2013 Ford Focus ST: Its Handling Does Take Some Getting Used To
August 15, 2013
One of the first times I drove our long-term 2013 Ford Focus ST was back in January. It was early in the morning, and the outside temps were fairly cold, maybe mid/high 30s Fahrenheit. At the time, I wasn't really thinking how the car's Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires lose a lot of their grip in such conditions. (Something that I've since discovered is actually mentioned in the owner's manual.) I was just driving around a city street corner at a modest speed when I was quite surprised to find the Focus ST back end coming around until the stability control kicked in a moment later.
What the heck? Oversteer in a front-wheel-drive car? Yep.
It doesn't come up often in our Focus ST coverage, but there are little details here and there about the car's handling balance. In our track test, driver Josh Jacquot noted that in the skid pad it "readily rotates off throttle, which allows complete freedom of line adjustment here." On the slalom: "Eagerness to rotate on the skid pad hurts this car in the slalom. Still, its manners are superb if you're willing to drive it hard."
Then there's this text from Kurt Niebuhr's autocrossing time with the Focus ST:
"The ST is a little complex. It' essentially a front-wheel-drive muscle car, so the power must be used judiciously or you'll just spin the tires, which just overheats them. The trick differential is also a little bit of an unknown to me. It works well enough, it's just not as predictable as a mechanical unit.
"And then there's the rear end. The car pivots very, very well. It's not often you drive a front-wheel-drive car capable of being set up for the exit of the corner before you get to the corner, but the ST lets you do it. The catch, naturally, is it responds quite a bit to very minor changes in throttle at higher speeds...Cool, but tricky."
Basically, if you've driven a lot of front-wheel-drive cars before, like Civics or GTIs, the Focus ST's overall demeanor and handling balance will likely come as a surprise. Well, at least for me it's taken some time to get used to the car. The steering is very quick right off center, but it also makes the car seem twitchy and hard to place right on apexes. Driving enthusiastically mid-corner, I've taken to adding in a bit of extra throttle to balance the chassis more to my liking. Then there is the corner exit, where there's still some torque steer to deal with as the car pulls side-to-side when I nail the gas.
I feel like I have to pay extra attention and really drive our Focus ST if I want to go quickly. It's not a car that you finesse, like the Scion FR-S. You really do have to drive it hard to get the rewards and know how the car works.
It's taken some time for me to appreciate this, but for a hot hatch, it is indeed pretty cool quality.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 11,253 miles