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2013 Ford Focus ST First Drive Review -

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
July 2, 2012
6 min. Reading Time

It has been quite some time since a domestic automaker had a player in the compact performance game.  Ford's decision to import the Ford Focus ST hatchback from Europe (although the North American edition will actually be built in Detroit) indicates just how serious the Blue Oval is about luring fans of small, affordable, and fun cars away from the Japanese and German brands that have long dominated the segment.

The Ford Focus ST is a car that American enthusiasts have been clamoring for for quite some time, and when we were given the chance to spend some time behind the wheel of a pre-production model this past month we leapt at the opportunity.  The car we drove was an almost-ready-for-prime-time edition that had a few rough edges but was still more than capable of giving us a good idea of what the Focus ST will be like when it hits dealerships later this summer.


2013 Ford Focus ST First Drive Review - Competition

The 2013 Ford Focus ST has a few performance-oriented compact car bogies on its radar, not the least of which is the Volkswagen GTI - a hatchback that offers less horsepower but which has a considerable cult following and a reputation for providing a refined driving experience and excellent interior quality.  Another clear competitor is the Mazda MAZDASPEED3, the turbocharged edition of the brand's popular MAZDA3 hatchback.  Rounding out the field are sedans and coupes like the Subaru WRX, the Honda Civic Si, and the Nissan Sentra SER Spec V, with rear-wheel drive outliers including the Hyundai Genesis Coupe and even the Ford Mustang V6 lurking in the background.



2013 Ford Focus ST First Drive Review - Pricing

The 2013 Ford Focus ST comes with a base MSRP of $24,495, a figure which can be inflated through the addition of a number of different options packages.  The ST2 package adds automatic climate control, Recaro sport seats and a touch screen interface, while the ST3 package throws in leather upholstery, front seat heaters, LED running lamps, a navigation system and HID headlights.

The model we were given to play with was a Canadian-spec Focus ST which comes standard with the leather Recaro seats and much of the above package content for an MSRP of $29,999 CAD.



2013 Ford Focus ST First Drive Review - Exterior

The 2013 Ford Focus ST wastes no time in identifying its sporty status thanks to the presence of a number of different styling cues that contrast against the looks of the more pedestrian Focus hatchback.  The four-door Focus ST comes with eye-catching, Y-spoke 18-inch rims shod in Goodyear Eagle F1 tires and features a full aero body kit that includes side skirts, a hatch-mounted spoiler, and unique front and rear bumpers that are loaded with vents, a honeycomb grille, and other flair to transmit the message that this is one compact car you don’t want to mess with unless you, too, are packing a decent amount of horsepower in your ride.  A center-exit exhaust outlet design adds a unique touch to the Focus ST's somewhat angry yet still sleek looks.



2013 Ford Focus ST First Drive Review - Interior

The passenger compartment of the 2013 Ford Focus ST has also been spiffed up in order to appeal to customers looking for more than just performance and power to justify the vehicle's MSRP.  The ST initials are everywhere inside the Ford's cabin: greeting drivers on the front door sill plate as they enter the vehicle, emblazoned on the Focus' comfy leather Recaro sport seats, and reinforcing the brand through prominent placement at the bottom of the vehicle's nicely padded, easy-to-grip steering wheel.

More on those Recaros - they are an absolute pleasure to sink into, with their well-placed bolsters holding driver and front passenger in place even when pushing the Focus ST as hard as possible through decreasing apex corners.  In combination with the thick ST steering wheel, the seats help the entire hatchback shrink around the shoulders of the driver and provide the kind of snug driving experience that instills a high level of confidence.

The dash of the Focus ST does not stray too far from the organized layout of the standard Focus model, but it does offer a few additional goodies, including the aforementioned eight-inch touchscreen as well as a gauge pod mounted at the center of the vehicle and tilted towards the driver.  The pod features analog readouts for engine temperature, boost, and oil pressure.



2013 Ford Focus ST First Drive Review - Powertrain and Fuel Economy

The 2013 Ford Focus ST is built around a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that makes use of a turbocharger and direct injection in order to produce 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, with the latter available from a very low 2,000 rpm.  The EcoBoost motor also features an overboost feature that automatically activates with the pedal pushed to the floor, providing 15 seconds of additional power between 3,000 and 4,500 rpm that represents a more than seven percent increase over and above its factory torque rating.

A six-speed manual transmission is the only gearbox available with the Ford Focus ST.  Fuel mileage figures for the EcoBoost engine have yet to be released, but should crest 30-mpg on the highway.



2013 Ford Focus ST First Drive Review - Driving Impressions

As soon as one turns the key in the 2013 Ford Focus ST it's almost impossible to repress a smile.  That's because Ford has made a serious effort to tune the hatchback's exhaust note to provide maximum aural pleasure both inside and outside the vehicle's cabin, making use of a technology called a 'sound symposer' in order to approximate the unique character of the five-cylinder engine found in the previous generation Euro-market Focus ST.  Unlike other active sound improvement systems that simulate a pleasing tone to match engine revs, the Ford symposer combines valved tubes with a special paddle that aims to enhance the most appealing aspects of the engine and exhaust's auditory signature.

And it works.  Blipping the Focus ST's throttle at idle produces a throaty growl that rasps its way up to the redline, and hammering the gas pedal while underway fills the passenger compartment with the sound of the EcoBoost four-cylinder building boost as it rockets the compact hatch forward at an appreciable rate.  Even just puttering around town sees the symposer delivering a soundtrack that makes the pilot feel like a hero at the lowest of engine speeds. 

Of course, how the car sounds isn't nearly as important as how it drives.  Fortunately, the Ford Focus ST's dynamics have been given the level of engineering attention required to deliver a truly world-class compact performance experience.  The Focus ST is a very quick car.  Pinning the go-pedal to the floor boards from a standing start with the vehicle's electronic stability control (ESC) system left on results in almost instantaneous forward motion with nary a hint of wheel spin or torque steer - an impressive result for such a powerful front-wheel drive automobile. 

The Ford Focus ST features a torque steer compensation system that is extremely effective at preventing the ugly beast from rearing its head under full throttle.  Our tester didn't offer the dual-stage ESC system that will come with the production model, but switching off electronic stability control revealed that there is enough torque under the hood of the Focus ST to twist the steering wheel from side to side all the way through fourth gear with the throttle down.  We didn’t have our timing gear with us, but Ford's claim of a 0-60-mph time of 6.5 seconds feels extremely conservative.

The ESC's unobtrusive torque steer management was only one aspect of how this unobtrusive feature was able to improve the Ford Focus ST's handling.  A torque vectoring system works to distribute engine output to the wheel where it can do the most good while cornering, and when flogged through the hilly secondary roads surrounding the Calabogie Motorsports Park in Calabogie, Ontario, the Focus ST was remarkably composed even when traversing broken pavement. 

The hatchback was able to flow through the corners with an agility the belied its front-wheel drive layout, although heavy electric power steering provided feedback that was more numb than we would have liked.  Suspension tuning for the ST was on the stiff side, but we weren't bouncing around the cabin thanks to the Recaros, and the vehicle never felt unpleasant even when the country roads became bumpier than expected.  We had to stay on our toes, however, when traversing longer downhill curves as the Focus ST is perfectly willing to hang the tail out should you give it enough encouragement with the accelerator.



2013 Ford Focus ST First Drive Review - Final Thoughts

The 2013 Ford Focus ST is a legitimate high performance compact hatchback.  There are no qualifications to go with this statement: this is the Focus we already know and love, only significantly quicker and with the ability to change direction with greater precision and confidence.  The turbocharged EcoBoost engine is every bit the equal of the mills sitting under the hoods of rivals like the MAZDASPEED3 and the WRX, and the vehicle's styling is stand-out without being cartoonish.  In short, this is exactly the vehicle that Ford needed to build in order to turn heads amongst younger, speed-hungry buyers and aftermarket tuners who finally have an option outside of the Mustang to draw them into showrooms.

What We Like About The 2013 Ford Focus ST:

  • Great power delivery from the turbocharged EcoBoost engine
  • Better handling than one would expect from a front-wheel drive hatchback
  • Superb exhaust and engine sound
  • Well-managed torque steer
  • Optional Recaro sport seats

We Aren't So Hot On:

  • Having to wait so long for the Focus ST to reach North America
  • U.S. models not offering standard Recaros
  • Overly-heavy steering


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