• By: Neil Moore

Focus ST continues adding sizzle to Ford lineup

Photos by Neil Moore / Feature photo: A large, black grille, swept-back headlamps and steeply-raked windshield give Focus ST the impression of forward motion.

If you’re going to build a hot hatch, it should be based on one worthy of the added muscle and exterior bling. On appearances alone, Ford Focus makes the grade.

But it hasn’t always been such a looker. Prior to its current third generation, there was a sharply-dressed European Focus and its frumpy North American cousin. I’m glad Ford finally ditched the domestic wallflower, and went with a fetching global model in 2011.

In this market, Focus comes in a variety of flavours from mild to uber spicy, encompassing 10 trim levels and five powertrains – with 2018 pricing that spans $17,578 to $58,888.

Focus offers a generous 660 litres of cargo space behind the rear 60/40 bench. This expands to 1,243 litres with seats folded.

Focus also includes the choice of sedan or hatchback, but the hot-rodded ST – my tester for the week – only comes with five doors.

At $33,698, the ST is a steep climb from the base hatchback, which starts at $21,568 for the SE – one rung up from the entry “S” trim level that’s only available in the sedan.

The SE, SEL ($24,088) and Titanium ($26,908), are all powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre four cylinder that produces 160 hp and 146 lb/ft of torque. The ST gets a twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0 litre that delivers plenty more juice – 252 hp and 270 lb/ft of torque.

One might think that’s as good as it gets in this lineup. But there’s still the Focus RS with its 2.3-litre twin-turboed four cylinder that pumps out a whopping 350 hp and 350 lb/ft of torque. Including freight and taxes, it starts north of $60K for 2018. Mine’s far more affordable – yet still loads of fun.

Step on the pedal, and the ST comes to life with a growl, building to an angry snarl as you climb in revs. It’s addictive, and using the slick-shifting six-speed manual (the only transmission offered) there’s a tendency to hold on to each gear as long as possible, getting the most from the 2.0-litre’s powerband – and from the sonorous low-flow exhaust system.

The latter is enhanced by a “sound symposer,” a feature that has its share of critics, although I fail to see why. This isn’t faux noise coming via the speakers, but through a pipe that connects engine bay to cabin. Punch the throttle, and a valve opens to allow in the melody from its induction manifold.

Suspension tuning is on the stiff side, but it’s not abusive over rough pavement. And it can be a bit tail-happy in hard cornering. This is uncommon for front-drive setups – even the sporting variety – which is why the ST is better in the hands of experienced drivers. Those who can appreciate, and control, its tendency to oversteer.

That being said, this Focus is otherwise well composed thanks to its independent multilink rear suspension with stabilizer bar. Steering is a variable-ratio rack that requires more effort at high speeds, and provides more feedback during cornering.

Inside, the dash/console layout is functional, although looking a bit dated. The carbon-fibre accent package, however, delivers a nice pop in the door handles, parking brake lever and shift knob.

Dash layout is functional, but dated. The carbon fibre accents, and angled mini gauges atop the centre stack are a nice touch.

Also making up for the abundance of plastic are a pair of leather Recaros. Adorned with the ST logo, these front buckets are as attractive as they are comfortable with deep bolstering that grabs you in the corners, and provides a feeling that you’re really connected to the vehicle. They are also heated, and include eight-way power for the driver, and two-way manual for the passenger.

Back seats work for most passengers, and to help matters, front seatbacks have been carved out to provide extra knee room.

Keeping in mind the $30K-plus pricepoint, the ST offers a few perks: 10-speaker Sony audio, eight-inch touchscreen with SYNC 3 infotainment, power moonroof, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, smart key with pushbutton start, and a nifty, angled gauge cluster atop the centre stack.

There are also practical features, like fold-down 60/40 rear seats that expand the 660-litre cargo hold (enough for a full load of groceries), to a generous 1,243 litres.

Comparisons will naturally be made with Golf GTI, which is the benchmark among hot hatches. No doubt VW has crafted a more refined interior – not to mention superb driving dynamics – but I find the Focus exterior a little sharper. And it too is a blast to drive.

There’s also Civic Si, Elantra Sport, and others, all confirming that this segment is alive and well, with plenty of options for those with family responsibilities. And who still love to drive.

Red brake calipers peek out from behind the ST’s 18-inch alloy wheels. A large roof spoiler and centre-mounted twin exhausts add a sporting touch.

SNAPSHOT: Ford Focus ST 2017/2018
BODY STYLE: compact hatchback
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, front-wheel-drive
ENGINE: twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-litre four cylinder (252 hp and 270 lb/ft of torque)
TRANSMISSION: six-speed manual
CARGO: 660 litres behind rear seats, 1,243 with seats folded
FUEL ECONOMY: 10.5/7.8/9.3 L/100 km (city/hwy/comb)
PRICING (2018):  ST $33,698. See website for detailed option pricing. Freight and taxes extra.
WEBSITE: www.ford.ca