by Adam Lynton
The Blue Oval makes some great cars, and the Focus ST has been one of the most fun hot hatchbacks for some time now. With 252 horsepower from its 2.0-liter turbocharged mill, the front-wheel-drive Focus ST once again does battle with the German benchmark and class-leader - the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The Ford has a wonderful, possibly better chassis, but what you get in handling you usually give back in ride comfort. The ST also has another competitor, from within its own stable: the all-wheel-drive Focus RS. So is the ST as brilliant as the GTI or has the RS made the ST obsolete?
When you think of cars that are so good that they don't require changes, only halo cars like the Nissan GT-R usually come to mind. However, even that requires a tweak every now and then. The Focus ST, on the other hand, is virtually unchanged since its launch in 2012. Power output, suspension, interior - all are almost completely the same. Ford's engineers genuinely made a car so good, that the only changes they could make involved powering all four wheels and sticking on an RS badge. The ST is basically the same car it was last year, but for a change, this is a good thing.
The Focus itself boasts distinctive styling, but the ST dials it up a notch or two. Featuring LED daytime running lights and halogen headlights, this is one small area where the lack of updates to the Focus ST is apparent. The 18-inch wheels, as well as a larger, blacked-out grille and different bumpers, side-sills, and rear spoiler all point to the performance focus of the ST. At the rear is the, now trademark, Focus ST infinity tailpipe design mounted centrally.
Weighing 3,223 lbs, the ST is a fairly light vehicle, and at a maximum width of 80.5 inches and 171.7 inches in length, this is a properly chuckable vehicle with space for adult responsibilities too. The height is 57.9 inches and its wheelbase measures in at 104.3 inches. Overall, this makes it slightly bigger than its German counterpart, but only just. It does weigh a couple of hundred pounds more too, but the Focus RS is heavier thanks to its complicated and heavy all-wheel-drive system. Altogether, its dimensions and weight form a well-rounded package that should yield dividends in the corners and at the pumps.
Kona Blue and Race Red, colors that are still available elsewhere in Ford's lineup, have been removed from the 2018 ST color chart. These have been replaced by the more demure Blue Metallic and the decidedly unsubtle $395 Hot Pepper Red. Triple Yellow Tri-coat, a shade that will certainly help if you regularly lose your car in a parking lot, is still available for $595, as is Magnetic, a stealthy, flat grey reminiscent of other primer-like colors made famous by the likes of Lamborghini and Audi. We'd go for Blue Metallic, for ultimate sleeper status.
The Focus ST is still only available with three pedals and there are no plans for an auto option, for this generation at least. This should suit the keen drivers who like to decide for themselves when an engine has wailed enough and needs a gear change. Speaking of the engine, the 2.0-liter makes 252 horsepower along with 270 lb-ft of torque and manages the 0-60 mph sprint in 6.4 seconds, this is slightly slower than the GTI despite it having more power. Top speed is a respectable 150 mph. This Focus ST is brilliant, but it is certainly not built with straight-line speed in mind, and even without the aid of its DSG option, the Golf GTI is still a quicker accelerating hot hatch. If you still want a 2.0-liter four-banger but would prefer it with four-wheel-drive and it's drag racing advantages, you'll have to shell out for the Golf R or upgrade to the 2.3 EcoBoost in the Focus RS. Why bother, though? The ST is one of the most exciting hatches you can buy and its front-wheel-drive setup is one of the reasons it's so fun.
Paired with a six-speed manual gearbox as the only option, the 2.0-liter GTDI EcoBoost motor makes 252 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque. With Fords being renowned in the modern era for outstanding handling, the motor and gearbox have to keep up. Short ratios make accelerating more fun but also make the best use of the powerband from the turbocharged inline four-cylinder. The peppy, eager engine makes the most of your inputs and responds well to stabs at the accelerator, regardless of what gear you're in or where in the rev range the needle on the tach happens to be sitting. In-gear acceleration is strong and the shifts are crisp and precise, even when downshifting while attacking a tight apex, no gear-crunching here.
On to the Focus ST's party trick - its chassis. This car eats up corners and responds beautifully to throttle inputs. Lift off the loud pedal? You've got oversteer. Whoops, too much oversteer? Smooth throttle input through the electronic LSD will balance the car again. This is a car that encourages full attack into corners, but only if you know what you're doing and what to expect from a well-sorted chassis - sudden changes in throttle input without an experienced driver behind the wheel will catch unsuspecting Ken Block fans out in a bad way. If you've got some experience and commitment, though, this is a far more engaging car than what Germany can offer you in this segment. It encourages fun and rewards skill, while still being entertaining for the novice who does not push their luck too much. The steering is sharp and intuitive, and the brakes, although a tad soft, are easy to judge and don't fade after a few intense stops. This, like the rest of the handling experience, encourages more spirited driving, rather than scaring you into taking it easy; the Focus ST feels like a bigger Fiesta rather than a mid-size hatchback.
As usual, the EcoBoost family of engines manages a good balance between power and economy. The ST returns 22/30/25 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. This equates to an average range of 310 miles from the 12.4 gallon gas tank. Although the GTI performs better in this regard, these figures are not terrible and are acceptable considering the fun factor that accompanies them. Hypermiling is better suited to the GTI, though, which returns 370 miles off a full tank.
The interior of the ST is starting to show its age, and some of the plastics can feel rather tacky compared to what its German rivals will offer, but overall, the build quality is good and everything works. Heated seats are an option as is a heated steering wheel, but the Recaros are a little too supportive for those with a slightly larger frame. The standard cloth seats are better in this regard; optional leather variants only come with the racy branding and excessive support but spec the top add-on package and the driver's seat gets power adjustment. Rear legroom is a little compromised but general space is decent.
With space for five average adults, the Ford Focus ST is a good balance of sporty fun and practicality, particularly when there is still a usable trunk behind the rear seats. Front occupants should be comfortable at all times with plenty of headroom and legroom, but rear occupants suffer on the latter score. Therefore, it would be more enjoyable for all if only four adults were to make use of the car at a time. Overall comfort is reasonable, and rear ingress and egress are good. Getting in and out of the front can be a slightly annoying exercise, though, as the massive bolsters hinder access. They also get in the way of one's elbows at times, detracting from the experience and rendering the armrests almost useless.
Only one trim level is available, but various packages can be added to increase the luxury of the ST. The base model is equipped with cloth upholstery and regular seats in charcoal black, although all models get aluminum pedals. The ST2 package includes partial-leather Recaro seats, also in black, while ST3 seats are fully trimmed in leather and feature red 'ST' embroidery along with the Recaro nameplate. A carbon fiber interior accent package is also available, adding carbon trim to the boost gauge's trim bezel, the handbrake lever, door grab handles, and shift knob.
Hot hatchbacks are, as the name suggests, warmed-up, quicker versions of regular cars that are first designed with practicality in mind. Thus, the rear seats in the ST, much like in the regular Focus, fold semi-flat in a 60/40 split, to expand cargo volume to 43.9 cubic feet. This is enough to even load a carefully positioned bicycle in the back. With the seats up, volume in the trunk is 23.3 cubic feet, which is still enough to fit a golf bag or four to five well-stacked overnight bags. The trunk opening is also easy to make use of.
Four cup holders are provided in front, while the doors also have space for bottles and other miscellaneous items like wallets and keys. The passenger glove box is big enough for the owner's manual and a map or two and is supplemented by a bin under the center armrest.
The stock standard ST is equipped with keyless entry and remote start, as well as a rearview camera. Manual climate control is accompanied by electronic brake assist, hill start assist, and cruise control, all of which seem fairly basic. However, features are less spartan when you start ticking options boxes - 911Assist, which can alert authorities to your location in the event of a crash, can be optioned. Dual-zone automatic climate control becomes available, as does a heated steering wheel and a power sunroof. Heated power mirrors are also thrown in when certain boxes are ticked, along with full leather heated seats. The driver's seat can be had with eight-way power adjustment options here too, while carbon fiber fascias can also be added.
As standard, the ST is equipped with a 4.2-inch screen with six speakers, Bluetooth, and Ford SYNC, but with either the ST2 or ST3 package, this can be upgraded to the more modern SYNC 3, which integrates an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. The speaker count also rises to ten, one of which is a sub-woofer made by Sony, and an additional USB port is thrown in. More options include voice-activated navigation with Sirius XM Traffic and Travel Link. Considering how ancient the basic system feels, it would be well worth the extra cash to ensure you get SYNC 3 in your ST.
J.D. Power awards the 2018 Ford Focus ST with a decent reliability score of 73. The ST's engine and its diesel brother have been affected by one recall on models produced between 2012-2018, for a malfunctioning canister purge valve system, causing excessive fuel fumes which could ultimately deform the gas tank over time.
Ford sells all its new Focus models with a new vehicle limited warranty, offering bumper-to-bumper coverage for three years or 36,000 miles, powertrain and safety restraint coverage for five years / 60,000 miles, and corrosion coverage for five years with unlimited mileage. Five years or 60,000 miles of roadside assistance is also included.
The IIHS has not rated the Focus ST for crashworthiness at this point in time. However, the NHTSA did award the five-door hatchback with the best possible overall score of five stars.
Safety features include a standard rearview camera, electronic brake assist, stability control, and an integrated blind spot mirror. In the event of a crash, 911Assist can alert paramedics and police to your location. Before they get there, the seven airbags - dual front, dual side, and curtain airbags - should help keep you in one piece. The driver also gets a knee airbag.
MyKey is a standard family-focused safety feature that allows parents to give their children a key that limits speed and radio volume capabilities, leaving the hooliganism solely up to the one paying for the car.
With outstanding agility and driving dynamics, the ST is every bit the drivers' car that you'd want it to be - especially if your wife said no to that sports car because it's impractical. Turn-in is sharp, the chassis is dynamic, and the brakes are capable. Despite the firmer suspension that accompanies a sportier model like the ST, this is a comfortable car in many ways and can be lived with every day, particularly considering its versatile trunk.
However, if you regularly ferry tall friends in the back, the legroom can be a problem, and if you yourself are a fan of triple chocolate sundaes and double-fried corn dogs, the front seats may feel more imprisoning than invigorating. The base infotainment system is also a little behind the times and absolutely needs upgrading. Essentially, the Focus overall is a great driver's car, if a little old now, and the ST highlights its best points.
The 2018 Ford Focus ST starts at an MSRP of $25,170 exclusive of taxes and Ford's $875 destination charge. Available as one trim, buyers can add various packages to their ST's to increase the features equipped. The first is the ST2 package, and the second is the ST3. Each package adds various infotainment, aesthetic and luxury items to the base car. The fully loaded model features the ST3 package and optional wheels and tires. All in, this top-tier spec will set you back a total of $32,845 including destination charge. Incentives vary from dealer to dealer and sometimes are dependant on time of year, so it's worth shopping around at various dealers before pulling the trigger.
Ford created just one model option for the new Focus ST, fully equipping it with sporty design cues and accessories, as well as handling and performance upgrades over the regular Focus. You get 18-inch wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED DRLs, cruise control, Ford's SYNC infotainment system with six speakers, a smart USB port, and sporty cloth seats - all included as standard. If you'd like something more premium in the same body style, the only option here is to look at the more expensive AWD Focus RS, which shares the basic shell of the ST but is a completely different car with a bigger motor.
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Additional packages are where you can find some slightly different configurations on this blue-collar hero - in fact, ST owners refer to these packages almost as if they are trim levels, with phrases like "I just got a new ST3". The changes each package brings are substantial enough to warrant this, with the ST2 package adding dual-zone climate control, HD Radio, Recaro seats, a sunroof, an eight-inch touchscreen, and an upgraded Sony sound system. The ST3 package includes the ST2's upgrades and then adds ambient lighting, power driver's seat adjustment, a heated steering wheel, heated wing mirrors, voice-activated navigation, and carbon-fiber interior trim. Full leather heated seats also improve comfort.
A well-equipped vehicle as standard, the Focus ST is only missing a few creature comforts and technological improvements to be a great all-rounder. The ST3 package fixes this issue, adding features that improve the ST's usability. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included with this package, as are heated leather seats - both items that you will rue not having when you need them, although the navigation system is probably the most important feature added here.
The Golf GTI is still the class president and with a far more luxurious and modern interior, as well as quicker acceleration and better fuel economy. Accompany this with an optional and excellent dual-clutch DSG transmission, as well as a number of trim levels to satisfy almost any buyer, and it's not hard to see why the GTI is loved the world over. It is the perfect blend of performance and real-world usability and is, therefore, mildly compromised to appeal to everyone. This is where the Ford comes in. The ST caters directly to the keen driver without sacrificing too much. It is by far the more entertaining car when it comes to eating up the corners and instead of protecting you with too much electronic wizardry, it lets experienced drivers hang loose. This won't suit everyone, but take it for a drive. It may just be the car you never knew you wanted.
An excellent performance hatch to start with, Ford's engineers have created fun from what would otherwise have been a boring commuter car. The key was a brilliant chassis from the beginning, and with that in place, there was always room for more power. Enter the RS. Featuring a bigger, more powerful engine - a detuned version of which can be found in EcoBoost Mustangs - and all-wheel-drive, the Focus turns from a quick and playful hot hatch into an all-weather weapon with drift mode. The RS is a mega-hatch. The downside to this is a hefty price tag and worse fuel economy. As a daily driver, it doesn't really work because it's noisier and less supple on the road. It is, therefore, a halo car that most enthusiasts will save for weekend canyon attacks. The ST is far more usable day-to-day, and provides just as much fun, at lower speeds (and cost). The ST wins this one.