Focaljet First Drive - 2013 Ford Focus ST | The Focus ST Network Forum

Focaljet First Drive - 2013 Ford Focus ST

Discussion in 'Focus ST News and Reviews' started by WRC Fan, Sep 10, 2013.

  1. WRC Fan

    WRC Fan Administrator Staff Member

    This is a repost from my initial drive of the Ford Focus ST in June of 2012.

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    By: Ron Myers
    Photos: the author and Ford Motor Company

    An Invitation to Where?
    "Is your passport up-to-date?", asked the voice on the other end of the line. I was slightly embarrassed to reply. "Uh, I don't even have a passport." The voice fired back, "Get one." Click.

    And, so it began. I knew with the reports that the Wayne, MI plant was beginning the pilot builds of the 2013 Focus ST that the call to sample Ford's latest hot hatch would be imminent. What I didn't expect was that my time behind the wheel would be spent flinging it around the mountains just off the coast of the French Riviera. Exotic locale aside, I was simply geeked for seat time in the most anticipated small, performance Ford since the beloved, but ultimately canceled, SVT Focus.

    Travel plans were confirmed. European power converters were purchased. And, with passport in hand, I boarded the first of several aircraft that would eventually place my well-worn Piloti driving shoes down on terra firma in the South of France—Nice, to be exact. From there, it was a short drive to what would be my home base for the next two days. Mildly jet-lagged, I decided to grab a quick bit of sleep to place me at the top of my game for what awaited the next day.

    Tomorrow arrived. Early. I was eating breakfast at what would have normally been midnight back home. All I can say is that the French like their salty meats and cheese for breakfast. Eggs? Nowhere to be found. But, the staff would eagerly cook some, if desired. No time for that. Knowing that a fresh ST was waiting, fully-fueled, for me in the hotel's garage had me devouring the French offerings. The mountains beckoned.

    As is customary on these media drives, or "programs" as the journalists are so keen to call them, you are paired up two to a car. My fear is always that I'll draw some squid that is going to either drive too slow or put my life in danger. Here's a dirty little secret. Not all automotive journalists have Michael Schumacher-like skills. Luckily, I had met a great bloke at dinner the night before, and he seemed like a very competent co-driver. He, like me, was a tall guy who liked small cars. Funny how that always seems to be the case. But, when I say tall, I mean tall. Bengt Halvorson is 6'6". You can read his ST review here.

    The plan was to drive the whole day with three stops: two mid-point breaks plus lunch. That would mean that each of us would get two stints behind the wheel. I let Bengt take the first one. Since he had just been in this area of France a couple of weeks earlier (driving some fire-breathing AMG), I figured he might be better suited to get us acclimated to the geography. As it turns out, Ford had cleverly programmed our entire route in the ST's nav system, which was awesome, as I'm use to reading odometer-based pace notes on these drives. So, with the synthesized voice of the young lady guiding us, all we had to do was drive. Brilliant. As we started on our route, my trepidation was quickly allayed, as Bengt proved to be accomplished wheelman. This was going to be fun.

    Now is when we should get some housekeeping items out of the way. If you've read this far, you probably already know manufacturer specs or at least the ones that matter: 252 (horsepower), 270 (lb. ft. of torque) and 3223 (curb weight). (Two out of three ain't bad. I kid.) Ford has also brought some of their top-tier suppliers to the ST party: Borg-Warner, Getrag, Recaro – all names that have been associated with past performance cars. So, on paper, this thing seems to 'tick all the right boxes.' Let's talk about the reality.

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    Exterior
    When you approach the ST from any angle—especially the front—there is no confusion about this car's intensions. Ford designers added well-placed edginess to the already handsome Focus shape. It's aggressive without going overboard. I would defy anyone to describe the looks as 'boy racer.'

    A lot of hay has been made online deriding the 'catfish' maw. Love it or hate it, there is a current trend in performance car design language towards oversized front apertures. Large intake areas are meant to indicate that this car needs a lot of air to breath, largely because it's an athlete. Whether you like that or not is, of course, personal preference. If it's not your cup of tea, there are other alternatives rallying for your dollars.

    The rest of the car looks purposeful. From the 18" anthracite wheels to the body kit and rear spoiler, this car follows the tone set by previous models of the ST.


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  2. WRC Fan

    WRC Fan Administrator Staff Member

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    Interior
    I'm not a dash stroker. While I can appreciate a high-quality interior, it's not a deal breaker for me if a car doesn't use class-leading materials. First and foremost, I want to be comfortable and feel secure. Second, I want all critical controls to fall readily at hand. I don't even really care if the whole lot is monochromatic. I'll take boring and efficient over flashy and trendy on the inside. Anything above those few key elements is gravy to me. But, everyone has their own wants and needs. So, let me offer you my interior observations.

    We have to start with the seats. Anytime a manufacturer enlists Recaro to grace their interior, you know that they mean business. And, while there is a 'base' seat, which comes in the North American ST1 trim level, I did not get a chance to sample them (they weren’tavailable on the Euro-spec cars we drove). From my understanding, it is essentially the same seat that is available in the higher trim level standard Focus with sporty ST stitching added. Though, I doubt many will bypass the Recaros unless their budget is already at its breaking point.

    Depending on whether you choose the ST2 or ST3 trim level will determine which version of the Recaro interior you will get. The former gives you a partial leather with cloth insert set (my preference and the setup on both cars I drove), while the latter gives you the full zoot, all-leather setup. The leather does add electric adjustment, if I am not mistaken, as well as added thigh support. More on that later.

    This brings me to the double-edged sword of the Recaros. They are awesome, provided you fit comfortably in them. Make no mistake, these may be some of the best seats ever to be offered in a performance hatch. However, being a performance seat, they are pretty heavily bolstered, which means there is a size envelope you must conform to if you are going to feel comfortable in them. Personally, they were just a hair too tight. I would probably still order them but all in the name of performance. Also, the seat bottoms were just a bit short on thigh support for me, which led to a bit of leg fatigue after several hours in the car. Now, if what I heard is true and the full-leather seats have an additional pull-out thigh support, then I might opt for them for added driving comfort. All I can offer to any potential ST buyer is that I strongly suggest you try them out before placing your order. If they fit your body shape/size, you're going to love them.

    Some quick additional interior comments. If you like the current Focus interior, then you'll like the ST's. I had no complaints on the ergonomics of the controls I used. And, with this car being European, it didn't have the much maligned MyFordTouch.

    Two final, but important, driver-related points are as follows. The shifter feel was nicely precise. It's not the best I've ever experienced but certainly in the top 20%. But then again, I'm never fully satisfied until a shifter approaches rifle-bolt action. The throws are just a tad longer than I expected, but nothing that takes away from being engaged with the car. It's noteworthy that the gate was actually a bit narrow. It felt off for the first few miles, but once you calibrate your muscle memory to it, it's fine.

    While I'll speak about handling shortly, I have to mention the steering wheel itself. In this day of fatter rims, the ST wheel is refreshingly thin. It suits the nature of the car's handling very well.

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    Ride
    I'll throw this in here only because I know for many people this will be their daily driver and, possibly, their only car. A couple of the journalists on the drive felt the ride was too harsh. I couldn't disagree more. First off, this is a performance car. What did they expect? I would call it firm but compliant. Damping felt progressive and soaked up bumps with a very fluid feel, never crashing over surface irregularities. Given the sporting intentions of the car, I think it's spot on.

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    Power
    Okay, let's be honest. This is why you've read this far. Everyone always wants to know 0-60 times. I don't drag race, so I don't always think that is the best number on which to focus. For those who simply must know, we're talking around 6.4 seconds.

    What, to me at least, is more important is in-gear acceleration. Aren't you typically in motion when the need for more power arises? I have a hunch that was the target in the mind of the ST engineers when they began dialing in this car's torque curve and gearing.

    I'm not much of a muscle car enthusiast, and I've spent my entire adult life driving small cars with less than muscle car-like power outputs. So, within my spectrum of experience, I can't think of any car I've driven whose power was so confidence-inspiring. Passing cars on two-lane mountain switchbacks is not for the faint of heart. There was no unintended pulse-raising incidents or sweaty palms behind the wheel of the ST. You want to make a move on that wagon pulling a caravan (trailer)? Easy. Just turn out and pull the trigger. The former rolling chicane is dispatched with the minimum amount of drama.

    With the threat of being labeled a "fan boy," I have to say that the EcoBoost engine in the ST is one gem of a lump. Just a few years ago (at least in the U.S.), most Fords weren't turbocharged. Now, the majority of their cars are available with that little snail-shaped device that many of us have come to love. Ford has doubled-down on forced induction, and they've done their homework. Not only does this engine have a decent top end (no surprise) but there is a solid wallop of torque available down low as well. The power delivery is so smooth and linear that some might not even be aware they are driving a turbocharged car unless told.

    Three unique items of interest on the ST's engine are the following: 1) The turbo-manifold is cast right into the head. A pretty trick bit of kit. 2) The ST has an 'overboost' feature that provides 15 seconds of sustained boost in the meat of the rev range (3-4.5K RPM). 3) Ford has added what they have named the "Sound Symposer," which is essentially, a tuned trumpet that amplifies the induction noise from the engine and projects it towards the passenger compartment. Unlike systems you may have experienced in other cars, it's an active system. So, it only makes itself known when you are in the midst of spirited driving. Under more normal driving conditions, it's barely audible. On the surface, it seems gimmicky, and I fully intended to brush it aside. But, from an enthusiast's point of view, it's pretty damn effective and not artificial at all. Don't tell me those of you with aftermarket exhausts don't roll down the windows and rip the throttle when you go through a tunnel or under a bridge. It just makes the car that much more fun.
     
  3. WRC Fan

    WRC Fan Administrator Staff Member

    Brakes
    Since I told you how quick the car is, I'll throw stopping in here, mainly because it's gonna be short and sweet. The brakes do exactly what they are supposed to do: nothing more but certainly nothing less. They go about their job with a workman-like resolve. I will remind you that our drive route, while including some of the most engaging roads in the world, came along with some of the hairiest 'no room for error' drop-offs as well. These are not roads on which you're willing to go on a strafing run without feeling that the brakes are up to the task. In the end, not only were they fade-free, even on long descents, but they also produced a solid feel and allowed precise adjustment to your speed, when necessary. Thankfully, they didn't have that overboosted feel that many of today's cars do. They also don't boast about how many pistons they have, etc., but they slowed and stopped the car to the level required during some pretty fast road driving. Every single time.

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    Handling
    For me, this is the defining factor of any car I'm going to consider purchasing. Big horsepower is always fun. For a while. But, if a car's handling doesn't deliver, then the party's over pretty quickly. Ford also makes another great bang for the buck car in the Mustang V6. And, while it is a tremendous value, I just don't understand the online arguments pitting it against cars like the ST. Some people would cross-shop the two cars; I'm not one of them. We'll delve into possible competitors to the ST shortly. So, what's the scoop on what should be the ST's superpower: handling?

    No discussion of a modern performance car can ignore the subject of electronic aids. All cars have them, some more than less. The ST has quite a few. However, before you groan and close your browser window, hang with me as I give you a quick overview and a flurry of acronyms.

    Of course the Focus ST has the now ubiquitous anti-lock brakes (ABS), but the system on the ST was very unobtrusive. Chalk it up to the excellent Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2 tires (which happen to be the spec tire on all STs globally), but ABS never engaged in our whole day of driving. The same system also provides needed traction control (TC), when necessary.

    Another fairly common form of intervention is the Electronic Stability Program (ESP). With the ST being geared towards the performance-minded enthusiast, Ford has equipped the car with a three-stage system. Stage One (Normal) provides the most intervention and would be similar to the ESP on the standard Focus. Stage Two (Sport) provides a higher degree of driver involvement before the system intervenes. Finally, Stage Three is (Off). This would normally only be used on track days or other competitive situations.

    Ford supplements common forms of gadgetry with something they call Torque Vectoring Control (TVC). This technology is sometimes referred to as an 'e-diff,' as in electronic differential. In theory, it's a high-tech/low impact way for manufacturers to provide the benefit of a mechanical limited-slip differential without the added cost, weight and potential reliability problems (i.e. warranty repairs) of a traditional one. In essence, if the ECU senses one of the drive wheels slipping, it will apply slight braking force to balance the power between the two front drive wheels at 100 times a second. These 'pseudo LSDs' are hotly debated in the enthusiast world. For what it's worth, the system in the ST seemed to work very well during my driving stints. And, while it should be fine for everyday sport driving, it remains to be seen at what point a proper LSD will be required to be competitive on the occasional track day or autocross. Serious road racers will no doubt want to fit the mechanical unit from the Focus ST-R race car.

    With the technical descriptions out of the way, let's concentrate on real-world impressions. As mentioned, our loop consisted of rural countryside, twisty switchbacks and passes along with a small amount of congested city driving. As with the power on tap, the car's handling traits are extremely confidence-inspiring. Every system works in concert to (probably) make you a better driver than you really are. The ESP and TVC step in when you overcook things without spoiling the party. The car feels very planted. Even intentional attempts to upset the car's balance were met without drama. One small but key engineering change on the ST has revised the rear knuckle and anti-roll bar mounting points. This has increased overall stability over the standard Focus.
     
  4. WRC Fan

    WRC Fan Administrator Staff Member

    Competitors
    From the moment the North American ST was announced, the internet lit up with 'bang for the buck' arguments and comparisons—all this before anyone had actually driven the car or knew its price. I think the natural comparison is to the Volkswagen GTI, which is still considered by many to be the gold standard for hot hatches. The GTI is a great car, an icon. The most recent versions have gotten even better. However, I think the ST rises above the MKVI GTI on several fronts. Without doing an exhaustive comparison, I'll simply suggest you drive both and make up your own mind.

    What's interesting is that the ST is, in some ways, closer to VW's range topping Golf R. Their specs are similar. The VW, of course, has AWD, which may or may not be to your liking. I'm sure the R has a more upscale interior too. Nevertheless, the quality difference isn't as large as it used to be. While I have not had the opportunity to drive an R, I understand that the power delivery, while not appreciably more, is delivered in a more potent manner, although it might be described as peaky when weighed against the ST. Also, let's face it. For some, the VW badge brings more street cred to their particular small car performance scene. At the end of the day, however, when you figure in the rather substantial price increase that the R commands over the ST, I think everyone considering an R at least owes themselves a test drive in the ST.

    Another obvious cross-shopped car is the Mazdaspeed3. For bench racers, it's higher output trumps the ST. And, that's all they need to make their decision. But seriously, while the MS3 has taken over the mantle from the late, great SRT-4 as the potent but crude ride of choice, the plot has moved on. The MS3 is getting very long in the tooth, and truth be told, can't really compete with the ST anywhere but on a dyno.

    The Wrap
    This is the easiest part of the story to write. I know, as the founder of a Focus enthusiast site, it will be extremely easy to brand my review of the ST as biased. However, I haven't owned a Focus in over five years. I currently drive a Honda Fit Sport and a Fiat 500 Abarth. So, you'd be hard pressed to say I bleed Ford Blue when cut. But, I continue to believe in the Focus, and the ST has strengthened my passion for the car, so much so that one may very well end up in my garage in the not too distant future.

    While I could have easily driven the ST on any of the great roads in the U.S.—many of which I have driven on previous media drives—it took a 10-hour flight ‘across the pond’ to drive home the fact that this time we are getting ‘the good stuff.’ North American-based automotive blogs complain ad nauseam that we rarely benefit from the European perks. So, it will be interesting to see how many of said commenters are willing to write the check because the 2013 Ford Focus ST makes good on the promise that was somewhat unsuccessfully executed by the SVT Focus. The ST is a true global Ford performance compact car.

    While there will always be rumors of something better on the horizon, for a car that you can buy right now, I think the Focus ST is the performance hatch leader.
     
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