It’s been a good era for smallish, mid-size cars. Buick now has the uncharacteristic Regal GS; Cadillac the RWD, M3-killing ATS; and Dodge the evocative, peninsular Dart. All of them are stick-shifting, turbocharged oddities, but they represent a new wave of cars in America: Europe. None of these would have come around without European influence (which makes us wonder if we’ll start seeing small diesels soon), and now Ford has joined the fray with the Euro spec, 2013 Focus ST. It’s exciting for many reasons.
The first of them is also a worry: torque steer. It’s what happens when a FWD car tries to maneuver itself and the power to the wheels actually favors wrenching the helm from your futile, human fists. Usually you’ll only find it in very powerful hatchbacks – like this one. The Focus ST comes with 270 lb-ft of torque and 252 hp, though it only achieves these scarcely believable figures at full boost.
Yes, it has an EcoBoost system, a turbocharger paired with direct injection, that’s been so successful for Ford across most of its platforms that it likely killed the poor Ranger. Wringing out the very last of those lb-ft will take what Ford calls “overboost,” which casts a spell learned in Mordor to give you a 15-second stretch of extra torque, but only when you have your foot all the way down.
Another matter of substantial excitement is the 6-speed manual between the seats. It’s not unexpected, but Ford easily could have bailed here and offered some sort of flaky, paddle-shifting automatic. If they weren’t serious about it, that is. No, the Focus ST joins the legion of clutchbearers to show posterity the way of truth.
It looks, outside and in, very much like the already well-cut Focus. With the ST you get a claimed-functional rear spoiler and a claimed-attractive ST badge on the grille, plus some rather threatening 18-inch wheels. Inside you’ll see a little more color than usual, especially if you order the optional Recaros; a few stamped trim bits, and an ST brand on the steering wheel.
And it looks fun, to say the least. Ford fiddled around with the suspension to improve handling, and they say they’ve even added “torque vectoring control” in an unsuccessful effort to stem our worries about the car steering itself. There’s a boost gauge, there are better brakes, there’s an improved, “muscular” exhaust whose tip is shaped like a pair of sunglasses.
The Focus ST will reportedly pull 30 mpg in mixed conditions, and the base model will run you $24,500 before the dealerships get their hands on it. But now that we’re into those numbers, what about the competition? The $24k Mazdaspeed3, for example, gets 5 fewer mpg, but 11 more hp, and gets to 60 faster than the Focus’ 6 seconds. The Volkswagen GTi costs the same and gets 31 mpg, but only carries 200 hp.
The most interesting competition, however, will come from an niche manufacturer. Because if you’ve been reading this and drooling over the possibility of a turbocharged five-door with more than 250 hp, you’ve likely been eyeing another possibility for years: the Subaru WRX. A modern WRX makes 265 hp, gets to 60 in just under 5 seconds, goes 25 miles on a gallon of gas, and the power goes to all four wheels. All for just a grand more than the Focus ST.
So we really have to wonder if Ford has bitten off more than they can chew with this madly awesome little hot hatch. They’ve slated themselves next to some pretty impressive artillery. Wouldn’t it be better to just create the long-desired, but always denied AWD version? Yes, Ford execs, that was a plea.
You can configure your own ST now, and deliveries will begin late this year. What do you think of this little monster? Will Subaru give it any competition? What do cars like this mean for American motoring?