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2015 Ford Focus ST First Drive

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2/3/2015 John Murry
2015 Ford Focus ST First Drive

Did someone spike the watercooler in Dearborn with steroids? Because Ford woke up one morning and decided to flex its muscles in everyone's faces. At the Detroit show, Ford squashed its rivals' pitiful showings by revealing the 450-hp F-150 Raptor, the Shelby GT350R Mustang, and the new GT supercar in a head-spinning few minutes that had hacks scrambling for fresh superlatives.

But this wasn't just a flash-in-the-pan, willy-waving exercise to steal its hometown show. Ford has fully committed itself to an unprecedented rollout of 12 new performance cars by 2020. All of those will be developed under the new global Ford Performance banner that brings together racing, performance vehicles, and parts to spread costs and deliver more fast Fords, erm, faster.

We sat down with Tyrone Johnson, senior vehicle engineer for Ford Performance, who explained just how the master plan will work. "There will be three categories that each of these 12 cars will fall into," he said. "Enhanced technology -- models like the Fiesta ST and Focus ST. High performance -- things like the F-150 Raptor, Mustang GT350R, and Focus RS. And then ultra high-performance, which is the new GT." We already know a psychotic four-wheel-drive Focus RS will be added to that list in the coming weeks, but today we're focusing on lowest rung of the ladder.

Some photos depict Euro-spec Focus STs, including the not-for-U.S.-sale wagon.

2015 Ford Focus ST© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Ford Focus ST In line with the rest of the Focus range (now the world's best-selling nameplate), the ST has received a comprehensive midlife face-lift both to the exterior and interior styling and to the more interesting bits underneath. Ford hasn't been drawn into a power war with higher-powered European rivals such as the 280-hp Vauxhall Astra VXR or the 275-hp Renaultsport Megane. Instead it has stuck with a round 250 hp from its 2.0-liter, direct-injection, turbocharged EcoBoost engine. It's still only available with a six-speed manual gearbox, which could hamper its sales prospects over here, but new front springs, firmer dampers all around, a quicker steering ratio, and newly developed Michelin tires (only available on the 19-inch wheel) are all included to enhance the ST's handling.

Ford has thrown in a curveball, too. In Europe and other selected markets around the world, you can now have your Focus ST with a 185-hp 2.0 TDCi diesel engine. Ford says the diesel's trump card is its fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 56 mpg and 0.39 lb/mi of CO2 and that it's identical in every way to the gas model (except for straight-line performance and an unavoidable extra 40 pounds in the nose), but more on that later.

2015 Ford Focus ST© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Ford Focus ST Back to the gas model: The performance gap is wider than the identikit looks and mechanicals suggest. The 0-62-mph scramble takes 6.5 seconds (versus 8.1 seconds for the diesel), and top speed is 154 mph. In a world that includes the 367-hp, four-wheel-drive Audi RS3 hatchback capable of crushing 0-62 mph in 4.3 seconds, that might not seem particularly fast, but in anything other than a straight line it's still plenty to keep your hands twirling, feet tapping, and eyes bulging.

Without a front limited-slip differential, the electronic torque vectoring system does its best to lightly brake the wheel with the least grip, but wheelspin is virtually unavoidable even on a bone-dry surface. On the wet Spanish mountain passes we encountered, caution was the way forward. Carry too much speed into an apex, or jump on the throttle too early, and the front tires break loose, forcing the nose straight on rendering the steering wheel useless in your hands.

Exercise patience, though, find the grip, and the ST's balance and poise is second to none. It feels flat, planted, and secure at anything up to 10 tenths, at which point that understeer, or lift-off oversteer, comes into play. Regardless of how hard you're pushing, though, the engine fizzes away under the bonnet, responding immediately to your right foot and producing a just enough of a growl to keep you interested.

With less grunt at its disposal, the diesel feels more secure and manageable on wet roads but less of a firework when the surface is sticky. It changes direction, steers, and hangs on every bit as well, though, so we like to think of it as ST Lite. Ford has even managed to dial in an impressive synthetic snarl that's pumped in through the speakers and responds not just to throttle position but also engine revs, speed, and overall driving style, making it the most convincing of its type we've tested so far.

2015 Ford Focus ST© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Ford Focus ST Electromechanical steering systems are bemoaned for their lack of feedback and artificial feel, but Ford's recalibration team has worked a little bit of magic on the ST. By dialing up the ratio, the front end reacts instantaneously to the tiniest twitch of your wrists, which takes some getting used to but quickly means you're diving into corners will little more than a flick. There's a meaty weight to the wheel, too, and without a plethora of driving modes to adjust the steering and throttle response, it's delightfully simple to just jump in and drive. The same could be said of the manual gearbox that snaps beautifully between the six ratios, adding another layer of interaction between the driver and machine.

2015 Ford Focus ST© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Ford Focus ST

Lovers of the smart and sensible VW Golf GTI are unlikely to fall for the ST's styling. Available in a palette of eye-watering colors, it now comes with 18- or 19-inch wheels, bigger intakes in the front bumper, slimmer headlights and a tweaked roof spoiler. Inside, Ford has ditched the old car's confusing mass of switchgear and replaced much of it with an 8-inch touchscreen on top-spec models running the Sync 2 system. Differentiating it from the standard model are partial or full-leather two-tone Recaro sports seats that strike a perfect balance between soft and supportive, and illuminated door plaques light the way on a dark night.

The Focus ST might be confined to the beginners group in Ford's global performance car plan, but don't let that fool you. This is a hot hatchback undiluted in its quest for global appeal, tuned to deliver sharp responses and a snap of acceleration when required and long-legged cruising ability when not. As a starting point for all future fast Fords, it's a big win for the Blue Oval.

2015 Ford Focus ST© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Ford Focus ST

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