CRITICS' CORNER

Focus ST: Less choppy, more buttons, but no GTI

Ford has given the 2015 Focus ST high-performance hatchback a mild freshening that includes a light cosmetic improvement and a retuned suspension. And this year, buyers can order all-season tires for $30 extra. Previous models were available only with summer tires. Here are a few samples of recent reviews:

"If all you're looking to do is go quick in a straight line, the mud-and-snow tires don't hinder acceleration from the 252-hp turbo four, as the ST returned a zero-to-60 time of 6.3 seconds, as well as a quarter-mile time of 14.9 seconds. Although we've had 6.3-second STs in the past, 14.9 makes this ST ever so slightly pokier in that measure of the four we've evaluated. It's doubtful the tires are to blame -- a tenth of a second is well within the tolerance for production variance. The Volkswagen GTI, with either its manual or dual-clutch automatic transmission, will walk away from the ST, however.

"Ford also worked over the ride and handling for 2015, and the results are more profound than what we expected after reading the brief. Most of the work was carried out on the front end, with a stiffer subframe, springs, and bushings. (The rear also got firmer bushings.) A choppy ride was one of our few complaints of the ST when it launched, and Ford's removal of some play in the front has done wonders. The '15 car makes use of the firmer springs without the harshness of, say, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or the Mini John Cooper Works." -- Car and Driver

"Without a front limited-slip differential, the electronic torque vectoring system does its best to lightly brake the wheel with the least grip, but wheelspin is virtually unavoidable even on a bone-dry surface. On the wet Spanish mountain passes we encountered, caution was the way forward. Carry too much speed into an apex, or jump on the throttle too early, and the front tires break loose, forcing the nose straight on rendering the steering wheel useless in your hands. Exercise patience, though, find the grip, and the ST's balance and poise is second to none. It feels flat, planted, and secure at anything up to 10 tenths, at which point that understeer, or lift-off oversteer, comes into play. Regardless of how hard you're pushing, though, the engine fizzes away under the hood, responding immediately to your right foot and producing just enough of a growl to keep you interested. -- Motor Trend

"Interior: Here's where the big news is: The buttons are back. Badly stung by negative press and plunging initial quality scores, Ford has been slowly reversing its design direction. It went from traditional interior controls to flat touch-sensitive panels and voice controls, but the new Focus finally comes full circle. The interior, even in Focuses equipped with MyFord Touch, is completely conventional with buttons on the dashboard for climate control, audio, ancillary systems and more. A big touch-screen remains in the center console for navigation, entertainment and the Sync system." -- Cars.com

"The seats on the 2015 Ford Focus ST are dynamite, a pair of deep-dish buckets from the Italian craftspeople at Recaro. The side bolsters are so high, those of us with a broader backside may find the situation intolerable. But if you can wedge yourself into this leather-ensconced, crevasse-like compartment, the rewards will be great.

"The steering wheel is of the flat-bottomed variety, a design that allows drivers who like to get right on top of the controls, NASCAR-style, some clearance for their legs when making hairpin turns. The wheel adjusts for rake and reach, de rigeur for performance cars, of course, but not always found on compact cars. This function, combined with the power seat, should enable a decent fit for all but the lankiest of drivers. (Curiously, though, in their respective lowest settings, the power driver's seat sits lower than the manually operated front passenger seat.)" -- The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

You can reach at autonews@crain.com. -- Follow on Twitter

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