2016 Ford Focus ST
Fast, fun, refined and totally util
From the lowly Pinto-powered Formula Ford that raised many a would-be challenger up from go-karting into open wheeled single seaters, to blue-oval branded F1 engines, the great Michael Schumacher having piloted a Ford-powered Benetton B194-8 to his first championship in 1994, the Dearborn, MI automaker has long walked the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” talk. Dodge might currently be missing from the NASCAR ranks, but can anyone imagine February at Daytona without a Ford on the grid? Ford will be back at Le Mans this year too, with the all-new GT specially tuned for 24-hour endurance, the brand’s original GT40, plus Shelby’s Mustang GT350, the Daytona Coupe as well as 289- and 427-powered AC Cobras all legendary in sports car racing circles, while Mustangs classic and current have long been weapons of choice in NHRA Stock and Super Stock drag racing, not to mention more recently a go-to ride for drifting. Down under, Ford’s Falcon is second in overall V8 supercar wins, while the blue oval brand is tied in fourth for most wins in WRC. I’m sure I’ve missed many a series in this intro, but you get my point. No one can question Ford’s performance credibility due to decades of dedicated motorsport participation, and they make some pretty compelling road cars too.
The ST lineup finds its ancestry in rally racing, Ford long part of the WRC (World Rally Championship) just mentioned, either as a factory-backed participant bearing the Ford World Rally Team name or supporting an entrant such as Britain’s M-Sport that’s been racing the blue and white livery since 2006 (albeit long before then under different names). The current WRC entrant is the Fiesta RS, a car that closely resembles the Fiesta ST we can “buy on Monday” here in the U.S., although for many years the Focus was the star car on the rally circuit.
Personally, it’s a toss up as to which ST I like better, the Fiesta-based model or this Focus ST, but I’m certainly more of an ST fan than a Mustang aficionado. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Mustang a lot, especially in GT or even-more intensely satisfying Shelby GT500 guise, and was duly impressed by a new 2.3-liter Ecoboost-powered Fastback that I drove recently, but I love the two STs with the kind of fervor a San Franciscan footballer has for the 49ers. Of course, my Seahawks regularly cause Richter-scale levels of fan noise too, and they happen to still be standing as Super Bowl hopefuls as I write these words. Seattle has enjoyed more recent success on the gridiron than Ford has on the WRC grid, mind you, the UK-based rallying team having 76 wins to its credit and three constructor’s championships in 1979, 2006 and 2007, but they’ve done little but eat dirt since. Still, at least they’re on the field and in the game like the Titans were throughout this year, and not watching from the WRC sidelines like Mitsubishi or Subaru.
Speaking of competitors, there are a lot of sport compact wannabes on the market and only few that come close to matching the performance of those two just mentioned. Only Fiat and Mini can make a front-drive subcompact fan smile as wide as a Fiesta ST, mind you, and then only in Abarth and pricey JCW trim respectively, the latter British brand also part of the current WRC lineup, while larger compact performers are more prevalent. I just mentioned Mitsu and Subie, both of which have long been on top of the compact pack, although with the Evo now history (unless you nab a 2015 while still available) the 305 horsepower WRX STI will have to fight it out with the new 292 horsepower Volkswagen Golf R and the (drumroll please… at least for those not yet in the know) 350 horsepower 2016 Ford Focus RS, which I’m guessing will make this ST feel like its on training wheels. Still, that’s a $35,730 all-wheel drive super hatch, whereas the front-drive ST can be had for just $24,425 plus freight and dealer fees, and as far as good times behind the wheel goes, after about six seconds of foot to the floor fun it’ll be well beyond legal limits unless you’re in town, where you’ll need to ease off way before then, so the Focus ST should be more than enough for most road warriors.
Behind the ST’s handsome black mesh grille is a 252 horsepower version of Ford’s direct injection turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecoboost four-cylinder engine, capable of an even more impressive 270 lb-ft of tire melting torque. That’s significant output for a 3,223-lb compact, and loads more than most comparative competitors. Direct rivals (compacts with more than 200-hp and base prices around $25k) include the Honda Civic Si that puts out 205/174 hp/lb-ft and weighs 2,950 lbs at its lightest (a new more powerful version is on the way for 2017); Hyundai Veloster Turbo with 201/195 hp/lb-ft and a 2,877-lb curb weight; Volkswagen Golf GTI in Performance trim that makes 220/258 hp/lb-ft and weighs 3,038 lbs; and Subaru’s lower end WRX that’s closest to the Focus ST with 268/258 hp/lb-ft and weighs a very similar 3,269 lbs, while hooking up with more preferable AWD.
Of course, merely comparing engine output and curb weights will keep you clueless as to how a car actually drives, the Civic Si never delivering with big numbers compared to most rivals yet still one of my favorites on road and track. I was actually surprised to see how much more the Focus ST weighed compared to that Si, or some of the others on this list, because it always felt light, lithe and particularly flickable. It has much of the same mannerisms of the even more tossable Fiesta ST, that model pushing 197 horsepower and 202 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels and weighing in at just 2,742 lbs, the larger car appropriately muscled up to cope with its extra size and heft.
The end result from the Focus ST engineering team is fabulously fun takeoff from standstill and even more impressive straight-line performance when revs rise, while yet more critical is a cab and chassis you can slam hard into a fast-paced corner with confidence, its quick and true reactions downright stupefying. Force it to keep tight to a chosen line and it won’t deviate one iota unless pushed way beyond reason, and at that moment, just when it would otherwise understeer its way out of trouble you can easily coax its rear end into oversteer if you tickle it just the right way. Framed by each of its 18-inch alloys are large vented rotors and meaty red-painted calipers that will make you a believer stomp after repeated stomp, with fade only apparent after doing silly impressions of Mads Østberg. It’s easy to see that the Focus ST was created by a well-seasoned performance brand, and of course very helpful that the lowly donor Focus handles better than most rivals in base guise as well.
Most of the competitive models mentioned above are both capable and enjoyable at the limit, and I must admit the majority also deliver great driving feel in their own very unique ways. You’ll need to spend time with all if you really want to find the one that suits your personal driving style, but do not by any means forgo the chance to test this ST while doing your “homework”. When you do, don’t forget that the car you’re buying not only needs to deliver the goods when tackling wild unknown backcountry roads, plus that favorite cloverleaf on your way to work, but in this class at least it must also be easy to live with day to day. To that end the Focus ST rides fairly well considering its locked-in performance, while its superb looking Recaro leather sport seats are about as comfortable as top-tier office chairs get, while offering a great deal more “wingback” support.
Such refinements are what separate the Focus ST from many of its peers. For instance, no one that’s experienced a Mitsu Evo X at speed will question the car’s performance brilliance, it’s truly one of the best cars I’ve ever experienced on the racetrack and even better off pavement, but I’m sure many had difficulty dishing out almost 40 large for a top-line MR with a cabin that, seats aside, was poorly executed at best. The Focus ST, on the other hand, goes way beyond the exercise of bolting in aftermarket seats as an attempt to upgrade an appliance-like interior, instead starting off with high-quality Focus Titanium-level finishings that are already amongst the best in the compact class. Details such as a full soft-touch dash top that wraps a little more than halfway down the instrument panel adds near premium-like polish, this complemented by the same soft synthetic for the front door uppers that artfully expand from pointy edges at their fore sections to fairly wide surfaces in their aft portions, whereas the car’s switchgear is typical Ford excellence.
On that note I’ve always been a big fan of the MyFord Touch infotainment system and its highly intuitive quadrant layout, although I’m aware that it’s had many detractors. After playing around with the new for 2016 Sync 3 infotainment OS I can’t believe anyone will argue against it, as it’s so easy to use thanks to a redesigned layout and smartphone-style capacitive touchscreen that even includes swipe capability, so fast at processing, so comprehensively featured, and so graphically attractive that you’d have to be a true digital curmudgeon to complain. The base ST comes with a lower-end 4.2-inch display that’s still pretty nice for the compact class, albeit devoid of any wow factor, yet equipped with AppLink, 911 Assist, smart charging USB ports and more, but for $2,995 the 401A package adds that Sync 3 upgrade as well as four more speakers and a great sounding Sony audio system that also includes HD radio plus satellite radio with a six-month subscription, while dual-zone auto HVAC and upgraded Recaro sport seats with partial-leather upholstery increases the ST’s luxury quotient yet further. Additionally, HID headlamps and cornering lights get added making the ST safer at speed. My test model was decked out further with the $4,995 402A package, which included everything noted thus far except for the partial leather Recaros, these substituted for full-leather Recaros, while other additions included the SecuriCode keyless-entry keypad, heatable steering wheel and heatable front seats I mentioned earlier, plus heatable side mirrors, ambient lighting, an overhead console, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with powered lumbar, four-way head restraints, and a voice-activated navigation upgrade that was extremely easy for inputting directions as well as accurate in finding its way, its superb mapping one of the best ways to appreciate the sharp resolution of the enhanced eight-inch display, while the system also included the benefits of SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link.
Ahead of the driver is another high-resolution color screen, this one filled with more driver-specific details, while the usual tachometer on the left and right-side speedometer flank smaller fuel and temperature gauges, all done out in simple, purposeful white and red on black faces with bright red needles, the surrounding metallic-trimmed bezels being gauge package highlights.
A thick flat-bottomed leather-wrapped ST-branded sport steering wheel looks sensational and is ideally shaped for proper three o’clock, nine o’clock hand positioning with indented thumb spats included, plus along with those seats, also dressed up with ST branding, a leather-wrapped aluminum shift knob with a red engraved six-speed gear pattern joins a set of alloy pedals down below. Additionally, a mini-cluster of analog auxiliary gauges sits atop the dash, including turbo boost pressure, whereas aluminum doorsill scuff plates with ST graphics greet you when entering, all of these unique features setting the Focus ST interior far apart from mere mortal Foci.
Adding to the ST’s premium experience are yet more standard features not yet mentioned, such as auto on/off quad-beam halogen headlamps with integrated signature LEDs, powered side mirrors, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, MyKey owner controls, variable intermittent wipers, auto up/down windows all-round, a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, a message center with a trip computer, rearview camera, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/2USB/AUX audio with speed-sensitive volume and Sync phone connectivity, illuminated vanity mirrors, Hill Start Assist, all the usual safety equipment including airbags for the driver’s knees, and much more, while 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks expand on the already large and useful rear cargo area.
My tester’s Magnetic gray paint was made sportier with a $495 set of ST Racing Stripes that also caused a requisite change of wheels, those being an identical $495 worth of machine-finished twinned five-spoke alloys with black painted pockets that look much more sporting than the base rims, at least to my taste, their 235/40ZR18 Pirelli P Zero Nero all-season performance tires a slight upgrade as well.
Of course, they’re only enhancing a car that I already find attractive, the ST making for a much more appealing visual than the regular Focus thanks to a totally unique grille shape with a menacingly blackened insert, plus black headlamp surrounds, all hovering above a completely reworked lower fascia integrating an exclusive set of ST fog lamps. An extended rocker molding runs down each side of the car, while a wing-like rear spoiler caps off the rearmost portion of its roof, a set of special ST exhaust pipes poking through a nicely restyled valance down below.
If right about now you’re wondering whether I’d be willing to keep my Focus ST long-term you’d be right in guessing yes. In fact, I had more fun in this car than many premium rides that cost more than three times the price, which is something to think about the next time you ante up for a performance car. After all, it’s not how impressive a set of specs read on paper or how fast you can theoretically sprint to 60 or snake through a row of cones that makes a performance car would owning, but rather how much fun you’ll have each and every time you get behind the wheel. I can’t see anyone looking back in regret after plunking down $25k on a Focus ST. That it’s also five-star NHTSA safe, 22 mpg city, 31 highway and 25 combined efficient, totally utile for passengers and cargo, and built by a storied brand that’s steeped in motorsport heritage only adds to the magic.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press ;Copyright: American Auto Press.