Review: 2013 Ford Focus ST Estate

ST1

When you’ve been raised on Performance Fords it’s a tall order to take the keys to a new, exciting release and remain even-handed. Hooligans cars all, from the Fiesta XR2, through the Cosworth era and beyond, they ranged from fun and fast to raw and savage. Proper hooligans cars, one and all.

Naturally, when the opportunity arose for a thorough evaluation of the new Focus ST Estate, my mouth watered uncontrollably, but I have to confess to this being one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever written.

You see, when it comes to Fast Fords,  a lot has changed in the last thirty years. This is, as you know, Fords first global performance car, today experienced in “bring the dog with you”  Longroof configuration. If you flip my photos from right to left, they’ll resemble the ST as it would come no matter where on the globe you buy it.

 

ST2

It’s a Focus, first and foremost. Inside you have the standard third century Ford of Europe blueprint, complete with swooping centre console. Atop this is a deeply hooded screen for the infotainment system; despite the days anomalously awesome sunshine at no point did I find glare reflections ruining the display and its animated graphics. The dials and minor controls are attractively treated, it looks like the design clinics have spent a lot of hands-on hours on this car.

The controls for sound and guidance look a bit like the mail-order catalogue stereo your younger brother might have had during the 90’s. But it’s an effective enough setup and nicely sidesteps the issue that I always have with touchscreens; their annoying tendency to collect horrible fingerprints and goo, and the lack of feedback and interactive involvement when using them. At least with a dial there’s instant register that something has happened, rather than the uncertain prodding that sometimes accompanies the touchscreen, especially when driving in dark conditions or on bumpy roads.

ST3

The Recaro-labelled seats may look like something that Darth Vader would wear during a scuba-diving holiday, but they fitted me like a glove, and I’m a really peculiar shape. After a little adjustment I was able to swing my flippers into a decent driving position; the suitably embellished steering wheel and metallic-topped gearknob fell straight into my hands and I was quickly ready to get on with the business of driving.

With power being derived from a two-litre, four cylinder in-line engine of routine layout, it comes as no surprise that no particular character is exhibited at moderate speeds. All is quiet, all is calm. The gears slot home with the Ford accuracy that goes with the territory, the pedals are well weighted and reliably precise, and nicely positioned for nimble footwork. There is very little to raise your pulse or stimulate trepidation, apart from the three ST-exclusive dials at the top of that mountainous centre-console. Two of those dials; oil pressure and coolant temperature, are very dull. The third one isn’t: Turbo Boost.

ST4

And it’s naturally that one, the one in the middle, that I’m keenest on monitoring. Millbrook has a two mile long high-speed bowl, and that was to be my first driving destination in the ST, to see just how quickly it could be made to merge in my patented “pull out fast in front of a big truck” test.

There were countless Porsches and a Jag F-Type being hooned in the name of journalistic thoroughness when I got there, and before pulling out I let them pass and glide into the distance. I then dropped the hammer in a “textbook” (for me) drag launch, and very soon the 911s started to be reeled in. With safety in mind the Bowl had a 100mph speed limit imposed today, and I very nearly managed to comply with it. Trouble is, in the ST, with 250hp doing its thing, when accelerating through the gears you just want to keep on going.

Official figures quote that sixty arrives in 6.2 seconds, but cold figures against the stopwatch hardly seem to convey just how much performance and flexibility the ST offers. Even in the tall 6th gear, at a high two-figure cruise, there is enough roll-on acceleration to mean something decent; drop down a cog or two at any speed and it’s there aren’t a great many cars that could embarrass the ST too badly.

ST5

So, it’s fast. Very fast, in fact, but lots of cars can do that. My next port of call is the Hill circuit, a strenuous test of handling, composure and the drivers resistance to travel-sickness.

Judging from the Fiesta ST which was following me, that disappeared backwards on the straights but caught up a little on the corners, I was driving the ST pretty hard. Not wearing any safety gear and not wanting to bend a car on my inaugural visit to Millbrook I was exercising a little extra care, so I was probably at about 90% of my personal capability as a wheelman. At those speeds, and on these roads, it didn’t feel like the ST was even breaking into a sweat.

This is a front-wheel drive family estate car, albeit with a lot of power. Being driven hard on a challenging circuit in hot weather; not once did the brakes show signs of fade, not once did I hear any protest from tyres. I would need a much bigger circuit, with lots of run-off, to come close to finding the limits of this chassis. I would also go as far as to say that any man in a pub who claims to have reached the limits of the ST on the A1032 between Clacton and Kirby Cross is a total liar.

The grip is close to beyond belief and allows you to commit to far higher corner entry speeds than either your passengers or luggage should be asked to tolerate. A slight strangeness to the electric power steering set-up causes the steering wheel to writhe in your hands a bit between sharp steering inputs, the feel being similar to that caused by the clever differential in the old Focus RS. When that little twitch happens you think “something’s going on”, but that something appears to be positive, based on the fact that you make it round the corner without incident. There’s plenty of weight to the steering but it’s difficult to know if it hasn’t just been dialled in artificially. There’s plenty of accuracy, but it does miss out on delicateness, there’s no sense of being on a knife-edge.

ST6

If anything, it makes things too easy. Anybody, with any level of talent, could jump in this car and drive it fast, very fast, from point a to point b, without having to know what they’re doing. There’s so much grip and so much power, you could do something really stupid and still get away with it. And that kind of spoils the fun. In fact, to stretch the point a bit, if a car could have infinite grip and infinite power, and could therefore do absolutely anything; where would be the fun if you have no limits?

What the ST actually needs, in order to be more fun, is to be a bit worse. What I’d really like to see is smaller tyres, more sidewall flex and less grip. So you can begin to feel the limits and use a bit of driver skill to stay within them. Although I’d be tempted to keep the power. Power good.

ST7

Even as it is, though, the ST does anything you can ask it to. Whether that entails travelling at high speed while loaded with family paraphernalia (those in the back get their own Recaros, too), scything through treacherous back-road corners or dawdling economically along (Ford promises an overall consumption of 39.2mpg mperial). No matter how objective I try to be, there’ s not really any way the ST can be savagely criticised.

Lots of ST reviews are saying stuff about track-days and how the Golf GTi or Renault Megane Renaultsport have its measure on a circuit. Honestly, chances are you’re going to have the exact same amount of fun in any of these cars, unless you’re a reviewer and live in that bizarre fantasy world where everything has to be organised into a pecking order. But, really, if you’re that concerned about race-track split seconds, you’re looking at totally the wrong category of car. If you’re that serious you’re going to want an Atom or a serious Caterham or something. And, at any rate, that shortfall on the track is what makes it surprisingly comfortable on the highway, and means there’s virtually no tarmac environment this car doesn’t suit, and suit well.

ST8

When major faults and flaws are notable only by their absence, and a car is as well executed as this; in build, concept, feel and effectiveness; you have to resort to opinions and being really petty and subjective to find things to crow about.

So here we go. I suppose one thing that isn’t beyond criticism is the price, which at £30k seems scandalous until you remember that there’s nothing that this car doesn’t do well, The styling lacks loveliness, but achieving that is no easy task when you’re starting off with a family load-lugger. I’ve never much liked the grille treatment of the current Focus; but at least here it’s simplified and you can say that it suits the aggressive nature of the car. Also, I still don’t like nor see the point of keyless-go; and I miss the characteristic warble of the five-cylinder engine in the old ST, although Ford have done great things to make the EcoBoost sound as fine as it does.

ST9

The truth is that the Focus ST is a bloody good car, and one that becomes almost implausible in estate car form. Rather than following the usual balls-out hot-hatchback route Ford have created a consummate all-round high-speed transportation system. Also, calling your very turbocharged engine EcoBoost is a sure fire way to ensure that Greenpeace will love your 154mph car. But what the ST lacks can’t be measured with a camera, a stopwatch or a microscope. The only thing it lacks, and this is being subjective again;  is charm. What it needs is a few rough edges to make it truly memorable.

ST10

 

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

38 Comments

  1. The amount of fun and utility in this car is out of this world. I wish we had them in the US.

      1. Related story: My wife (who is not what you'd call a "car person") saw her first Raptor face-to-face on the highway Saturday.
        She was so captivated by it that she drove past her exit.
        Score one for Raptor.

  2. God, every time I read a review, I remember my test drive of a Tangerine Scream ST, and regret being broke ass broke.
    Also, this was awesome:
    "Lots of ST reviews are saying stuff about track-days and how the Golf GTi or Renault Megane Renaultsport have its measure on a circuit. Honestly, chances are you’re going to have the exact same amount of fun in any of these cars, unless you’re a reviewer and live in that bizarre fantasy world where everything has to be organised into a pecking order. But, really, if you’re that concerned about race-track split seconds, you’re looking at totally the wrong category of car. "

    1. "The grip is close to beyond belief and allows you to commit to far higher corner entry speeds than either your passengers or luggage should be asked to tolerate."
      Also awesome.

  3. Oh how I envy you for being able to buy the wagon. I want one. BAD.
    I was very impressed with the ST2 hatchback I test drove a couple of weeks ago. They were foolish enough to hand me the keys and say have a good time, no salesman riding shotgun, so I really gave her the beans (the salesman assured me that it had it's full 3000 mile break in as the dealership demonstrator, and that I could flog the car to my heart's content). Acceleration is VERY impressive. Very, very torquey for a 2L, and boost builds nice and early. The handling is simply unbelieveable for a FWD. Turn in is instantaneous and knife edge sharp. Transitions are very nicely controlled. It actually has a slight tendency towards oversteer when pushed to 9/10, which is incredibly nice in a FWD. It sounds angry too 🙂

    1. The interior was very nice. You still see some of it's plebian roots here and there in some cheapish plastics, but everything you touch is very nice, and I kind of loved the infotainment system. Exterior wise though, I REALLY like it. I like the new Focus in general, and the ST just makes it better IMO, especially in the sinister black that my test car was sporting.
      All is not perfect though. First, the Recaro seats. They are wonderfully supportive. But the thigh bolsters are too close together. My butt (not a particularly huge one) simply doesn't fit. One thigh or the other was always slightly up on one bolster or the other, and after a 20 minute test drive my lower back was already getting quite stiff. Also, the center console is intrusive. My right knee was always uncomfortably jammed up against it. And it flat needs an optional mechanical LSD. The faux-LSD program is amazing wizardry, and I love it. But when really pressed, I was still getting in-lift and on occasion found myself wishing for a real LSD.
      In general, amazing car, and I want one.

  4. As the owner of an '03 Focus ZTW Wagon (top of the line wagon for that year), let me express my dismay that we don't get these on the other side of the Atlantic.
    If Ford offered an SVT wagon ten years ago, I'd be rocking that instead of the ZTW trim level.

    1. I have a '03 Focus 2.0 Ghia Wagon i bought new, there was an ST170(SVT) available but it would have cost about 13k€ more than the 2.0 Ghia.
      Here's a picture of one. A pretty poor one, but it seems impossible to even find a picture of a stock ST170 wagon. I would have loved mine in this colour but it was only available on the ST170. Plenty of pictures of the hatchback..
      <img src="http://mitglied.multimania.de/daftrucker/Fotos/ST Turnier/28112010304.jpg" width="600" &lt;="" img="">
      image from here http://www.ford-forum.de/showthread.php?p=637086
      Here's how mine looked in 2006, it's now back on the stock suspension and wheels.. Haven't really taken pictures of it since either.
      <img src="https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/74465213/img1169pt1.jpg&quot; width="600" </img>

      1. Good looking car! Looks a lot like mine.
        Here's mine (well, not my actual car, but the same thing in the same colour, with the same rims):
        <img src="http://image.intellichoice.com/f/2306766390519975336/front & driver side view 640">
        Here's my other one, in a pic straight from the brochure:
        <img src="http://www.auto123.com/00photo/ford/focuswagon4dr-se.jpg"&gt;
        The orange one's a 2000 with the SPI 2.0 SOHC (you guys called it the CVH engine), and the ZTW rocks the Zetec 2.0 DOHC.

        1. I don't think we got the CVH in the Focus, though. There was the 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 Zetec engines and a couple of diesels. The ST and RS engines were basically 2.0 Zetecs too, just labeled as Duratecs, with the ST having VVT and the RS with a turbo.
          Anyway.. any problems with the Zetec? I've had a blown headgasket and a couple burnt exhaust valves due to the crappy design of the thermostat. The inner part of the groove that's holding th o-ring in place crumbles over the years, causing a slow leak… the coolant just evaporates so it won't leave a puddle.

          1. Yeah, the Zetec that we have suffers from the same ailment – that plastic thermostat housing. Word 'round the campfire is that there's an aluminum aftermarket housing, but I've never seen one. Outside of that, the Zetec ticks a little (mine has 51K kms or 30.5K miles – old lady car that was never driven), but I use Toyota 0W20 full synthetic so that may be why.
            The SPI/CVH 2.0 SOHC suffers from the 250K km dropped-exhaust-valve-seat ailment. My 2000 wagon is on its third engine, actually. The car has 300K kms, but this engine has but 135K on it. Apparently what happens is that the exhaust valve seat will crack, then one day it will drop and cause zero compression in that cylinder. Meanwhile, the pieces of valve seat will fly around the cylinder, damaging everything they touch. It happens without rhyme or reason and can come at any time, although it seems to be a 250K km thing. Other than that it's a terrific engine and a good choice for a Focus' light body weight. The aftermarket has engineered better valve seats, so if I don't sell that car I may invest in a junkyard cylinder head and have the valve seats redone by a machine shop.

          2. Mine has about 135k km, and apart from the thermostat related problems the only bother has been rust… the front doors and tailgate have been fixed once, and need to be fixed again.. Here's a billet thermostat housing from PumaSpeed, but at nearly 320£ it is a bit(!!) expensive. I just replaced the broken one with a new OEM housing.
            That valve seat problem on the CVH sounds like fun…

          3. Oh it was lots of fun. I bought the 2000 wagon in May of 2010 with 265K kms, and it'd blown its first engine at that point and had a replacement used engine with 255K installed. That engine lasted me a year and 11K when #4 dropped on me on the way down a steep hill (high engine vacuum sucked it out? Beats me). The replacement SPI had 130K and is in the car to this day. Nice, strong, quiet as a SPI/CVH can get – but I feel like it too is a ticking time bomb.

          4. They must be pretty affordable to replace if it's on its third engine… The most common engine over here is the 1.6 Zetec, and even that would be expensive enough to not be worth repairing unless you do all the work yourself.

          5. Well, they're harder to find in scrapyards since they have a reputation for blowing. The engine that I bought, #3 in the car, set me back $400. For this area (Fredericton, NB, Canada), that's a pretty decent price for a salvage engine, as I've seen these engines go for upwards of $700 in running condition. Parts cars with a running SPI can go for $800.
            Believe it or not, a decent Zetec is far easier to find than a good SPI/CVH, and it is possible to do a Zetec swap, but it's an involved one. Last fall I bought a 2000 Focus wagon with the Zetec 2.0 and 5 speed manual (a rare North American combination) for $200 (mind you it was a complete rust bucket). The intention was to set aside all the necessary parts to do a Zetec swap when this engine finally drops a valve seat. However, the blue ZTW fell into my lap, so to speak, three weeks ago at an unbeatable price, so the Zetec swap on the orange car is now permanently on hold.
            Apparently there are enough differences in the SPI/CVH engines found in Escorts that one is not a direct drop-in swap in a Focus

          6. Huh. A used Zetec engine would be somewhere around 800-1200€ around here. Just out of curiosity I asked the dealer that they wanted for a new engine, that was somewehere around 4k€ installed… Hah!

          7. Jeez, that's some serious coin. I take it there's a lack of you-pull-it style scrapyards where you are.

          8. There's not really any scrapyards per se.. You can't sell your car for scrap. You can have it recycled, but the best you'll get is not having to pay for towing. There's places which redeem(not sure if that's the right word) crashed cars from insurance companies and then sell them either whole or in parts. Some kind of EU level law I think, environment and certificates and blah blah.. Recycling is big business.
            The only way you'll get money for it is to sell it as spares. The 2.0 is pretty rare here, but if you have one of the smaller engines it's probably cheaper just to buy the whole car from a private seller..

          9. Ahh, gotcha. Within about a 100 km radius of where I am sitting typing this, there exists approximately 20-25 large scrapyards of which 8-10 are you-pull-it varieties. One notable yard is over 500 acres and takes up half of a small hill.
            Let me know if you need any USDM or CDM bits. Seriously, you could spend days at that yard and still not see it all. I've been going there regularly for over 20 years.

          10. Sadly scrapyard-sightseeing is not really an option here, it would take about 15 minutes to check out the largest one anywhere close to me. And there's not really any larger ones anywhere else in the county either.
            Some USDM light would have been awesome, but they would never have gotten past the yearly inspection. The most annoying thing about the EU lights is that they're asymmetrical, rear fog on one side and reverse light on the other. One side has an amber blob while the other one is clear…

          11. I never understood what was up with the single reverse light.
            Personally, I'd love to have a set of those EDM taillights with the reverse light and the amber lens for a turn signal. IIRC, LHD cars had the reverse lens on the left taillight, RHD cars have it on the right.

          12. Yeah they're reversed on RHD cars… I don't really care if the blob is amber or clear, as long as it's the same on both sides. Asymmetrical lights have always looked weird to me.

  5. I am torn.
    The Fiesta ST is supposed to be in the low $20kUS range- right there was a 'nicely equipped' Focus.
    The Focus looks good, but I want a new version of a Mk1 Golf GTI.

  6. It's funny that the speedo is in mph, the trip computer is in miles/mph/mpg (I'm sure that's switchable) but the temp gauge and the outside temp display are in degrees Celsius.

  7. I'm old enough to remember a time when Ford was a domestic manufacturer and actually sold quite a few cars from its lineup here.
    Did we end up getting that Eurofocus from a few years back, or is that still slated for 2018?

    1. The Euro-Focus is what Ford's been selling here for a couple of years now, albeit just not in wagon form.

  8. From all the review I've read and my own experience with all three generations of the Focus, this quite successfully continues the trend of making it a better* but more numb and less involving car with every generation.
    *for Mr. & Mrs Average

  9. Sadly, as Ford's ST Wagon is not available for the US market, I ended up purchasing something a couple sizes bigger.
    Having seen what the updated B-class Sync/MFT big screen interface looks like, I'm hoping it'll also migrate to the C-segment, if only for the clutter reduction it brings.
    I cannot utter how I feel about you right now in polite company. Okay, I'll tone it down a bit; you lucky sod.

  10. It's fair to say that making it a bit worse would help the feel. That's why Toyobaru threw those skinny prius tires on the FR-S/BRZ. It lost every time on the track vs. the competition, but the FEEL was there.

    1. Well, the whole point of the "Prius tires" was the fact that Subaru/Toyota was acknowledging that the serious owner would be upgrading the wheels and tires anyway.
      And it's not really fair to call them "Prius tires". A standard, beige Prius takes a large sidewalled 16" tire (15s until the 2010 redesign). Only the upgraded sport wheel/tire package includes the same tires as found on the BRZ/FRS.

      1. Of course a serious owner would. My car came stock with 225 front and 245 rear and I've upped those to 245 and 275 respectively.
        But out of the box if they were playing the numbers game like the other mgfrs they would have thrown some wider shoes on it in a "GT package" or the like. But no, instead they stayed skinny and made a slow car FEEL fast. And they are an absolute blast to drive (friend owns one) but my genesis coupe still flogs it on the track despite my car not feeling as fast.

  11. Yeah, I'm a day late posting this, but whatever. I was disappointed in the new Focus, particularly the ST.
    My daily driver '03 Focus SVT got totaled late last year, so I was in the market for a new (to me) car. I'm a Ford fan, and a new base model Focus hatch was in my price range, so I test drove one. It drove and handled very nicely, and I liked most things about it, except I could not get comfortable in it. The center stack (dashboard/console) area protrudes into the driver's leg area more than any other car I've driven. I found my knee resting very uncomfortably against the center stack, no matter how I adjusted the seat. It annoyed me after 10 minutes, and would probably drive me nuts for longer than that.
    Just for fun, I sat in a new ST that was at the dealership and was about to be delivered to the owner. I simply did not fit in the Recaro seats. Granted, I'm on the larger side (6'3" 225), but the seats were too narrow for me. I am in definitely not on the bigger end of the average American scale, so I very surprised about this.
    In the end, I bought a used 2008 Mazdaspeed 3. A pretty similar car for about $10K less than the ST, and I LOVE the seats and fit comfortably.

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