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Affordable And Comfortable Fun: 2018 Ford Focus ST

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It's amazing what you can get these days for around $26 grand.

American hot hatch enthusiasts were smitten when Ford launched its global Focus ST in 2012. The Volkswagen Golf GTI was finally to receive some much-needed competition, especially since the MazdaSpeed3 was due to end production after 2013. Ford clearly did its homework extremely well because this very same Focus ST is still on sale today, having received a mid-life refresh in 2015. The Focus ST was that good from the get-go, and the results speak for themselves.

So why is the Focus ST the subject of today's feature profile and not, say, the Fiesta ST or Focus RS? Like the previous Honda Civic Si and Subaru WRX features, this series is all about the combination of value, comfort, and fun. The Focus RS is not cheap with its $41,000 base price, and the Fiesta ST, as much as we adore it, can be too small to accommodate a family's needs. The Focus ST fits perfectly in between the two in terms of power output and general daily drivability. Unlike the Focus RS, however, the Focus ST is front-wheel drive only, as is the Fiesta ST. As handy as all-wheel drive is, it's not always a necessity for some buyers, and in the case of the Focus ST versus the Focus RS, perhaps not even affordable.

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Powered by a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter inline-four with 252 hp available at 5500 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 2500 rpm, the sole gearbox is a six-speed manual. Its arch rival, the Volkswagen GTI, however, offers both a six-speed as well as an optional dual-clutch, for what it's worth. When it came time for the 2015 updates, the automaker went directly to Ford Team RS, the European team of Ford's Global Performance Vehicle group, to further improve the ST's chassis. This resulted in new front springs, sportier damping characteristics, and retuned electric power steering for better feedback. The engine and transmission, however, were left alone because why mess with something if it ain't broken.

The end result is a hot hatchback that truly earns its driver's car credentials. What the Focus ST is not, however, is a drag racer. Ford claims a 0-60 mph time of 6.3 seconds, a standing quarter-mile of 14.9 seconds at 94 mph, and a top speed of around 150 mph. By comparison, the VW GTI (with the stick) sprints from a standstill to 60 in 4.9 seconds, standing quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds at 100 mph, and a top speed of 126 mph, though it's electronically limited. The point here is that Focus ST buyers are generally not much interested in going fast down a straightway, but rather appreciate the art of driving itself, whether it being on a twisty canyon road or an autocross circuit.

Like the GTI, the ST also offers owners all of the practicalities of a five-door hatchback. It's a car that can easily handle family needs and still provide immense satisfaction for its driver. Another notable improvement made for 2015, aside from slightly refreshed front and rear styling, is a freshened interior. While the previous dash layout was pleasant enough, the VW GTI's was still seen as better. To counter this, Ford added upgrades such as a flat-bottom steering wheel, a redesigned center stack with an improved climate-control interface, and a new center console with increased storage. Even the cup holders were tweaked.

Available in three packages, ST1, ST2 and ST3, buyers can also opt for upgraded 18-inch machined-aluminum wheels ($495), all-season tires ($30), or far more expensive things like the Sync3 infotainment system ($3,680), Recaro leather seats, heated side view mirrors and steering wheel, and an 8-way power driver's seat, all part of a combined package for $5,650. Even though the Focus ST's base price is a darn reasonable $26,045, tacking on options and the ST3 package will boost the final bill to over $32,000. However, the STI package is certainly no slouch, as it offers the same engine and tranny combo along with 18-inch wheels, ST logo cloth seats, as opposed to leather, and upgraded exhaust.

The Ford Focus ST is an overall wonderful package regardless if you pony up the extra cash for some options. Is it the fastest hot hatch out there? No way. Best-looking? That's subjective. What can't be argued is that it's a lot of fun for not a serious amount of money that can serve as a family's main transportation, if needed. It's simply a winning formula.