Some weeks ago, we received word from Ford about “THE THRILL OF A LIFETIME” being offered in the parking lot of a local stadium on weekends during the summer. With a mug of hot coffee and the anticipation of the aroma of burnt clutches, we headed to Boston to experience it for ourselves.
In an effort to promote the 2013 Focus ST — the hot hatchback we’ve been talking about for months — Ford is offering enthusiasts and potential buyers first crack behind the wheel around the country. Dubbed Focus ST Performance Academy, it goes beyond a typical ride-and-drive event by offering consumers time around a makeshift autocross track.
Until we get extended seat time, here are six things you’ll want to know about the Focus ST:
- The engine is a serious powerhouse. Forget what you were thinking: the Focus ST is not merely competing with the likes of the Volkswagen GTI. It has the grunt and visceral acuity to compete with hot hatches that have serious power. Its turbocharged, direct-injected four cylinder engine delivers 252 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque through the front wheels — plus an overboost function! Mention of overboost elicited oohs and ahhs among the crowd of tuners and future owners in attendance.
- The dynamics are stellar, too. The only transmission on offer is a six-speed manual, which you will love to row through the gears. Clutch action is light and accurate, and pedals are positioned for easy heel-and-toeing. Steering is communicative, though somewhat light. On the course set up in a satellite parking lot of Gillette Stadium outside Boston, though, the Focus ST handled brilliantly, with limited understeer.
- Its driving position is not for everyone. The Focus ST is a hot hatchback, and maintains a similar driving position its less potent sibling. In the same vein as the Fiat 500 Abarth, you sit tall and upright. In some ways, you feel like you’re sitting on the car, rather than in it. In others, the straight-up seats are reminiscent of days spent at the arcade (remember those?), trying to defeat digital competitors for the title.
- You will want the Recaro seats in front. Our tester was equipped with optional Recaro cloth/leather front bucket seats. You would be wise to option yours accordingly. They offer the grip of a 20th-century dictator but the lateral comfort of his successor. In contrasting colors — either blue or yellow, paired with black — they also look fantastic. Short of the functionality of true racing seats, they’re the next best thing.
- …though it’s a little tight in back. Rear legroom suffers slightly with full-size front occupants. Behind the rear seats, there is still the same amount of room for luggage, groceries, or race day gear as in the non-ST Focus hatchback. If you must carry passengers in the back, it is considerate to offer fair warning and point out the location of grab handles before tackling the twisties.
- It’s a killer value. While waiting for my turn behind the wheel, I stood on line sandwiched in between the owners of a 2013 Subaru BRZ and a Mitsubishi Evo IX. As they rehashed the ongoing debate over the hype surrounding the BRZ (and its sibling, the Scion FR-S), they came to consensus that the Focus ST has fantastic value. With a base price starting around $25,000, it offers performance, refinement, versatility that matches or beats its competitors’. And optioned completely, it still comes in under $30,000, placing it in line with the Mazdaspeed 3 and undercutting the Volkswagen Golf R.
I drove to Boston to attend a consumer event, at which Focus ST demo cars were provided for evaluation. Want to test the ST’s mettle for yourself? There are two Performance Academy sessions scheduled in San Francisco and Los Angeles in early August. You can sign up here. It’s a blast.