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Last updated: Wed. May. 28, 2014 - 08:20 am EDT

Ford Focus ST a fun, spirited hatchback

Its horsepower and torque almost equal 6-cylinder competitors

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Ford Focus hatchback

Base price: $18,625

Engine: 2.0 L Inline 4-cylinder

Fuel economy: 26 mpg (city); 36 mpg (highway)

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The 2014 Ford Focus ST is a fun-to-drive, spirited hatchback with turbo power, European-style handling, and practical seating and cargo room.

A compact-sized car, the Focus five-door hatchback even garnered top, five out of five stars from the federal government in frontal and side crash testing.

And for driving enthusiasts, the Focus ST is something of a bargain, offering horsepower and torque usually associated with six-cylinder cars for the price — and fuel mileage — of a small four cylinder.

In fact, the 2014 Focus ST with 2-liter, turbocharged and direct injected EcoBoost four cylinder delivers 252 horses and 270 foot-pounds of torque at 2,500 rpm. This compares with the 268 horsepower and 248 foot-pounds of torque that a 3.5-liter V-6 generates in the larger, heavier, 2014 Toyota Camry sedan.

Best of all, starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $24,450 for a base, 2014 Focus ST with six-speed, manual transmission and sport-tuned suspension.

All Focus cars are front-wheel drive. While some lower trim models of Focus are sold as sedan and hatchback, the ST comes only as a five-door hatch and only with manual transmission.

Competitors to the Focus ST are other sporty, front-wheel drive, four-cylinder compacts, such as the 205-horsepower, 2014 Honda Civic Si Coupe, which has a starting retail price of $23,580. The four cylinder in the Civic Si Coupe is naturally aspirated, not a turbo, and is paired with a six-speed manual.

Another competitor, the 2015 Volkswagen GTI, has a starting price including destination charge of $25,215 and comes with a turbocharged, gasoline four cylinder developing 210 horsepower and mated to a six-speed manual.

The U.S. heyday for so-called “hot hatchbacks” was in the 1970s and 1980s, but they have long been popular in Europe. No wonder, then, that Ford Motor Co. tapped its European operations for the modern Focus ST.

The chassis in the test vehicle was solid, and despite its compact dimensions — just 14.3 feet in total length — the Focus ST felt and looked like a substantial car.

There was road noise from the tires and good engine sounds during acceleration. But the sounds were not overbearing.

The Focus ST’s 2-liter, double overhead cam, direct injection, turbocharged Ecoboost four cylinder is the same one that has been used in the much larger Ford Flex. So, in the 3,200-plus-pound Focus, this powerplant offers real scoot and power.

First gear has a short gear ratio for quick get up and go, and second and third gears can keep the car in best engine revs for strong power.

The sixth gear accounts for the 32-miles-per-gallon rating in highway driving that the federal government gave the Focus ST. The city rating of 23 mpg is not laudable. But the test car still averaged 27 mpg in city/highway travel, translating into a travel range of 334 miles. A fillup cost less than $50 since the Focus ST can use regular gasoline.

The test Focus ST had front legroom aplenty, as seat tracks allowed for up to 43.1 inches of space.

Headroom was decent at 39.1 inches in the front, and while driver and passengers dropped down some to get inside the car and settle onto seats, they don’t sit way low to the pavement. In fact, there were good views out front for front-seat passengers, and the driver often could see through the windows of cars ahead. But views were blocked by pickup trucks, vans and many sport utility vehicles.

Exterior styling of the Focus ST is surprisingly attractive. It’s not gimmicky, though a rear spoiler and some body side skirts are there. These parts aren’t exaggerated in their size or placement, so they blend in seamlessly for a cohesive look.

And there are some fun, bright colors for the Focus ST. The test car, for example, was painted a bright Performance Blue that was hard not to miss in parking lots.

Inside, the deeply sculpted, optional Recaro bucket seats in the tester had fabric center inserts that held passengers tightly in place. They were helped by sizable, leather-covered side bolsters.

During travel, these seats gave great support. But the bolsters can make it difficult for passengers to climb out. One passenger in the test car pulled a back muscle while getting up and out of the Focus ST front passenger seat.

Back-seat room is smaller with just 33.4 inches of legroom compared with 35.6 inches in the back seat of the 2015 VW GTI. But it’s still usable, depending on how the legroom is apportioned between front and rear passengers.

With rear seats folded down, there’s 44.8 cubic feet of cargo space.

Ford’s interior cluster of gauges in front of the Focus ST driver is eye-catching with bright red needles highlighting speed and engine revs.

Alas, Ford still installs its much-maligned Sync system to control radio, phone and climate control functions via voice or touch screen. It has been criticized for being too complex. But once a car owner learns the commands and menus, the system can become second nature, even if response to commands is not always immediate.

While feeling like a substantial car, the test Focus ST wasn’t weighty or heavy feeling on twisty mountain roads, where the sport-tuned suspension differentiates the ST from lesser Focus models. With upgraded 18-inch tires, the tester rode firmly as it moved back and forth through the twists confidently.

Most impressive was the combination of a well-managed ride over a variety of roads and well-managed body motions.

In this way, the Focus ST test car showed itself as a good car for straightforward, everyday commutes as well as sporty excursions. Consumer Reports, however, predicts reliability as much worse than average for the 2014 Focus.


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