. It is tight, rigid all the while being pliable enough to ensure its worth as a daily driver. The car’s platform is in fact the same as that of the regular Focus and a number of other products, including the new Escape and the upcoming C-MAX.
What makes the Focus ST stand out are its enhanced driving dynamics. It features torque steer compensation which does exactly that, almost to perfection. The ESC system manages torque vectoring and dynamic cornering. These aids always remain, but thankfully the ESC can be fully deactivated, positioned in Sport mode or in Normal.
The ST’s steering was the feature that garnered the most positive comments from my driving partner and me. The variable-assist electronic power steering system is dosed to perfection and incredibly direct, making every wheel input immediately rewarding. That is, unless you need to perform a three-point turn, in which case it’ll more likely require five or six points – the turning radius is awful.
These elements along with its uniquely tuned sport suspension that lowers the chassis by 10 mm make the Focus ST one of the best handling compact cars in the business. Paired to the ultra-grippy P235/40R18 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, the ST provides the driver with an impressive amount of control and a solid dose of feedback.
The winding country roads leading to the excellent Calabogie Motorsports Park are ripe for apex picking. The Focus revelled at clipping each curve and maintaining stability throughout the drive, despite my occasional over-zealous amounts of speed carried into some of the twisties.
The 2013 Ford Focus ST is physically perfect. There is nothing to nip or tuck anywhere. Its five-door hatchback body is as ideal Kim Kardashian’s in a bikini. The more distinctive aspects of its physique are its 18” wheels, “enhanced” front and rear bumpers, rear spoiler, side skirts and most importantly, its rear centre-mounted tailpipe.
On board, the well bolstered Recaro seats and fatty steering wheel augment what is otherwise a typical Focus cabin. There’s this other thing called Active Sound Symposer which channels engine sounds into the passenger compartment. It’s fun but ultimately pointless. I’m more interested in the snarls heard by people outside the car.
At $29,999, the 2013 Ford Focus ST is well priced. In fact, it puts the hurt on the venerable GTI. The five-door GTI retails for $30,375 and is short on power and a few other items. A Mazdaspeed3 tips the pricing scale at $29,940 and has nothing to envy compared to the Focus expect perhaps for a large dose of refinement. I like the stuff, but I’m also very much into being roughed up once in a while...
The 2013 Ford Focus ST is everything I was hoping it would be. The tested cars were actually prototypes so I have to imagine that the real deal will be even better.
The ST lands in showrooms at the end of August. Production begins now.
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