Ford Gives Me the Keys to the Focus ST and Fiesta ST, Tells Me to “Have Fun”
There is nothing better than driving someone else’s car. That is my new constant in life, developed after I was invited to test some of Ford’s newest cars. Although standard automobiles like the new Explorer and C-Max MPV were ready to go with keys in the cupholder, I was drawn toward the ST hatchbacks brought for sampling like I was caught in an Imperial tractor beam. After taking a second to adjust the leather Recaro seats and mirrors to fit my lanky 6’4″ body, I exited the parking lot in a brand new Focus ST with a route to the Long Beach, CA annex of Signal Hill laid out not on the Microsoft Sync nav system, but on good old fashioned paper. No traffic on the 405 and a tank full of gas that I didn’t have to pay for meant my right foot got more exercise than usual. After all, why grab a sporty car and not stretch its legs a little bit?
I have driven a Focus ST before, at a small Ford test driving event that saw me hurling the hatch through a second-gear mock autocross course at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. That time, I stalled the car twice in front of about a hundred people, and I exited the car with the windshield wipers convulsing crazily because my arm hit the switch and I couldn’t figure out how to turn the blades off. This time, with no Ford chaperones looking over my shoulder and little instruction more than “have fun,” the experience was much more to my liking. The Focus ST is comparable to my own Volkswagen GTI, so I’ll start with the differences between the two.
First impressions: the Focus ST shifter is a little long for my liking, and taking off from first gear takes a little more revving than I’m used to. The steering wheel felt strange in my hands, but rear visibility is miles ahead of the GTI. With the VW, backing up at night without striking something or someone requires a plea to a higher being; the C pillars on the GTI are super thick and the back and hatch windows are heliophobic. In contrast, a third window in the rear makes seeing behind the Focus ST a cinch, and the rear hatch offers good visibility.
Dynamically, the Focus ST soaks up road irregularities just fine, and even large potholes won’t upset the chassis. Not that you’ll feel it, though, as the power electric steering transmits very little vibration to the wheel no matter what surface the car is on. The GTI, by contrast, never feels too heavy or light, and the road conditions are expertly transmitted to the driver. Road noise is slightly more noticeable in the Focus ST, but the engine growl is as well. It’s a nice, loud rumble with a low-pitched turbo whine thrown in. It doesn’t provide the addictive thump! when shifting gears like the GTI does, but the exhaust note makes holding gears more satisfying than in the VW.
With an unsupervised hour of Focus ST driving under my belt, I flocked to the Fiesta ST, the runt of Ford’s performance family. 197hp is on tap from a turbocharged 1.6L 4 cylinder, but it feels like a lot more. Aside from a few hard plastic touch points, cheaper electronic displays, and the lack of full-leather Recaros, I preferred the Fiesta ST over its bigger brother. The steering wheel felt better in my hands. The shifter (a six-speed manual is the only transmission in either car) was much tighter and throws were much shorter. The stick is physically further away from the driver in the Fiesta ST than the Focus ST, not much of a problem for me personally, but worth noting for others. Takeoff from a stop requires no effort at all, and rev-matched downshifts were much easier for this novice to achieve. There’s way more fun behind the wheel in the Fiesta ST, but younger drivers who prefer a heavy tech influence in the cabin will find the Focus ST more appealing for long-term ownership.
Returning the keys for the ST clan was an inevitable yet difficult task, much harder to do than navigate a city I’ve never entered. I only had about two hours with these cars combined, but I can’t wait till I get behind the wheel again. Would I trade in my GTI for either? Probably not. I had fun in these cars, but both are for people of a younger mindset. Neither are mature, but both offer a more playful experience than my comparatively austere hatchback. I suppose I just want a fun, small car without feeling like I’m desperately holding on to adolescence. At $30,000, the GTI isn’t an inexpensive car (at least, to me) , and I wouldn’t buy a car that I would feel embarrassed to own once it was all paid off. I think I would feel that way about both the Fiesta ST and Focus ST, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth owning, they just aren’t for me. Driving them for a few hours or days, however, is another story. It should be a criminal offense to get the opportunity to drive one of these vehicles and pass on it.
-The Focus ST does not have a tight turning radius. I pulled a U-turn after overshooting my destination, and the Focus swung to the outside edge of the three lane street. The Fiesta ST was much tighter, requiring only two lanes, as does my GTI.
-Both cars are happiest revving above 3,000 RPM.
-The Focus ST has some sort of hill assist feature that keeps the car stopped on graded roads. Helped me not crash into the parked car in front of me as I reversed on a decline.
-I didn’t really like the design of either steering wheel, but the Fiesta’s felt so much better in my hands.
-HVAC controls are much more intuitive in the Fiesta ST.