The first major point of negotiation would have been the old European ST’s five-cylinder engine, a scalawag noted for its raughty warble and prodigious output.
“We’d like to use a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine…” , stammers a member of the engineering team
The white coat corrects himself, “No, no… We mean turbo.”
The response is a dead flesh thump of Scally’s meaty hand landing in his meaty palm.
“We’ll … we’ll give it more power, and pipe the engine acoustic into the cabin.”
Placated, Scally returns to reading his hot-hatch tuner magazines —call it market research through menace.
Without the turbo, a.k.a. “EcoBoost”, the 2.0L inline four-cylinder engine offers a respectable 160hp. Add a turbo with 20psi of boost (the second part of EcoBoost), and that number rockets to 252hp. As a result, the ST whips to 100 kph in 6.5 seconds.
The turbo lag, the phenomena where you lay into the throttle, then wait for the acceleration as the turbo spins up, is negated. Mainly by delivering 270 ft-lbs of peak torque basement-low on the tachometer at 2,700 RPM, so there’s plenty of pull off the line. The torque curve is near flattened with the addition of overboots, where a tromp of the accelerator will spin up the turbo for 15-seconds bursts, when the engine is spinning between 3000 to 4500 RPM. The ST will pull from 80-to-120-km/h in an aggressive 4.2 seconds, leaving another 10.8 seconds of overboost to make sure traffic stays passed. The engine feels best storming its mid-range, an action accompanied by a satisfyingly naughty and raughty exhaust note.
Ford shod the ST in P235/40R18 Goodyear F1 Asymmetric 2s, snubbing the sensibility of all seasons in the pursuit of performance. If you’re in a temperate zone, you’ll be sourcing winter tires. Ford has also lowered the suspension 10mm from the regular family hauler, and upgraded the shocks and springs, providing a firmer ride and better handling all without destroying day-to-day usable compliance. These enhancements are the perfunctory negotiations with physics, before the engineers addressed the challenges of pushing the ST’s considerable power through its soon-to-be-immolated front tires.
Punch the throttle on the Ford Focus ST and the front tires jump sideways a little and you’re in a brief wrestling match with the wheel. This is torque steer, the result of differing forces on the left and right tires. The delta in force is due to the angle of the front wheels (since they are steering), engine placement and a differential with half-shafts of different length. As a function of this delta in force one of the drive wheels tends to apply power to the road more efficiently and get slightly ahead of the other. Since the wheels doing the steering are also providing the drive, the vehicle pulls as does the steering wheel. More power, the greater the phenomena. Laying down power is best done straight on, but people get upset when their cars don’t go though corners.
In what were likely brutal negotiations, Ford “sensibly” equipped the Focus ST with Enhanced Torque Vectoring Control (ETVC). This is an electronic counter-measure that applies braking to the inner wheel, along with additional steering pressure in the direction you are cornering.
The ETVC’s electronic wizardry could have neutered the ST’s bawdy driving experience — fortunately Ford dialed the system back. Scally, and the rest of the world, wants an engaging Focus ST. An apprehensive moment of torque steer tugging at the wheel with a good poke of the throttle makes your heart race, and is part of the fun. So the ETVC’s torque steer moderation runs a happily delinquent medium. Well done, Ford.
The driving dynamic is charmingly delinquent, yet poised allowing you to comfortably approach the ST’s “tail happy” and “limit inquisitive” nature. There is for example an inclination to lift-off oversteer, correctable with a bit more throttle, that can be used for good or evil. Turn into the corner, feel the ST’s weight shift and the suspension compress. Revel in a delightful little rear slip as the ST’s tail continues to rotate, while the grippy Goodyear F1s keep the front end targeted. Ease on a little more throttle, and exhale as the rear end predictably slips back into line. Through it all despite the daily-driver compliant suspension, there is surprisingly little body roll. Rear passengers seem less giddy with this process, perhaps failing to appreciate the nuances of the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) or the Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS).
The ESC liberally interprets its task with three settings: On, Sport (promisingly known as “Wide Slip”), and Off (where only the Enhanced Torque Vectoring Control takes an active role in your doom-prevention). Tuned to be non-intrusive, ESC’s first two modes will allow suitably exciting slide for most drivers. The EPAS makes the cut too, making steering less sensitive when driving in a straight line (down the highway, or example) but increases feel as the wheel turns during cornering. The result is good feedback, quick reactions in corners, and solid stability at speed. All the while, the six-speed manual transmission sees the relatively short throws of the lever nearly springing from your hand as you climb the ratios. The clutch is slick and smooth, but becomes binary when you reach the friction zone requiring finesse for smooth quick shifts, and encouraging peeling-out off the line.
In the cockpit, a menacing trio of gauges for engine oil temperature, oil pressure, and the turbo’s boost pressure hover like a sublime threat of violence atop the center-stack angled towards the driver. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter imply the upcoming need for a good grip. You’re held fast by the Recaro racing-style bucket seats upfront, which pin you down during your escapades like a leather-bound muscle-boy’s show of strength. These front seats are fits-like-a-glove tight, and if this couple were to place a Craigslist ad, the phrase “no fatties” would be a discriminator. The seats (front and back) are amply comfortable for my 6″2′ average build chassis. Beyond that, the cockpit is an exciting bit of juvenilia, ST badges and buttons… everywhere. Passenger accommodations in back are comfortable even for adults, though in maneuvers probing the reported .98g of lateral grip your passengers may feel differently.
Externally, the Focus ST signals aggression with ST badges, an air-eating maw interpreting Ford’s signature trapezoidal grille, sculpted side skirts, unique ST front and rear fascias, a body kit with lower valances and rocker mouldings, a high-mounted rear spoiler and a central dual exhaust. All without the hideous Joker’s venom death-grimace of the Mazdaspeed3’s front.
Under all the boy-racer trappings the ST remains an extremely livable and practical Focus. Four doors and a hatch—something you could put kids or friends in the back of, and carry home groceries with. Though negotiating parking lots is a challenge given the ST’s cruise-ship-like 39.4-ft turning radius, which diminishes the utility compared to the baser models. Rearward visibility is also a challenge. Settle down to tour across town or the province, and the cabin becomes quiet and calm. The outside visuals ensure the ST still looks like a Focus, only more handsome. Perhaps even Scally realizes the need to blend, say when driving by the local constabulary.
There is one point of practicality no one will push back on. In our combined city and highway thrashage of the Ford Focus ST it achieved a fuel efficiency of 8.1 L/100km (or 29 mpg). That is uncomfortably responsible for a vehicle whose very color, Performance Blue, makes certain promises.
The 2013 Focus ST is like a rowdy delinquent dressed in his father’s suit for a court date: you know the calm won’t last long. The ST is irascible, snarly, low, grippy, and mean—a street tough with familial underpinnings of a practical five-doored heart of gold. If Scally was on staff then his debts to society are paid. At every point where Ford could have made the ST more sensible for the North American market, they didn’t. The result is an insensibly good, hotted-up version of a family hauler —kudos Ford.
2013 Ford Focus ST
Base Price: $29,999
Price as Tested: $32,999—and worth every cent
Freight and PDI: $1,550
Type: Four-door compact hatchback
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged
Horsepower/torque: 252 hp/270 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.1 combined thrashage; premium gas
Technology Package: $1000.00
With Charcoal Black Leather Recaro Seats
Power Moon Roof: $1200.00
Navigation System: $700.00
Competitors: Mazdaspeed3, Volkswagen GTI, Honda Civic Si, Mini John Cooper Works
Special thanks to this weeks guest editors Elaine Corden and Alanna O’Hanley.