Quick Drive: 2016 Ford Focus ST: The Sensible Sports Car
So you’ve reached a point in life when you need a “sensible car.” You’re newly married, there’s a baby on the way, and the Mustang/Camaro/BRZ/Miata in the driveway just isn’t going to cut it anymore — welcome to adulthood! But wait; you don’t have to follow the herd and run to buy the latest nondescript crossover, or go in the complete opposite direction and buy an eight-seat minivan. Thankfully there are a number of fun to drive cars out there that also pass as sensible that will keep you and your spouse happy, while still giving the outward appearance of being a respectable grown-up.
Or maybe that isn’t the case at all. Maybe you just want a Ford Focus ST because it’s one of the best driver’s cars in the world.
Of course, it does help that it’s practical, and it won’t break the bank either. But don’t let its $25K base price fool you, or think it’s diminished somehow now that the first of the big dog Focus RSs are arriving at dealerships now. The ST is one of the greats out there; it’s a world-class performance car for the masses — a true race on Sunday, commute on Monday car with room for the kids and enough space to make a Home Depot run on the way home from work. It isn’t often that you can have everything, but with the ST, it feels about as close as you’re going to get with a car.
But the ST wouldn’t be as great if the base Focus wasn’t such a solid starting point. Designed by Ford in Europe, the five-seater is surprisingly lithe, with a firm suspension, minimal body roll, and surprisingly direct steering. But if there’s one weak point, it’s power, something the ST does a tremendous job sorting.
The 2.0-liter EcoBoost four in the ST makes 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, sending all of it through the front wheels. It’s a big jump from the 160 horsepower naturally-aspirated four in the standard Focus, and a quantum leap from the available 123-horsepower 1.0-liter three cylinder. Torque steer may be a bitch, but a revised suspension, bigger brakes, and a revised aero kit all work to make that small potatoes compared to the thrill you get behind the wheel.
You don’t exactly slide into the optional leather Recaro seats in the ST so much as you climb into them. They’re firm and aggressively bolstered, and don’t feel that different from the ones in the Shelby GT350 Mustang — in short, they’re perfect. Other than the carbon fiber accent package (a pricey but worthwhile option), and trio of gauges on top of the dash (turbo boost, oil temp, and oil pressure), there isn’t much to distinguish it from any other stylish, tech-focused Focus interior, something that may come in handy when you’re trying to sell your better half on the car.
There’s something groan-worthy about most street cars with racing stripes, but the black stripes on our Tangerine Scream ST suited it to a tee. Press the start button, and the engine barks to life with a rasp that wouldn’t be out of place on the WRC rally circuit. The aero kit is subtle but helps give the car its angry and purposeful look, plus it looks like it actually does keep the car planted to the road at speed, and that big blackout grille with the red ST badge is the stuff attainable performance car dreams are made of.
The six-speed manual is a gem, and paired with that torquey EcoBoost, it isn’t hard to have a serious Walter Mitty moment and imagine that you’re passing for the lead at the Rallye Monte Carlo — even if you’re just angling around a parked work truck on a sleepy country road. The aforementioned carbon fiber accents (including cue ball-style shifter) and sweeping boost gauge only add to the fantasy. Zero to 60 comes in a respectable 6.3 seconds, but the ST really shines in the corners. Like its bigger Ford Performance stablemates, the Focus hunkers down in the bends, sticking to the road, and giving you near-total confidence in the car. It’s easy to get used to, and once you get used to it, it isn’t long before you fall head-over-heels for it.
We only had about 40 minutes with the ST, but it was enough to make a big impression on us. Maybe its the millennial in us talking, but it delivers a rare driving experience you want to share with people. “Have you driven one yet?!” we ask our friends, half aware that we’re paraphrasing the old Ford tag line from when we were kids. “You need to. Seriously it’s great.” And it is.
Ford consolidated its global performance programs into the Ford Performance division in 2014, and since then, the company’s developed arguably the best lineup of sports cars in the world. From the entry-level Fiesta ST hatch to the GT endurance racer, the Blue Oval has taken the best aspects from its models across the globe and brought them under one umbrella. And as consumers, we get to benefit from the embarrassment of riches. The Focus ST is the rare performance car that’s as exciting as it is practical. It can transform mundane daily driving duties into an event, and that’s something that most automakers would kill to be able to do. If you’re in the market for a sensible five-door hatch, take an ST for a spin and try not to fall in love. If you don’t, you might need to check your pulse.
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