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Focus on fun: 252-horsepower ST Hot Hatch plays the loud pedal

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Focus on fun: 252-horsepower ST  Hot Hatch plays the loud pedal

The Focus ST is a performance bargain, starting at $24,495.


POSTED June 5, 2013 6:25 p.m.

I feel it necessary to apologize to my fellow motorists for some “loud pedal” driving.

I’ve just finished a week in the Focus ST, which is a 252-horsepower version of Ford’s workhorse compact. The ST gets a performance tuning with special steering, brakes, suspension and a little device called a “sound symposer.”

There’s no supposing about it. It takes the vibe of the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and gives it a bear-cub bleat that sounds like it’s coming from a much larger beast.

The husky sound comes on only with a sharp push on the throttle. And when you hear it, it’s almost impossible not to induce more throttle action. It’s not a blatty exhaust, it’s a device on the engine -- but the power is real.

The ST package is a sweet grouping to flex the claws of this cub. It scoots, steers and stops like a much more expensive sports car. And with 270 foot-pounds of torque at an eager 2,500 rpm, the ST has street cred.

It seems to enjoy being pushed to the bellowing point. It cuts and dives like a pro and has the binders to match, 12.6-inch rotors at the front and 10.6 inches at the rear.

It may even be a bargain. Pricing starts at $24,495, including the $795 freight charge from Michigan.

It’s a fun car with fun colors, including Tangerine Scream, Performance Blue, Race Red and White.

ST-specific perks include Recaro front seats, a ST steering wheel and gauges with red needles, metal-trimmed pedals and a black headliner. There are also are dual-exhaust tips, fog lights, a black grille and halogen headlights.

The ST is available only as a front-wheel-drive, five-door hatchback with a six-speed manual transmission.

It is the American descendant of a “legendary” European model -- long out of reach of U.S. enthusiasts. This is the first time Ford has placed an EcoBoost engine in a high-performance model. The Euro ST used a five-cylinder.

The direct-injection 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine has a top speed of 154-mph and Motor Trend got 0-60 in 5.9 seconds. Fuel economy is 23 mpg city, 32 highway and 26 mpg combined. It takes premium fuel for peak power and this baby deserves the best nutrition.

When stepping hard on the loud pedal, hold onto the wheel with both hands. The engine throws down some righteous torque steer in first and second. The pull is primarily to the right as the front wheels scramble for traction.

The integrity of the Focus platform makes the ST ideal for a sport treatment. It is solid and unwavering. I never missed a shift with the short-throw linkage. There’s good range in first, second and third gears with just small rpm drops between fourth through sixth.

At speed on the Interstate, the cabin is remarkably quiet and the ride quality is compliant. My biggest gripe was the nearly 40-foot turning circle, but the meaty (and wide) tires get respect.

At track events, there are three modes to the stability control, highlighted by Sport when the system activates only when necessary. There’s also Off, for no electronic traction or stability intervention.

While the Recaro seats are good for weekend Solo II slaloming, the deeply bolstered seats could be restrictive to some in the daily commute.

The hot-hatch group is a small club with credentialed members, including the Fiat 500 Abarth, Mazdaspeed3 and Volkswagen GTI. The ST continues the legend for Ford.

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