Test Drive: 2015 Ford Focus ST

Batten down the hatches! Ease the sheet! Increase your tire budget!

The yells continued long and loud into night; the revelry gaining in momentum as more and more folks across the land got the news: there was a new Ford coming, and with it, the return of one of the preeminent nameplates in every motorhead’s lexicon.

It’s like when you encounter the stealthy SR-71 Blackbird display at the Smithsonian for the first time; you are aware of its presence, but it somehow exists on a different, ahem, plane than the rest of us.

And no, we’re not talking about the new Mustang, not the new Shelby GT350 variant, either; we’re not even talking about the new GT, all respected Blue Oval brands in their own right. Nay, it’s the letters “R” and “S” we speak of, as in “Rallye Sport”, and soon, they’ll follow “Focus” on tailgates here in Canada, a phenomenon we haven’t seen here from Ford for… well, forever.

It’s an exciting time for RS fans, but here’s the thing: the RS isn’t here yet, and amongst all the hootin’ and hollerin’, it was easy to forget that the performance version of the Focus that we have seen here for quite some time now – the ST – has also been upgraded for 2015. Upcoming RS or not, it should be forgotten about at the peril of those who want bit of bang for their daily commuting buck, a little “oomph” for their grocery run.

Upon first glance, it’s tough to spot the changes for 2015. Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s not that it’s tough to spot the changes; it’s just tough to spot why the new car looks so much more purposeful than the old one does. It’s like when you encounter the stealthy SR-71 Blackbird display at the Smithsonian for the first time; you are aware of its presence, but it somehow exists on a different, ahem, plane than the rest of us.

I’ll do my best to break the new ST down for you.

It’s been given a new hood that now features a nice big tapering bulge down the middle, to hint at the power bursting from within. There are also new headlights (that come standard with LED DRLs on the ST); they’re on hand to help usher in the “New Face of Ford” to the brand’s bread-and-butter model. The grille placement below the headlights is another feature, and the ST gets a blacked-out version as opposed to the metallic items found elsewhere in the lineup. It’s all topped off by optional racing stripes (which our car had, at a cost of $500) and new wheel choices, with the special painted 18-inchers on our tester costing an additional $800. That price includes red-painted brake calipers, too.

Indeed, it looks much more bespoke than the pre-facelift ST did, and you realize how much more you had to strain your eyes to spot the difference between that car and a garden variety focus; recently, upon seeing the last model, I did a double-take that would make Cosmo Kramer proud because I couldn’t believe how tame the thing looked.

That’s no longer the case, and I would hesitate to say that of its contemporaries (think VW GTI or Honda Civic Si), the ’15 ST is the most aggressively styled of the group. Now, whether you like that or not depends if you like the sleeper or Q-car aspect of your chosen ride; if that’s the case, save yourself some money and forego the special wheels and stripes. Nothing you can do about the hood, though. That’s standard.

Of course, it would be one thing if the ST conversion just added some fancy colours and wheels, but a look inside suggests that there’s a whole lot more going on, here.

The charcoal coloured Recaro seats, for instance, are standard fare and my word, do they ever look the business. If you told me we’d be seeing racing seats like this in a Focus when the latest-gen debuted in 2010, I would have thought you’d spent just a little too much time with the Fast and Furious franchise. Now that the Focus’s little Fiesta brother has an ST version of its own, a fast version of the Focus seems like simple maths.

The seating position provided by the Recaros, meanwhile, is a good one; just upright enough without cramming you up against the wheel WRC-style, and with supportive side bolstering. Actually, the side bolstering is quite robust, meaning some may have a harder time clambering out over the sides. That’s the price of performance, I guess.

Other new interior bits include an easier-to-use climate system with bigger buttons (a dual-zone system, as seen here, comes as part of a $1,250 options package), re-aligned cupholders that are easier to reach, and door lock controls moved from the centre stack to the doors, which makes a whole lot more sense.

As far as infotainment goes, our tester had the 8.4-inch MyFord touchscreen option, but you do have to pay $800 to have said screen display a navi system. Your $1,250 also gets you 10-speaker premium audio, and while sound quality is good enough, the way the subwoofer intrudes into the rear hatch (and looks cheap to boot), is less impressive.

Unfortunately, a new ST doesn’t mean a new infotainment system; you’re still stuck with MyFord Touch and its small buttons, unresponsive screen and dull colours. Yes, its quadrant interface is intuitive, but it’s just so durn slow. We’ll have to wait until later this year before we see the newest version of this tech in any Ford, when it debuts in the Blue Oval’s 2016 models.

It’s almost more jarring here, because it is so out of, ahem, sync with the rest of what the Focus ST has to offer.

Power from the 2.0-litre turbocharged Ecoboost four-banger remains unchanged at 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque (I’ll save you the trouble; that’s more than what’s made by the GTI or Civic Si), and you have to believe that Ford didn’t want the ST stepping on the RS’s toes too much when it arrives. Kind of like Porsche does with the Cayman and 911 Coupe, just on a slightly less exotic level.

Plus, when you start to get on the throttle in the ST, I don’t think you’ll be wanting that much more power, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, peak torque arrives at 2,500 rpm, which will have you blistering down your favorite B-road (or A-road… whatever) lickety split. I didn’t find myself asking for more power, really; not to mention that too much more torque would result in more torque steer, which you will feel as there’s no limited-slip differential to even things out under hard acceleration. It’s not even an option, and the wheel tends to get a mind of its own from time to time. It’s nothing so severe that I found myself inadvertently heading toward the hedgerows upon accelerating from stop, but beware during in-gear acceleration.

Leaving corners at speed is the most challenging part, my fighting with the wheel making me feel a little like the car was on rails, the steering wheel’s movements being governed by the front axle. However, while I’ve read reports that have the torque steer making the ST feel like the second coming of the original TS champion, the Euro-market first-gen Focus RS (there are those two letters again…), it’s not a deal-breaker by any means, unless you plan on taking your ST to the track on a regular basis. You just have to know what you’re dealing with, as you do with a RWD monster like the Dodge Challenger Hellcat or Shelby GT500.

Oh, and while the sound through the twin tailpipes may not be quite as apocalyptic as those two, the burble that is emitted is just right, considering the ST’s people-moving, five-door hatchback digs.

While the powertrain hasn’t been changed much, the chassis has been given a comprehensive once-over. There are new front springs, and newly tuned front and rear shocks do their best to keep the sticky 235-section P Zero Neros pressed firmly into the tarmac below. Ford says they’ve also given the electric power steering more feel, but I did find a little more of a dead zone than I’d like. It is responsive, though, providing a darty feel that stops just short of the go-kart attitude of the Fiesta ST.

Ahh, the Fiesta ST. This is where the Focus’s situation gets a little more muddled. While for bigger drivers like myself, the Focus is the better option, the question as to whether it’s worth an additional $5,400 over the Fiesta will always be a bee in the Focus’s bonnet.

The Fiesta handles well, it looks good and it fits in the super-subcompact genre that’s becoming ever so popular these days, especially for the fuel economy–minded city dweller.

But hold on a minute. If fuel economy is a priority, then why would you buy an ST version of the Fiesta—or indeed, a Focus? Why not opt for the versions equipped with the 1.0L EcoBoost three-banger? Both have that option, now (unless you want the Focus hatch, unfortunately) and it’s a very good powertrain. And how many city dwellers want to be rowing a manual transmission all the time? Well, that’s the only way you can have either of the ST models, so you have to deal.

So the fact the Fiesta may be easier to thread through town shouldn’t really be a determining factor.

So, we turn to the dynamics.

I’ve driven both, and the Fiesta is the dartier car, with a slightly quicker steering rack – I’ll give it that. It’s not the faster car, though, and as you start to reach higher speeds, the gap between the two continues to widen.

The Focus also feels the more robust of the two, the Fiesta feeling just that much more toy-like, not as substantial. Add the fact that you get cargo room that’s actually usable in the Focus (if you don’t drop the rear seats, you get 672 L of space in the Focus, and just 285 in the Fiesta – you may as well not have any at all), and the bigger car becomes that much more attractive.

Best bet? If you’re looking for a performance Ford, try them both, and be happy you have the chance to do so.

NRCan Fuel Consumption: 10.2/7.3 city/highway
Observed Fuel Consumption: 10.8 L/100 km

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Honda Civic Si
Mini Cooper S 5-door
Subaru WRX
Volkswagen GTI

2015 Ford Focus ST
articles_PricingType 2015 Ford Focus ST
Base Price $32,014
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,565
Price as Tested $36,829
Optional Equipment $3,150 – Equipment Group 401A (Microsoft Sync with MyFord Touch, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-speaker Sony audio, Sirius XM satellite radio) $1,250, Navigation System $800, 18-inch painted wheels $600 black exterior stripe $500
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.6
7 Comfort
7 Fuel Economy
8 Performance
7 Interior
9 Exterior Styling