BY GERRY MILES
The automotive world of the hot hatches is heating up.
That’s the clear message to take away after Ford showed off their hot hatches: the Ford Fiesta ST and Ford Focus ST.
While both are still part of the SVT line – remember the SVT Cobra and Contour a few years ago as well as the SVT Focus that had a brief run before disappearing? They’re still there in theory, and working in conjunction with Ford and the ST series overseas. The ST acronym stands for Sports Technologies.
To keep the connection to the ST rally series and those who follow it across the Atlantic, Ford chose to drop the V in the hot hatch nomenclature but keep it with the SVT Raptor and Tremor truck lines. (Using SVT and Cobra in the same sentence is almost redundant and should be a given to any knowing gearhead.)
Ford’s Mike Murphy also claimed while swearing an allegiance upon the company’s vaunted Blue Oval that the overseas ST models would be the same that arrived stateside. I questioned this because years ago Ford claimed the same underpinnings of its Mondeo would be found in the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique. Having driven Mondeo at the Ford Proving Grounds and then said Contour, I noticed a discernable softer suspension. Ford summarily dismissed the notion but years later caved, admitting they had softened the ride for some forgettable silly reasons.
Murphy and SVT engineer Tim Smith understand my skepticism but firm in their delivery that working on a global platform should assure US buyers that an ST is an ST as is every other ST they see. This time. Really. Trust them they implored.
To underscore the point of Ford’s global platform and collaborative efforts, Smith o added that there’s a lot of European design and collaboration from Europe that produced a lot of the features and styles that are so popular in the new Ford Escape.
The Fiesta ST debuted in Europe in 2005.
Today’s test version was equipped with a 1.6-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder that puts out some 197 hp topping the 181 produced by the Mini Cooper S and Chevy’s Sonic RS that generates 138 hp, Ford notes.
Mated to a six-speed manual and the go-power under the right pedal, there’s no shortage of yee-haw giddy up fun to be had in this swift four-door hatchback.
If the exhaust note sounds a tad grouchier with its growl, it should: Ford augmented the sound with what it calls a mechanical sound symposer that was previously used on the Focus ST. Think of having a tube that opens up around 3,000 rpms to let the noise and vibration and harshness that other cars try to muffle fed into the passenger cabin so that any assault upon the open road assuages the auditory senses.
Take off can be predictably quick, as the revs race up so too does engine noise, the front-drive pulls ferociously and if you’re not holding on tightly – the requisite understeer that’s been forever the bane of front-drive cars accelerating quickly will raise its torque steer head. Forewarned is forearmed.
Shifts are quick, responsive, invigorating and exciting. It helps that the test car had the Recaro option seat package and accoutrements that prove the ST series is more than an upgrade package that offers a sport sticker on the side, different wheels and cloth seats with some sort of rallye package and a slightly bigger motor wedged into the engine well. Nope, the ST series is the real deal.
For the frugal, look at the four doors as being versatile daily driver and grocery go-kart.
As you would expect this is the faster car from 0-to-60 mph given the 2-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder with turbocharged direct injected gasoline providing a wallop when you stand on the go pedal.
With 252 horses under the hood, the power is palpable and pleasing as you rocket forward with the greatest of ease. A shorter first gear is meant for quick off-the-line getaway speed compared to relatively taller gears while rowing from second to sixth.
Focus also owns a longer, larger torque band to keep the revs up and on call without delay. Crossing down a highway and the reversing direction, the on-ramp provided the perfect launch ramp to see what the Focus ST could do. Waiting for the traffic light to turn, I hit the juice, shifted and was at the top of the ramp after barely reaching third gear with plenty to spare. If a closed test track and open stretch of pavement provided itself, there’s no doubt this car has the legs to run fresh and tirelessly like a greyhound over the long haul. The tall sixth gear was another point the SVT team worked on to achieve 32 mpgs on the highway in the Focus ST.
AdvanceTrac is only on the Focus ST and provides:
- a standard driving mode for all surfaces
- a sport mode: traction from AdvanceTrac comes on only when necessary
- shut off: for track use with no AdvanceTrac interaction at all
Like previous SVT models, production will be limited to boost exclusivity and demand up. It also prevents the market from being watered down with models that may need tweaks and presenting a slower response time to any needed updates.
“SVT owners are a certain breed that really, really love their cars in a special way,” Smith said. “They want to keep the window sticker just so, all the paper work just so, some even want the markings off the windshield that the dealer put there that were scraped off before delivery. We want to do what the SVT owners know is special and expect.”
As a former Fiesta owner in the late 1970s who had a Ghia Sport edition, I loved the car and its ability to go through anything without a fuss.
After Ford pulled Fiesta to give us its “world car” aka the Ford Escort (I’ll withhold my comments here) the company struggled mightily for years to adequately replace the magic that Fiesta provided stateside but dropped while continuing to provide in Europe.
Given a chance to ask then Ford CEO Alex Trotman why they dropped the Fiesta and gave us the, ahem, Festiva and Aspire as inadequate replacements years later, Trotman hemmed before answering me, “there’s always one of you guys around no matter where I go isn’t there?” he laughed. “What was it with that car that has so many of you still enamored with it?”
After I reeled off my laundry list of great things, he demurred admitting I was right.
The main reason Ford did not import what it sold so many over in Europe? Weight. I recall Trotman telling me that the weight of the European Fiesta and tariffs I believe made it impossible to import are a prurient price point to be competitive in the small car segment. Thus, the buying public had to chew on and summarily spit out said Aspire and Festiva.
History notwithstanding, I assure you the ST twins are nothing like the cars of old.
They and their colors are brash, bold, refined and ready to rock ‘n’ roll.
Where as the Fiesta ST would be a quicker, better handling car over an autocross, the Focus ST is a rocket off the line from 0-to-60 mph and a long-distance runner like the cartoon “roadrunner.”
Admitting that their prices were closely aligned, as were their options, Smith opined the cars were like brothers: born from the same DNA but with different, appreciable attributes.
It’s hard to find fault with either offering, but for the full experience, fit and tactile feel, I heartily suggest opting for the Recaro seating option in either vehicle. Otherwise, you’ve bought the steak but won’t hear the sizzle. And what’s the point of that?