2014 Ford Focus ST review

The Ford Focus ST is good to look at and good to drive but when compared to the exceptionally lively VW GTI, it falls flat, as it feels like a copy of a copy.
The Ford Focus ST is good to look at and good to drive but when compared to the exceptionally lively VW GTI, it falls flat, as it feels like a copy of a copy.
The Ford Focus ST is good to look at and good to drive but when compared to the exceptionally lively VW GTI, it falls flat, as it feels like a copy of a copy.

Highs

  • Straight-line acceleration
  • Cornering
  • Interior quietness
  • Recaro racing bucket seats
  • Precise-shifting manual transmission

Lows

  • Engine noises pumped through firewall
  • Carp-like front-end styling

DT Editors' Rating

Hot hatches are finally ‘in’ in America. For those of you who don’t know what a ‘hot hatch’ is, it’s essentially a hatchback sports car that lives in two worlds.

The little spoiler at the back tells onlookers that there’s something special going on under the skin.

In one world, it’s an efficient five-door when you need to move some stuff or get to work. In its other world, it’s a whiplash-inducing sports car perfectly primed for when you’re ready to have some fun. For many of us automotive nerds, hot hatches are the best of both worlds.

Although the hot hatch breed has been popular in Europe for decades, it wasn’t until recently that the cars caught on in America. 

Now that they’re here, though, the race is on.

For the first time ever, Ford has a car – the Focus ST – to answer the long-reining Volkswagen GTI. But can the American-built micro bruiser hold up to the Teutonic magnetism of the vee-dub? Let’s find out.

Exterior

At first glance, there’s no denying the visual charms of the ST. It has sleek lines and looks both light and substantial at the same time. I don’t know how the Ford designers did it.

The little spoiler at the back tells onlookers that there’s something special going on under the skin. The gaping grille mouth in the front might appear carp-like, but it serves a cooling purpose. The bright color options that tell people you’re here to shout pair well with the brightly colored ST logo tucked low into the corner of the grille and in the back on the hatch lid.

2013 Ford Focus ST back window

Say what you will about the exterior. Let’s face facts, though, as the owner, you won’t spend much time looking at it. Well, at least not much of it. You’ll spend the majority of your time behind the wheel looking out over the sloped hood. So let’s pop that puppy and see what it’s packing.

Under the hood

Ford put the 252-horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque version of its 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine between the frame rails of the Focus ST. Good for 23 mpg city and 32 highway, the EcoBoost will bundle the ST to a top speed of 154 mph, which isn’t too bad. Heck, it’s fast enough to send you to Federal prison here in the U.S.

Where the Focus ST feels like a copy of a copy, the GTI is a living, breathing wild soul.

Bolted to the ‘Boost is a six-speed manual that offers crisp, confident shifts without much worry or fuss.

Beneath that powerplant package is a variable ratio electronic steering rack that automatically lightens up on the straights and quickens up in the corners. Ford says that, thanks to the electric steering, drivers can firmly grip the steering wheel through tight turns, which maximizes control of the car. I agree. But I am also not sure how this is different than any other car. No matter. Let’s move onto the part of the car where the steering wheel is located.

The interior

The cabin of the Focus ST is an interesting place. It’s undoubtedly modern. The fit and finish is miles ahead of Fords of the early 2000s. At the same time, however, it’s almost cartoonish. Everything is big and bulbous and sort of silly looking. I believe in taking risks but this risk has failed Ford.

Aside from the visual rotundness of the interior bits, the rest is rather pleasing. The Recaro sport seats hug you tightly without the normal uncomfortable feeling of race-like seating. They’re well cushioned and allow the driver and front passenger to sit up straight during hard cornering.

Many mean things have been said about MyFord Touch SYNC. I had no issues with the system this go-round. Bluetooth smartphone integration was simple. Working the hundreds of system menus was fairly easy. And the thing isn’t too bad to look at – even if the primary color scheme is a bit annoying.

The best part of the Focus ST interior, however, is its quietness. Many small, relatively inexpensive cars – from all ends of the earth – suffer from loud cabins, low NVH. Ford has focused in on fixing this issue, one that used to plague the American automaker, and essentially sorted the problem. No matter the speed, your senses won’t be inundated with wind and tire-caused white noise. It’s lovely.

One downside to this quietness is that designers had to pipe engine sounds into the cabin through a tube in the firewall. This makes sense, though. You don’t want your $29,000 hot hatch to whisper around the road like a Rolls-Royce. You want it to be shout-y and a bit repugnant.

Accordingly, the Focus ST sounds very sporty indeed, as its interior speakers send engine sounds at the driver during acceleration.

On the road

Ford has been making noise about torque vectoring, which uses electrons and math to solve front-wheel drive torque-steer issues, for many years now. Not too long ago, anytime Ford put more than 17 horsepower in a front-wheel drive car, the thing would rip around and try to go off the road at full throttle.

Off-the-line acceleration is impressive and will put a smile on most anyone’s face.

The torque vectoring system of the Focus ST was supposed to solve all that. And it has – nearly.

Yes, straight-line acceleration is much improved in the ST and you can tell the wheels are able to put down nearly all 252 ponies to the pavement. You still need to fight the steering wheel a bit, though. It still wants to lightly pull the wheel from your hands when you get on it.

If you keep the wheel straight, off-the-line acceleration is impressive and will put a smile on most anyone’s face.

While you’re giving the throttle all the beans, the artificial engine sounds that the stereo puts out are good. You can tell, though, they’re not quite real. It sounds like as if someone at Ford described over the phone to an audio engineer what a throaty four-cylinder sounds like at full throttle. And what he’s come up with is quite convincing. It’s still not authentic enough for my tastes, though.

2013 Ford Focus ST front 2

For the first time, cornering is impeccable in the Focus. I never once felt that I was pushing past the car’s traction limits. The body stayed flat and planted through the bends.

Conclusion

The Focus ST ticks all the boxes on my new car checklist. It has all the bits. It looks pretty snazzy. It goes pretty well and handles even better. The inside is quiet and spacious. And it’s affordable.

When I stand back and look at it, though, I can’t help but feel like something is missing.

The analogy I used earlier, about the artificial engine sounds that are piped into the cabin, comes to mind. Like the routed-to-the-cabin-routed engine sounds, the Focus ST doesn’t feel real.

It certainly tangible but there’s something slightly off about it. It’s like the Ford boys crowded around a phone in a conference room in Detroit one afternoon and listened to a Brit explain to them how a hot hatch should sound, look, and drive.

They took detailed notes and executed it courageously. The result, I’m afraid, still feels phony. It’s not fully authentic.

I’ve driven the all-new Euro-spec mk7 GTI and although it’s not yet on sale in the U.S., it trounces the 2014 Focus ST. Not in any one way but just over all. It’s more fun than the Focus. It’s more alive. Where the Focus ST feels like a copy of a copy, the GTI is a living, breathing wild soul.

Yes, the Focus ST is a brilliant car. I just wouldn’t buy one.

Highs

  • Straight-line acceleration
  • Cornering
  • Interior quietness
  • Recaro racing bucket seats
  • Precise-shifting manual transmission

Lows

  • Engine noises pumped through firewall
  • Carp-like front-end styling
Cars

Tesla brings track mode to Model 3 Performance

The new Track Mode introduced for the Tesla 3 Performance model adds stability to the drive while you're behind the wheel and is specifically designed for driving on closed track courses.
Cars

Born to run (forever): The most reliable cars you can buy right now

We all dread the thought of our car turning into a money pit, but choosing a dependable vehicle from the start can help us rack up countless care-free miles. Here, we've rounded up some of the most reliable cars available.
Cars

Our favorite fuel-efficient cars are as frugal as they are fun

You don't need to opt for a hybrid or an all-electric ride in order to achieve good fuel economy. These vehicles pack both performance and style, whether you're in the market for a luxury sedan or a game-changing pickup truck.
Cars

From Rolls-Royce to Lamborghini, these are the most expensive cars in the world

If you recently discovered an oil reserve in your backyard, you probably have some extra cash to spend. Look no further, because we’ve rounded up the most expensive cars in the world.
Cars

Out of juice? Learn how to jump-start a car with this quick guide

Jumping a car is a simple procedure, but not everyone knows how to properly do so. To make things easier, we've put together a quick-hit guide on how to fire up your vehicle using jumper cables and a second power source.
Cars

Prep your car for the coming snow and sleet with these cold weather tips

Driving in the winter, whether downtown or across the country, is rarely easy. Luckily, we've put together a quick rundown of a few things you should do to winterize your car before the snow officially hits.
Cars

Many adults believe fully self-driving cars are already traversing U.S. highways

The American Automobile Association tested cars with features such as lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control and found them lacking in real-world conditions. Forty percent of surveyed U.S. adults think self-driving cars exist now.
Digital Trends Live

DT Daily: Waymo’s driverless cars, ‘Fallout 76’ tips, and Racella

In today's episode of DT Daily, we discuss Waymo's foray into the ridesharing sector, along with various tips for making the most of the recently launched Fallout 76. We also sit down with singer Racella to chat about her new EP, Waves.
Cars

Want to keep connected on the road? Here are 5 ways to add Bluetooth to your car

The best way to make an old ride feel young again is to bring it up speed with the 21st century. Here's how to properly add Bluetooth to your vehicle, via independent kits, vehicle adapters, or aftermarket head units.
Cars

Jeep’s outdoorsy Gladiator pickup truck bares it all ahead of schedule

Jeep will introduce the long-promised Wrangler-based pickup truck at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show. Named Gladiator, the model was designed to conquer the great outdoors, not for the construction site.
Cars

The hamster-friendly 2020 Kia Soul will rock out at the Los Angeles Auto Show

Kia has released a teaser image to preview the next Soul. Scheduled to make its debut at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, the 2020 Soul will keep the outgoing model's boxy proportions but it will wear a sharper design.
Cars

2020 Toyota Corolla sedan aims to offer sharper handling, better tech

The 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan gets the same upgrades as the recently-introduced Corolla hatchback, including a firmer foundation, new engine, and more tech features. Will that be enough to keep the long-lived Corolla nameplate relevant?
Cars

Startup Rivian exits stealth mode with a bold promise to electrify off-roaders

Electric car startup Rivian has finally turned off stealth mode and provided details about what it's been working on since 2009. It will build battery-powered off-roaders instead of taking on Tesla and others in the luxury EV segment.
Cars

Honda will squeeze another model into its SUV lineup at the Los Angeles show

Honda will introduce a new SUV with a familiar nameplate at the 2018 Los Angeles auto show. It envisioned the 2019 Passport as a five-seater alternative to the eight-seater Pilot. The two models will share a platform and many tech features.