Let’s say you’re a young man or woman who would love to have several cars at the same time. For daily commuting, you might want something fuel efficient and easy to park. When it’s time to do some carrying on the weekends, a vehicle with a large cargo hold accessed through a hatch would be very handy. And if you have an affinity for performance, a car with extra horsepower and handling would be just the ticket.
But in the real world, having a car for each need is quite prohibitive in terms of cost and garage space. So it’s beneficial if one car can do it all. I recently spent some time in just such a car: the 2013 Ford Focus ST.
The regular Focus is a pretty nice little car, and the Focus EV is Ford’s first entry into a volume production plug-in electric vehicle. But the ST is the serious performer in the Focus line, a very close sibling to the Focus ST that buyers in Europe have been enjoying for a couple of years.
Under the Focus ST’s hood is a turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder, cranking out 252 horsepower. There was a time when a street legal engine making 100 horsepower per liter was considered impressive – this engine bests that ratio by 25%. Bolted to the hot little engine is a 6-speed manual transmission. Sorry, this is one of those cars that if you can’t shift your own gears, you’ll have to look elsewhere. No automatic is offered on the Focus ST.
Since the Focus is a front wheel drive car, conventional wisdom from those who know their car physics would tell you that putting more than 250 horsepower through front wheels would result in what’s known as “torque steer.” Essentially, that means that the engine’s power can cause the car (via its driven front wheels) to move sideways a bit. Ford’s engineers were able to quash pretty much all of the torque steer out of this car, so feel free to stomp on the gas pedal all you want.
And that I did. I previously had the chance to do some hot laps in a road course in a Focus ST, and in my time behind the wheel on the streets, I put all 252 horsepower to work as often as I could. A bonus from the team that worked on the car is an electronically tuned induction system that emits a deep roar anytime you step hard on the throttle.
While the gearbox is manual, it’s still nice and docile in heavy traffic. The clutch is light, and the gearshift moves as smoothly as the best ones out of Germany. The gear ratios are just perfect for the car’s engine, whether hustling around a race course or just navigating Los Angeles’ rush hour traffic.
Ditto for the suspension. Oftentimes, a performance car is tuned for maximum handling on the track, but in everyday use it’s a bit too stiff. Not so with the Focus ST, as the feeling is one of firmness but not harshness. Even on broken pavement, the car never beats up its driver or passengers.
That driver and the front seat passenger will be treated to wonderful Recaro sport seats if you want to cough up the extra for an option package. They hug you just right, but are purposeful as performance parts. No built-in heaters and no power adjustment – these are a notch shy of the seats you’d find in a pure race car.
But this isn’t some bare bones performance machine by any means. My test car had automatic climate control, full power accessories, and navigation integrated into Ford’s “MyFordTouch” interface. One central screen lets you access the Sync phone connection, the audio system, the climate control, and the navigation function by just tapping a corner of the screen.
Yes, I was really impressed with this car. It just felt “right” in so many ways. The performance, the comfort, and the utility all come together quite nicely. I didn’t test the fuel mileage, but the EPA says that if you drive in a normal fashion, you could potentially expect 23 miles per gallon in city driving and 32 on the highway.
You can also expect a relative bargain price for this hot little Focus. Base MSRP is $23,700, and my almost-fully-loaded test car topped $29,000 with the Recaro seats and all the electronic goodies. Add the $895 optional power sunroof, and you’re right at $30,000.
But remember, this is several cars in one. With that, thirty grand is a steal.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave