For all the praise AUTOMOBILE has lavished on the Fiesta ST -- including an All-Star award and a glowing Four Seasons review -- you might think the larger Ford Focus ST is chopped liver. In reality, we were simply so enjoying our time with the Fiesta that we'd forgotten our earlier dalliances with the Focus ST. Now that the 2015 Ford Focus ST benefits from a head-to-toe refresh, we're reminded just how much fun it is to drive this larger fast Ford.
The midcycle refresh to the 2015 Ford Focus line was “very expensive,” admits Ford Focus marketing manager Omar Odeh, as it involved more than just some new badges and wheels. Like all versions of the Focus, the 2015 ST benefits from a completely new nose, a restyled liftgate, a redesigned interior, extra sound deadening, and even slight suspension tweaks. Visually, the new Focus looks more expensive and more mature, especially in the subdued Magnetic gray paint of our tester. (Red-painted brake calipers are a nice highlight.) Whereas the original Focus ST was way over-the-top boy-racer, your average car shopper might not immediately discern that the refreshed ST is more than just a humble Focus SE.
We're most pleased with the new cabin, as the 2015 Ford Focus ST becomes a more user-friendly and high-quality place to spend time. Several small changes make the ST's interior less rental car and more Euro-hatch: aluminum trim for the vents, smarter and more usable climate-control switches, and moving the parking brake adjacent to the driver's hip rather than on the far side of the center stack. The improved sound insulation is immediately noticeable on the highway, where the Focus ST keeps wind and tire noise at bay, making the car feel more expensive than in prior model years. Ford's hot hatch comes closer than ever to matching the civility and refinement of the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The 2.0-liter turbo-four engine and six-speed manual are unchanged, and we still love them both. The powertrain remains a firecracker that rockets toward its redline without hesitation as the tiny dash-mounted boost gauge gaily flicks its needle to the right. We still wish the Focus ST had a throatier soundtrack when you're beating on it, and that the steering wheel didn't jerk back and forth so much under hard acceleration, but neither critique stopped us from romping on the right pedal any time we had an open stretch of pavement.
While torque steer hasn't gone away -- hardly a surprise when you send 270 lb-ft to the front tires of any car -- the ST's steering feel is drastically improved. Ford engineers changed bushings to improve steering heft and realism (the 2015 Focus ST also uses a different brand of dampers and slightly changed spring rates) to great effect. The wheel no longer goes light when you're on the throttle, and there is far more build-up weight when you dial in more steering angle. It's even more satisfying than ever to toss the Focus ST through switchbacks because the car now talks back and forces you to work carefully at your inputs. As in the previous Focus ST, turn-in is razor-sharp, and the rear end is far more willing to sidestep when you lift the throttle than any other front-wheel-drive hatchback save the Fiesta ST. It's one of the most thrilling performance cars you can buy for less than $30,000.
Ford unfortunately hasn't resolved one of the Focus ST's most infuriating flaws, which afflicts all models of the Focus. An awkward driver's seat design, compounded by a high dashboard, make it difficult to find a seating position that is both ideal for manipulating the three pedals and comfortable for the driver. With the front of the seat cushion higher than the back, drivers feel as if their legs are dangling in space and straining to find the pedals. Moreover, just as we found in our Four Seasons Fiesta ST, the Focus' accelerator is positioned on a different plane to the brake and clutch, hampering heel-toe downshifts when approaching a corner. On the plus side, the new flat-bottom steering wheel provides a bit more space for sliding your knees between the Recaro seat's bolsters and the bottom of the wheel when entering or exiting the car.
For all our ergonomic gripes, though, the 2015 Ford Focus ST continues to put a smile on our face at any time. It's a no-nonsense hot hatchback that can take you to work, transport your friends and groceries, and still scorch back roads and racetracks on Saturday. Now that its interior is more intelligently designed, its exterior more handsome, and its steering feel improved, there are even more reasons for enthusiasts to pick the larger of Ford's two ST cars.
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