Ford Focus ST's noisy, harsh ride best left for enthusiasts
A couple of cliches long used by auto enthusiasts --"pocket rocket" and "boy racer" -- seem to be going out of fashion, thank goodness.
The terms generally referred to small, relatively inexpensive and sometimes modified cars with better performance than their peers. Although the jargon has waned, such cars are still available, though they are few.
The granddaddy of the genre is the Volkswagen GTI, a hopped up version of the Volkswagen Golf. There are others: the Mazdaspeed3, Honda Civic Si, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Hyundai Veloster Turbo and the subject here, the 2013 Ford Focus ST.
Some commentators might also include the new Scion FRS and Subaru BRZ, although they are purpose built sports cars, not performance versions of existing cars.
The ST starts out as a Ford Focus four-door hatchback, but gets what the company calls its Sport Technologies (ST) treatment. It includes a 252-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. An automatic transmission is not available.
It also includes suspension system modifications, fat performance tires and, to grip the torsos of the driver and passengers during high-speed lurching around curves, Recaro sport seats. They have bolsters so prominent you feel as if you're strapped into an infant seat. But you'd better be of average or skinny girth. Plus-size people simply won't fit.
Once you are folded in for a road outing, the Recaro design coddles the body and becomes comfortable and familiar, allowing you to focus on the driving excitement. To aid the experience, three gauges sit at the top of the dash to tell you the oil pressure and temperature, and the boost of the turbocharger.
You don't need the last one. Punch the accelerator pedal and you know without a doubt when the turbo kicks in and presses your body against the seatback. Car and Driver magazine clocked the zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time at 6.3 seconds, with a governed top speed of 148.
However, when you pop the clutch there is a disconcerting "clunk" as the power gets to the front wheels and the fat tires grab the pavement. In a rear drive sports car like a Ford Mustang, it would be called axle tramp.
There's also some of that jerky reaction called torque steer, which usually occurs when you're turning the steering wheel while accelerating. The front-drive ST wants to rocket straight ahead so you have to fight to keep the wheel from jumping out of your hands.
It's all part of the entertainment, however, and you soon learn to accommodate the ST's personality while enjoying its other refinements. When you're not fighting the torque steer, the ST is poised around corners with good feedback through the steering wheel.
The clutch engages easily and the shift linkage is slick and positive, so it's possible to drive smoothly regardless of whether you're tooling leisurely around town or trying to smoke the guy in the VW GTI next to you.
However, the stirring experience comes with a drawback: a harsh ride and noisy interior. The racket is pronounced during hard acceleration and there's a noticeable -- and perhaps annoying --drone on a long highway drive.
Performance notwithstanding, the Focus ST comes across as a practical vehicle. Though marketed as a compact, it qualifies as a midsize car under the government's definition, with 91 cubic feet of space for passengers and a whopping 24 cubic feet for cargo under the hatch. Folding the rear seatbacks increases the space to 45 cubic feet, although the seatbacks do not align with the cargo floor.
The outboard seats in back are suitable for average sized humans, with generous headroom and adequate knee room. The occasional center-rear passenger suffers from an absence of foot space, though the seat bottom is at least squishy enough to avoid major discomfort.
On the minus side of the ledger are the lack of a rear-view camera, sun visors that do not slide on their support rods to block sun from the side, and Ford's improved MyTouch and Sync infotainment systems, which still require too much focus from the driver.
The Focus ST, with all its power, delivers 23/32/26 mpg on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycles. It supposedly does that on regular gasoline, though enthusiasts will want the extra horsepower from using premium fuel.
Base price is $24,495. With options that included the MyFord Touch, satellite and HD radio, and dual-zone climate control, the test car had a sticker price of $27,795.
Model: 2013 Ford Focus ST four-door hatchback.
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 252 horsepower.
Transmission: Six-speed manual with front-wheel drive.
Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/24 cubic feet.
Weight: 3,219 pounds.
EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/32/26 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $24,495.
Price as tested: $27,795.