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Two litres of turbocharged silicone

Ford Focus ST (2013)

25/03/2013 00:42 | Comments: 


Self-appointed race-driver (whenever he gets a chance), avid car sports- and sports car-lover, manager of the mother site’s blog, Belsőség, he can always be found in the middle of the noisiest gathering. Steve has had a long-running habit of remodelling his facial hair bi-weekly. A Slovakian citizen but of Hungarian nationality, he lives in Budapest now. Has a wife, two small children and a dog.

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Its engine is one cylinder short of the old one. It has gained a ton of buttons on the dashboard. And the looks – well, let’s say they’re up for debate. It’s faster than the old, no doubt. But has it become any better?

The doctors did a good job. The new boobs are round, symmetric and everybody wants to grab them, but they're not the real deal. Like the Focus ST.

Have you ever asked yourself what a Focus ST really is? Is it a hot-hatch? No, because it doesn't have a limited slip diff , neither a puristic approach for sheer driving pleasure. It's loaded with options, it's more expensive than the 180 bhp five door EcoBoost – it's definitely not your everyday Focus either. Then what? A mistake?

No, it's just the strongest of the pack, nothing more, nothing less. Is it worth its 28k € (26k USD)-price-tag, then? I'm not so sure. Let me explain why.

First, there is the look. This third generation Focus is not my favourite one, and it will never be. I know it's hard to make a global model because of the different tastes of each market, but the styling of the previous one was way better than this.

If you look at it from the front, it's OK. Strong lines, minimal joint gaps (except between the hood and grille, that's bigger than Kim Kardashian's neck line on a Mothers' Day) and sharp ends make it sooo European. It's aggressive, it's a little bit German, – fine.

Then you notice the back-end, which is chaotic like a Dim Sum dinner. You get the world's ugliest taillights with the looks of a fried egg hanging on a penis. I can't imagine the meeting during which they said: OK, Jeff, we keep that form, because it's juuust perfect.

Below these round and buffy lights you've got something different: a narrow, almost square tailpipe. That reminds you something out of the designer board of Lamborghini and it has absolutely zero correspondance with those fried eggs. It's positioned in the middle of the back bumper in such a way that it spits all the exhaust gases straight back on the reverse-camera. If you want to park in December and live in a cold country, you'll see nothing.

Okay, so you've got Asia at the back, Europe at the front and a plain, idealess Colorado desert of nothing in the middle. Well, that's what I call a global model. Next time, they'd better outsource that design-thing to somebody in Italy. Maybe it's not going to be global but at least it will be spectacular. After this Global Mix of Something was ready, they passed it to the guys at Ford's Sport Technologies: come on guys, make it sporty.

And they are the ones who are the best in this field, I must admit.

Never mind the chaos, the look of the ST is still dramatic. It lacks the bulky, barfighter image of its predecessor, but has more street racing tuned-up genoms. Haters gonna hate, but it suits the young boys raised on the Fast'n'Furious-movies better than anything else. Unless we're talking about the design, not the performance. Because that's a different story. Oh, and I nearly forgot: for some unknown reason, Ford threw away the best car color of the last decade, so bye-bye Electric Orange, you will be missed.

Once inside, we soon notice that Ford tried to please every customer in the known universe. We get leather bucket seats, steel-finished pedals and a perfectly shaped steering wheel. These are the things that make us happy if we're in search of a hot-hatch. Then we get satnav and road sign recognition system – this Focus keeps us between the lines and it beeps when we turn without signalling. These are the gadgets that make us happy if we are into the family and safety business. Finally, we get labels like Sony, Recaro and ST, and these make us feel fine if we're living with our parents and want to impress our friends from the neighborhood. The Focus ST is a hotchpotch of everything Ford has.

However, when you throw everything from the fridge into a big pressure cooker, I bet you won't devour the finished product with guste. Because it's too much of everything.

You get 18 buttons on the steering wheel and 40 on the centre console. Yes, 40! Plus one to wriggle and fourteen knobs of climate controlling. And there are another two more thingies to wriggle. So far we've got 72 buttons, knobs and other small things which we can push, pull or touch while driving. I haven't even mentioned the light controls, the wipers and turn signals, the heated seat-buttons and seat-positioners, or the three LCD displays. Oh, and there are the electric roof controls. Gosh, if we keep searching, I'm sure we're gonna find a Martini with soda-maker-button. It's just horrible.

Do you know, how many buttons are needed if you have a regular touchscreen-system like the one they put in a Chevy Malibu? Thirty-seven. Without a big touchscreen, an iDrive or MMI-clone it's hopeless to make a user-friendly interior. Okay, we dont't push them all the time, but still they're frightening like an army of Chinese clay soldiers. They don't move, but there's a lot of them.

I don't want to say that a Button-Babylon on four wheels cannot be a good car. The ST makes the bad memories of the Focus' interior disappear for good.

If you survive the attack of the killer buttons, it's time to look around in the cabin: the seats are good, they're perfectly shaped but make you sit a little bit higher than you want. The lateral supports are a little bit uncomfy if you have a wider back than Tom Cruise.

There are some quality issues too. For example one of the electric motors moving the seat move is positioned right where you would search for the lever. If you look closer, you notice a clumsily joined plastic cover of the seat. Unthinkable in a Volkswagen.

I must admit the triangle between the pedals, the gearlever and steering wheel is perfect and you won't find any electric handbrake, just a classic arm to pull. I like it! The pedal spacing is good too, but the passenger on the driver's side doesn't get enough legroom if you're tall.

The instruments are easy to read in their deep tubes, but the blue light of the small LCD display between the speedo and rev counter is a little bit annoying. Oh, and I have to mention that the central display in this European-spec ST is way too small and doesn't suit the price tag of the car. The characters are small, the controls are idiotic. Every input of a new adress into the satnav-system predicts a visit to an eye-specialist.

The view angle is certainly not the most appealing feature of the Focus' marketing strengths. All right, there's a small triangle-shaped window in the back, but merely to let some light in, not to widen your scope of view. It's funny how the big plastic box of the road sign recognition system blocks your line of sight. You can't see any of the road signs because of its positioning. Conclusion: the box is there to tell you (via the electronic display) when you're speeding, which you would be able to read perfectly well from the signals, if the box had not been there. What speeding, by the way. Well, this is a 250 hp car with 0-100 km/h coming in 6.5 seconds, so speeding will come naturally.

What else can you do with it? Go slow?

The ST tries to be practical, but there's not too much space in the back. It's black, claustrophobic like a Hollywood thriller and narrow as well. The Astra and the new Golf are much more spacious in the back.

You have 363 litres of luggage space and a folding backrest. This must be your last argument when you try to explain your wife why your family needs a turbocharged 5dr hatchback. But that would be the wrong argument: even the Astra OPC has a bigger boot. Fortunately the Focus ST exists as a wagon.

The steering and the suspension elevates the Focus to the top half of its class. The ST is even stiffer, but (and this is an important note) not uncomfortable. It readily absorbs the bumps and curbs but sticks the car on the road in every situation. The grip is sensational even on winter tyres and when you overshoot it, you will be very pleased to realize that the ST is tail happy like a golden retriever. It has a more direct steering too, the gearshift is excellent and you want to push it hard till you get to the first twisty road.

Then you realize that no electronics can replace a proper, mechanical LSD, and what started as an adrenaline blast through the countryside quickly turns into a disappointing fight with the unloaded front tire. Our hopes for a hot-hatch like ride ends up in tyresmoke. However: the ST shows us how capable the next RS is going to be.

Oh, I nearly forgot the sound-issue. It's okay to use a sound symposer. Porsche does that, Ferrari too and many other car makers use various systems to get you in the middle of the action. Even the previous ST has a sound system installed with. But you know what? It  didn't really need it. It had a proper five cylinder, Volvo-made son-of-a-thunder under the hood. It was weaker than this two-litre turbo, but boy, it had way more character and raw manifestation.

Listen to the old one:

And now the new:

It's not even the same ballpark. Maybe you are faster in the new ST but nobody's going to notice it. However all that said, the ST is not a bad car, just a little bit meaningless.

The ST's biggest rival in this segment is the Focus, also made by Ford. Are you surprised?

Let's take it this way: for three-quarters of the ST's price you can get the 180 hp 1.6 EcoBoost turbocharged version which is capable of doing 90 percent of the things the ST can. Also, the ST is a 90 percent budget version of the hardcore RS. So you better take the cheaper solution with the same specs or wait for the RS. Because that's going to be a hot-hatch extravaganza.

The ST? It is just something in between, a stop-gap car. It tries to play on both sides of the field but misses the point.

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