2015 Ford Focus ST Review: The New Great American Hot Hatchback
Ford Focus 1.6 Ti-VCT Champions Edition (III)
Where are the American hot hatchbacks?
The hot hatchback, track day favorites around the world, has always enjoyed an enthusiastic following. These cars check a lot of boxes on the lists of drivers who lean towards the "fun" side of the spectrum, managing the often difficult task of being a thrill to drive while still being quite practical as a daily driver.
There certainly has not been a dearth of choices in the U.S. market. The redundantly-named Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 is a kick in the pants to drive, as is the more refined Volkswagen GTI. The Volvo C30 and Mini Cooper both offer a somewhat more grown-up hatchback while still providing a punchy engine. The Fiat 500 also comes in 3-door hatchback form. Popular models of years past that are still popular (especially among the tuner crowd) include the Honda CR-X and the Honda Civic Si in hatch form.
Stop for a moment, though. What don't you see in that list? Spoiler: American domestic car manufacturers. While American car consumers have had many choices in hot hatchbacks, it's been a bit dumbfounding why domestic car companies never seemed to embrace this market. In particular, Ford has been making fun little hatchbacks in the European market for years. It seemed for ages that U.S. hot hatch fans would simply have to live with their admittedly excellent choices.
Until, that is, Ford decided to turn the whole market upside down.
Turbocharged for your pleasure
In model year 2013, Ford introduced the Focus ST model, sporting a 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine that puts down 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. That's quite a bit of power for a car this size, allowing the Focus ST to accelerate to 60 mph in just over 6 seconds. My test drive was in the 2015 model, which seems largely unchanged from the 2013 model, save for the standard rear view camera.
At this point, most reviews will talk about "torque steer" and I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention it.
You see, the Focus ST is a front-engine, front-wheel drive car. In many ways, that makes the sporty handling of the car even more impressive, but the problem with all powerful front-wheel drive cars is that all the power is going to the wheels that are doing the steering. The result is that the car can be difficult to control when you're hammering down the accelerator.
Here's the best analogy I can make. Think of the car as a pretty big dog on a leash that you are taking for a walk. Now imagine the dog notices a squirrel and wants to take off after it. In this case, it's a reasonably well-behaved dog. It is definitely pulling in the direction it wants to go, but it's possible to get it back on track albeit with some noticeable effort.
When you smash the accelerator in the Focus ST and those front tires find a groove in the asphalt, you will feel it. However, in my test drive I found it controllable and just an essential reminder of the car's impressive power.
Besides the plentiful power, the Focus ST has upgraded handling and braking over the non-performance models. The ride is definitely tight compared to the average American sedan, but I did not find it as unforgiving as most other sports cars. The car is at its most fun in the turns, but is also no slouch on interstate on-ramps thanks to that turbocharged engine. Once at highway speeds, the engine settles in and the ride is quite smooth.
The interior is, for lack of a better adjective, nice. It's here that the Focus ST shows it's Euro-car roots, as It is far nicer than you'd expect in a car of this type and for this price. Everything just fits together correctly, with fluid lines and the kind of tactile comfort you'd expect in pricier European imports. Tricked out with the highest option levels, the car comes with all the modern creature comforts and safety features of cars generally found at a high price point.
Completing the practicality part of the checklist is the impressive cargo space under the hatch, with plenty of room for groceries, backpacks, and whatever else you need to put back there to justify this as a family car.
Not so good stuff
Alas, no car is perfect and, although the Focus ST is very good, it does have some downsides.
The car does have four passenger doors, but it's still a pretty small car. Rear passengers will have a good amount of headroom, but not very much legroom. If you can't drive a manual transmission, you're out of luck, as the Focus ST is only available in stick shift flavor.
Of course, the Focus ST faces considerable competition from the traditional leader of the hot hatch pack, the VW GTI, but the elephant in the room for this conversation is actually the Focus ST's astonishing little brother, the Fiesta ST. Depending on what you want in a hot hatch, the Fiesta ST might even be a better car than the Focus ST.
I loves me some Focus ST
Honestly, the flaws of this vehicle are minor when you consider just how well it matches up to the criteria of a driver who needs a daily car that can also be fun. It's quick. It's practical. It gets pretty good mileage. It's got considerable cargo room. It's comfortable. It's got lots of available features, especially for the cost. It deserves to be on the short list of candidate for anyone looking for a daily driver with a healthy side of thrills.