Ford joins the hot-hatch club with Focus ST
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- For many years there was a gulf as wide as the Atlantic Ocean between American and European preferences in moderately priced performance cars.
Americans mostly went for muscle cars such as the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, where thundering V-8s were the engines of choice. By contrast, Europeans went for small, so-called hot hatchbacks powered by high-revving turbocharged four-cylinder engines.
Americans who wanted a taste of hot-hatch excitement had to go with imports such as the Volkswagen GTI. Japanese carmakers got into the hot-hatch act with spirited, moderately priced cars such as the MazdaSpeed3 and Subaru WRX. Ford Motor Co. enjoyed a hot-hatch reputation, but it was based on Europe-only cars, such as the previous Focus ST and Focus RS.
Ford now believes high gasoline prices and changing customer tastes have altered the playing field on this side of the Atlantic.
Enter the five-door Focus ST. Now there's room for a domestic competitor in the mix, said Seema Bardwaj, the Focus ST brand manager, speaking at the car's U.S. media launch here.
"We feel like the segment is growing," says Bardwaj, who estimates the compact hot-hatch subsegment at about 47,000 units per year. "These people are very Europhile."
Ford researchers came up with a hypothetical customer for the ST: a 29-year-old software engineer who lives in California's Silicon Valley. He's more into Formula One Grand Prix and World Rally Car racing than NASCAR.
The Focus ST went on sale in late August. Of the roughly 750 units sold so far, about 80 percent were bought by men, says Bardwaj. Of those vehicles, the majority have been the top-of-the-line ST3 package, which stickers at $30,355, including shipping. The entry level ST1 starts at $24,495, also including shipping.
The ST is the first Focus to get Ford's 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. Tuned specifically for the Focus ST, this version of the engine cranks out 252 hp and 270 pounds-feet of torque, and is EPA-rated at 25 mpg city/32 highway. All versions of the car have a six-speed manual gearbox.
Ford engineered the Focus ST to give performance drivers a satisfying and robust growl when they're navigating twisty roads via something called the "sound symposer," which was developed for Ford's European performance cars. It synthesizes sound to bring the most pleasing performance sounds into the cabin. But the car is still quiet at highway speeds.
The Focus ST rides on 18-inch alloy wheels with Goodyear Eagle performance tires. It has its own version of the Ford trapezoidal grille and is available in Performance Blue, Race Red and White in addition to Tangerine Scream, a color option on the top-of-the-line ST3 model.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.