Is The Ford Focus ST Still Relevant?

The Ford Focus RS is the Focus that everyone is talking about these days. But what about the Focus ST? It’s still available, but is it still relevant? Should anyone even care about the ST anymore now that the far superior RS is out?

It’s all about what you want, as opposed to what you need. Nobody needs a Dodge Challenger Hellcat. What are you going to use it for? Slaying tires? Any car can do that – even a Saturn SL2.

Tire smoking Saturn SL2
Photo credit: Lane

Put down fast times at the drag strip? Only Dominic Toretto truly needs a 10 second car, and he’d rather have an old school Charger.

Toretto's Charger

The truth is that there is absolutely no reason why anyone would require such a car in their lives as mandatory equipment. But that’s not to say that the Hellcat isn’t cool. Of course it is. People want bragging rights. People want to be badass. People want a 707hp beast simply because they can.

But the operative word here is “want.” The same thinking applies to the Focus RS. No doubt many of us want to grab an RS, put it in Drift Mode, and pretend to be Ken Block. But how many of us are actually going to do that? Especially if we have to spend our own money not only for the car, but for the tires? Not many.

Subaru WRX and STi
Photo credit: Car Advice

The same goes for the performance poster boys from Subaru – the WRX and the WRX STi. From this picture it looks like all you get for the extra $10,000 for an STi is a ginormous wing, and even that can be eliminated. The main difference is in the running gear, the (not much) more powerful engine, the more trick differentials, and the more aggressive suspension and brakes. It’s a great car, but most of us don’t need all that stuff for our daily driving. Subaru doesn’t differentiate between STi models and the more basic WRX versions in their sales figures, but I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of WRXs that get sold are not the STi versions.

Now Ford has a similar situation on their hands with the Focus. The RS is superior to the current WRX STi in just about every way, from performance to practicality (looks like Subaru picked the wrong week to quit making STi hatchbacks). But many can’t afford or justify spending over $35,000 on a Focus, a car that starts at less than half that price. The ST now fills the role at Ford that the WRX does at Subaru, and that the VW GTI does under the Golf R. Rather than being the pinnacle of Ford’s hot hatches, the Focus ST has become the car that people will actually buy in the real world instead of a Focus RS.

Ford Focus ST interior

Some auto journalists have slammed the interior of the Focus RS because it’s nearly identical to the lesser Focus ST. But I see it as more of a compliment of how good the ST interior really is. At first the slightly funky styling of the dashboard and center console with their vertical vents didn’t appeal to me. But it’s grown on me over time, and it’s certainly far less quirky than the “New Edge” dashboard of the first generation Focus. It’s still quite a pleasant place to be, particularly once you option it up with Recaro seats. Go for the ST3 package and you get full leather heated seats and even a heated steering wheel. These luxuries were unheard of in a Focus just a few years ago, when power windows were a luxury option we wished our 2002 Focus LX had but didn’t. It’s the same situation as the Subaru STi, or the Mitsubishi Evo (RIP) – you’re paying for the trick drivetrain, not a luxurious interior.

I’ve been driving a Focus ST for the past couple of days. You may have seen my first impressions. It’s quite fun to drive, particularly in ways that I, as a True Believer in rear wheel drive, never thought possible from a front wheel drive car. It settles for less horsepower and torque than the RS, but it’s still faster than my Subaru BRZ. After driving a Focus ST for a few days, I completely understand how an equal or slightly slower driver in a Focus ST was able to catch and pass me at a Track Night In America event last year. Yes, that actually happened, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. This hot hatch is faster than my “real” sports car in every way.

Ford Focus ST hatch

The best part of a hot hatch is that it’s practical, as well as fun. The Focus passes the sit-behind-myself test, whether it’s the RS or the ST. I’ve tried both. Cargo space is also good enough to handle your groceries and a cooler. If you need more than that, the back seats fold down (though not flat, unfortunately). And as much as those of us who live in the snow belt swear by all wheel drive when the going gets rough or slippery, front wheel drive is adequate in most real world conditions we encounter. I’ve even driven my rear wheel drive BRZ through the last two winters. With a pair of snow tires, even the “worst” drivetrain for winter can handle it just fine. A front wheel drive Focus will do just fine.

The Focus ST is absolutely relevant today. Ford will likely sell many more of these than the RS, especially since they’ve had trouble keeping up with RS demand. There’s a pretty good chance that Ford will eventually be selling one of these to me. It’s far more practical than my BRZ, much more luxurious inside, and it’s faster. Sure, I want the RS too. As a rally fan, I dream of power sliding all four wheels through the corners of a gravel rally stage. But I don’t need to do that. The Focus ST fits my current needs better than the car I already own, and it’s much less expensive. This could become a problem for my bank account.