We'll remember 2012 as being a banner year for driving enthusiasts. The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ twins took to the road, closely followed by the Ford Focus ST, a model whose track prowess we recently captured on video.
The ST is Ford's answer to the Volkswagen GTI, a legendary poster child for the hot hatch segment—a fun-to-drive, practical, and affordable pocket rocket.
Full disclosure: I have a soft spot for the hot V-Dub because I've owned two of them. But I'll be the first to admit that when it comes to the fun factor, the Focus ST decimates my old GTIs.
Unlike today's subtle GTI, the ST isn't bashful about its intentions, especially our "Tangerine Scream"-colored sample. It looks poised and hunkered down. Starting the engine leaves no doubt to the car's intentions; the deep and throaty exhaust bark means business.
With an abundance of torque at low- to mid-rpms, the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine delivers a decisive and effortless punch that seems unrelenting. The thrust just keeps on coming in every gear. The shifter is precise, and its low effort adds to the ST's fun factor. And as long as you apply judicious power, you're not going to experience the torque steer that compromises some other high-strung front-wheel drive competitors (consult your driving-impressions encyclopedia under Mazdaspeed3). And, again, there is that sound, which adds just the right tingle and baritone, and puts a huge smile on your face.
Handling is terrific with immediate turn-in response and virtually no lean. The steering may not be as sublime as that of the original Focus SVT we tested (and many of us loved dearly) in 2002, but it's well-weighted.
To explore the ST means driving it at its limits on a track, where it convincingly poses as a rear-wheel drive play thing, with a spontaneous willingness to get sideways. You can practically drift this car, which is very unusual—I can count the number of front-wheel-drive cars that behave this way on one hand: Volkswagen Corrado VR6 (circa 1993) and the Peugeot 405 (circa 1988). While it certainly makes the car fun, there's a catch.
Even in default mode, it turns out that the stability control is pretty lax, allowing quite a bit of oversteer. We can't help worrying about the youngsters that might buy this car and be tempted to turn the stability control off.
Note to Ford: Your engineers did a marvelous job turning the Focus into a sports car, but they may have gone too far. In the interest of public safety, let's turn the screw on stability control and perhaps create a mode for competitive driving, and make the driver go through some hoops to completely turn the stability control off. This car is not for novices.
But if you know what you're doing, the ST is awesome to drive. In fact, I think it should come with a Surgeon General's warning: "This car may be addictive." And yet, the ST doesn't beat you up with a harsh ride or deafening noise levels.
Despite all this gushing, most of us would pick the GTI as a daily driver for its wider repertoire and more civilized demeanor. And the more committed among us would drift, ahem, toward the rear-wheel drive Scion/Subaru twins. (And we do mean drift. Check out this FR-S video for more excitement.)
See our Ford Focus, Scion FR-S, and Subaru BRZ road tests and video (available to online subscribers).
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