Instead of the media drive, I opted to participate in the consumer event, Focus ST Performance Academy. I enjoy events that allows me to chat with other car people and take in consumer opinions on-the-spot. Grassroots events such as this are the future of automotive marketing and will become more prevalent as CMO’s realize the value of getting people behind the wheel.
When Ford opened registrations for the drive event slots filled up in one day. Due to overwhelming interest in the event more time slots were added and thankfully I was able to secure one.
Ironically the drive was held at FedEx Field, a place notorious for disappointing performances. I arrived just after 2 p.m and took a stroll through the parking lot, curious to see how prospective ST owners currently satisfy their automotive needs.
An M3 and WRX set side-by-side sporting blue tape numbers on their doors. They were either headed to track event or there’s a new trend I’m unacquainted with.
A collection of Honda S2000s were lined up in show car fashion. A few older Focus SVTs were scattered about. A caravan of Mustangs were just arriving.
Surprisingly a majority of the cars were “normal”, void of any performance derived nomenclature or signs of track duty.
Once through registration, drivers received a pre-race brief and course walkthrough. Jonathan, our instructor and Ford product specialist, walked our group through the do’s and don’ts of the drive.
Jonathan asked who in the group has ever raced before? Not one hand went up. I was surrounded by motoring noobs. As I witnessed stalled cars and smashed cones throughout the day it was evident; most of the attendees had never participated in a track event.
I want highlight this because I believe it’s very important. Ford was able to get people off their couches and for many put a car through an autocross for the first time ever.
If motorsport virginity is a real thing for many of the attendees Ford was their ‘first kiss’. That’s a powerful thing. The kind of thing that sticks with you.
There were two courses available. The first course allowed drivers to become familiar with the car and the concept of cones. Looking out into a sea of orange and green cones can be nerve-racking, especially for a track-virgin. This first go-around was a slow speed introduction, allowing drivers to become familiar with the shifting, braking, steering and overall science behind staying between the cones.
The second track was longer, had more turns and most importantly had a standing digital read out of your lap time. Written under the digital display in bright green marker was Fastest Lap of the Day . Feedback on how much you suck at racing was real time.
Ford had two trim levels of the ST on hand. The first trim commonly referred to as ST2 (201A) adds a 10-speaker Sony audio system to include a 10’’ subwoofer). The ST2 also upgrades you to Recaro seats. The added bass and Recaros add $2,385 to the base price bringing the car to $26,880. For $4,435 over the base price the ST3 (202A) package offers navigation, rear seat armrests, ambient lighting and an overhead storage compartment. ST3 also fully-wraps the Recaro seats in leather and includes a heated seat option. HIDs are only available on the ST3 package as well.
The Focus ST is only offered in a manual. I assume this is because Ford doesn’t have an automatic transmission that is good enough for track use. The current automatic gearbox in the Focus, known as Powershift, hasn’t been well received by owners.
Ford did have a Focus Titanium on-hand equipped with a Powershift auto for those who wanted to run the course but weren’t manual transmission savvy. Interestingly enough there were a few people who turned out the same track times in the Titanium car as they did in the ST.
Inside the Recaro seats are inviting and very athletic. Like most automotive seats sourced from Recaro they are designed for performance and not comfort. They are meant to do one thing – hold you in place while cornering. That means for the average American, the Focus ST seats are going to be snug. I even overheard a few people saying the Recaros were ‘too small.’
A driver standing in front of me said to his co-pilot, “I’m glad it has a boost gauge so I know how much boost I have left.” Shook my head wondering if I should ask the if he knew how often we’d have to fill up the ‘boost tank’.
Once in the car…I drove. I didn’t have time to evaluate the pliability of dash materials or determine if SYNC would connect to my Zune (yes, I have a Zune). I just drove.
The Focus ST is a Front-Wheel-Drive rocket. Automakers in the profession of building quick FWD cars have always had one big obstacle to contend with – torque steer.
Ever pulled out in front of someone in a FWD car and taken off so fast the wheel jerks out of your hands? That’s torque steer. The ST has it, but it is controlled and is almost fun in a way.
According to Ford, “Enhanced Torque Vectoring Control applies steering pressure more aggressively and also adds cornering control, which applies torque to create a yaw effect based on the car’s understeer, both in power-on and power-off conditions.” While my track time was limited to three 30-second runs never once did I experience torque steer. Plenty of understeer (late braking on my part), but never torque steer.
In the corners the car was flat. I was expecting a bit more roll, but surprisingly it was buttoned down nicely. I saw a few Foci taking corners on three wheels, likely being piloted by one of the more experienced drivers.
Acceleration was notable, but not amazingly impressive. On the (very small) track power was always available, but I was only using two gears, first and second.
For this event drivers were instructed:
“Once into second gear, place your left foot on the dead pedal and roll on and off the throttle around the course. No clutching in the corners and no shifting.”
Small displacement turbos tend to lose their ommph and fun once at highway speed. I’d be interested to see how the Focus ST performs in a 50-75ish mph sprint.
The Focus ST will do well. It has no American competitors. General Motors hasn’t pushed the Cruze into Cobalt SS territory and Chrysler has yet to confirm a Dart SRT.
While the Focus ST is aimed at darling hot hatches, like the GTI and the Speed3, I don’t think it was built to compete directly with those vehicles. Instead I see its entrance as two fold. Partly it is a byproduct of product homogenization, One Ford. Even the name ‘ST’ is a European moniker. The American performance Focus had always carried the ‘SVT’ badge.
Secondly, I think this product is an attempt to be relevant in a growing market that can only be described as – cool, affordable, techy, performance. Better know as GenY’s Go-Fast.
Ford has always played well in the blue-collar performance arena with the Mustang and the work-world has crowned Ford’s bread and butter, the F-150 King of Trucks. The Focus ST is Ford’s way of saying, “Hey. We can do more than drag race and tow. We can turn too!”
Will the Focus ST be a record breaking sales success? Doubtful. But the car does have the recipe to change how enthusiasts and consumers see Ford and that is a win in and of itself.
Other photos taken at event: