Hot hatchbacks are my favourite category of car, only millimetres behind station wagons. Neither really exists nowadays, however, some manufacturers (the brilliant, fabulous, delightful organizations they are) still make some choice automobiles that fill my heart with joy.
In the hot-hatch group, the Volkswagen GTI is probably the best-known and longest running nameplate. It in fact spawned the segment way back in 1976. From there, many a car builder has tried their hand at staking a claim to a piece of the action. Ford is one such company that long ago entered the game and got itself noticed in doing so.
The Focus ST is currently Ford’s ballsiest hatchback, although I’ve got a softer spot for the Fiesta ST. Soon though, the extremely highly anticipated Focus RS will be landing on our shores, and a giant splash will ensue. In the meantime, the Focus ST serves as the affordable small-car performance alternative and does so in a very strange manner: It is far too refined and poised to be charismatic and cool, and too rough around the edges to be sufficiently civilized.
For the old man in me
The 2015 Ford Focus ST is uncannily quiet, dead to the world actually. Seriously, I think the last “quiet tuned” Buick I reviewed was not as well isolated from its outside environment as this sporty Focus. I swear, Ford must use dual-pane windows and layers of high-strength steel or active noise cancellation to get that cocoon feel.
This car exudes a level of build quality that is undeniably German. The craftsmanship, both on the inside and the out, is leagues above the base $30,349 asking price. Everyone will appreciate the use of top-notch materials and the cabin’s luxurious appearance as a whole.
The older gentleman in me really digs these features, but is baffled once set up behind the wheel and on his way.
The revised-for-2015 ST looks great, and the moment I open the door I’m immediately taken by the sick Recaro seats, expecting to be cajoled and snuggly held in place. As I take place behind the superb flat-bottom steering wheel and begin to try and find a decent driving position, I find myself cursing at the exaggeratedly tilted lower seat cushion and my inability to find proper positioning.
I finally settle in and begin my drive. Pedal placement is good where the old heel & toe is very doable, but by my 3rd shift, my hand knocks into the centre stack. What’s more, my compromised ideal driving position means the shifter is too far back, a by-product of the highly intrusive dashboard’s stack. And then, it gets worse.
These are Ford’s words: “To further heighten your ST experience, engineers channelled the lower-engine frequencies of its signature EcoBoost sound into the redesigned cabin.” A more annoying and irritating gadget on a car does not exist. That “sound” is so chafing that I wouldn’t buy this car simply because of it; the Ford dealer would have to deactivate this crap. And this is the part that escapes me…
The cabin is quiet, serene and then this awful fake noise shows up and mars what should have been a pleasant environment. Unfortunately, this is not where it ends…
Road manners, please
The old man doesn’t understand why the ride has to be so harsh. The unique ST sport suspension punishes the occupants needlessly without, in my mind, truly improving handling. A Subaru WRX STI comes standard with a taut suspension, but it matches the car’s rough edges, noisy drivetrain, and overall aura. The ST is too posh to be so ungainly unforgiving.
This is not to say that the 2015 Ford Focus ST doesn’t grip. It’ll stick to tarmac ferociously. Even while shod with winter rubbers, I never once feared that I was going to lose the front-end thanks in large part to the ST’s standard enhanced torque-vectoring control. Torque steer is still present, but it’s par for the course in a powerful FWD car.
Turn-in from the uber-quick electric power steering requires a moment of adjustment, but the steering’s precision and decent feedback inspire confidence. The large disc brakes are clamped with calipers shod with high-performance brake pads; they’re always at the ready and are powerful.
Hehe, ECOboost… The Focus ST’s all about boost and much less about being eco-friendly. I managed just under 12.5L/100km with the car, but it’s not my fault! This thing makes me angry!
On 91-octane juice, the turbocharged 2.0L 4-pot mill punches out 252 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 2,500 rpm. Seriously under-stressed thanks to its low 9.3:1 compression ratio, the ST can be pushed hard and constantly. There’s little “mechanical” lag to speak of. The delay is electronically induced through the throttle pedal; despite its existence, the effect on the drive is minimal.
The Focus ST is very quick, and goes like hell. Keeping engine speed between torque and horsepower peaks is key, as beyond 6,000 rpm little happens, so best to work the shifter through the tight gate.
Another word on the GTI
Volkswagen’s MK7 GTI is a standard by which all other hot hatches are measured and if, in the past, the super Golf was down on power, its current 2.0L TSI pulls out all the stops with its juicy newfound torque. Although the ST has more power on paper, it doesn’t feel any quicker. The true difference lies in the GTI’s civility compared to the Ford. A test-drive is absolutely necessary.
A few on the competition
That GTI retails for $27,995 (5-door Autobahn $32,895) and a like-minded MINI Cooper S John Cooper Works goes for $33,240. Mazda and Subaru have left this segment (only for the moment I hope) so competitors are limited.
Of the three, the JCW will be far more exclusive, but I’d spring for the GTI for its well-rounded personality and easygoing nature.