The Ford Focus ST, The History Of The Hot Hatch - SUV VEHICLE

The Ford Focus ST, The History Of The Hot Hatch

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Summary

  • Ford Focus quickly became a favorite, with a balance of power, fun, and practicality as a perfect daily driver.
  • Shifting to in-house design led to the world’s best-selling car and the revival of the hot hatch category with the Focus ST.
  • Discontinued in North America, used models remain accessible.



Twenty-two years ago, Ford launched the compact family car known as the Focus, replacing the legendary Ford Escort and filling a much-needed gap between the ‘supermini’ Fiesta and the mid-size (later full-size) Taurus. After the wild success of the Escort – selling over 250,000 cars every year through the 80s and 90s – the Focus had big boots to fill, and Ford didn’t disappoint, creating arguably the perfect daily driver with the ideal balance of power and fun.

After a decade of strong sales, Ford shifted away from the European-designed, Volvo-powered model and shifted the design and manufacture in-house, creating what would become the world’s highest-selling car and leading to a resurgence of the hot hatch segment. This shift led to the creation of a now legendary performance model; the Focus ST.


In 2018 Ford announced they were discontinuing all cars except the Mustang and crossover Focus Active, then in 2019, after tariffs were imposed on Chinese imports, Ford scrapped the Focus nameplate in North America entirely. While it was still available overseas, in particular throughout Europe, Ford has now confirmed the Focus will meet its end in 2025, bringing a close to two (and a bit) decades of compact, sporty fun.

In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from authoritative sources including Chicago Tribune, Car and Driver, GoodCarBadCar, Edmunds, zero60times, FordAuthority, and Ford.

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The Ford Focus ST, A Compact Classic


The Ford Focus ST was initially launched in 2005 as the ZX4 ST, replacing the performance SVT model, the brainchild of Ford’s Special Vehicle Team – although it wouldn’t be until the third generation in 2012 when the Focus ST would be upgraded from trim to a standalone model. Ford’s Special Vehicle Team was behind models such as the SVT Lightning and Terminator SVT Cobra Mustang, so the Focus was in good hands at the time and this set the stage for the classic it was to become. Since 2005, Ford had been offering the Focus ST in Europe with a turbocharged five-cylinder Volvo engine, and while the North American model’s engine was one cylinder and half a liter smaller, it pushed out 25 more horsepower than its European counterpart.

Turbocharged Goodness Upgraded The Focus To Hot Hatch

The stock 2012 Focus had modest power to say the least, offering just 160 horsepower from its 2.0-liter Duratec four-cylinder, the only engine on offer in the Focus at the time. Ford took this small but capable Mazda-designed engine and added a turbocharger for the ST model, pushing the power up to 252 horsepower with a manual transmission, and heating the hot hatch market.


In 2015, Ford added an even smaller engine for those with fuel economy in mind; a 1.0-liter three-cylinder with 123 horsepower, while on the other end of the scale, it officially unveiled the Focus RS which quickly launched to the top of the hot hatch world with 350 horsepower and torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive.

Performance Specifications

Model

2012 Ford Focus ST

2012 Ford Focus

Engine

2.0-Liter Turbocharged Inline-4

1.0-Liter Turbocharged 3-Cylinder

Horsepower

252

123

Torque

270 Pound-feet

125 Pound-feet

Transmission

Six-speed manual

Six-speed manual or automatic

Driveline

Front-wheel-drive

Front-wheel-drive

0-60

6.1 seconds

10.1 seconds

Top Speed

150 MPH

120 MPH


(Source: Car and Driver, Ford)

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Escorting Ford Through The 2000s

Modified 2003 Ford Focus parked with all doors open
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Following on from the Ford Escort was a tough ask, given how successful the car had been in the compact market, and with some models fetching very high prices at auction years later, it’s clear people still miss the car. Luckily for Ford, fans of the brand quickly took to the Focus, with sales figures immediately hitting numbers similar to the Escort at its prime.


Aside from an understandable dip during (and slightly after) the global financial crisis in 2008, the Focus sold around 200,000 units every year until it was discontinued by Ford in 2018, along with all other models that weren’t a Mustang. Despite this disappointing news for fans of the hot hatch Focus ST, you can’t take away from the legacy it leaves behind as one of the most impactful compact family cars in the 2000s, leading not only to massive sales for Ford but a market shift towards potent hatchbacks with proper performance upgrades.

Highest Selling Car In The World

2013 Ford Focus ST Hatchback on display
Wikimedia Commons

After a successful launch in the early 2000s, Ford went from strength to strength with the compact Focus, and in both 2012 and 2013 became the highest-selling car in the world with over one million models sold each year, in part due to an explosion of demand in China following Ford’s expansion there.


It was on the back of this stellar performance that Ford released the Focus ST in North America, and they did so at the perfect time; the Focus was in popular demand, hot hatches were making a return with models like the Golf GTI and Civic Si putting a spotlight on the class, and emissions regulations were starting to come into the picture, leading to smaller more efficient engines and a divide between smaller cars and larger trucks.

Turning A Compact Family Car Into A Performance Machine

Automotive Hall Of Fame, 2016:

Alan Mulally successfully guided Ford through the U.S. financial crisis and relentlessly implemented a comprehensive strategy for the company’s turnaround. Mulally’s strategy, called “One Ford”, brought the company together under a compelling vision and restored Ford’s status as one of the world’s leading automakers.


It wasn’t just a turbocharger and a heap of extra power that transformed the modest Focus into the monstrous Focus ST; the third generation Focus (and the first to be designed fully by Ford) was a part of Ford’s new “One Ford” plan to produce ‘world cars’, rather than have multiple variations across multiple markets. Stepping up from the stock 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 160 horsepower, the ST brought that up to 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque with a turbocharger and kept the six-speed manual transmission as standard, yet still maintained impressive fuel economy at 27 miles per gallon.

While only the Focus RS offers torque-vectoring and all-wheel-drive, the Focus ST has Torque Vectoring Control to adjust the speed and power on the front wheels to maximize cornering and reduce understeer. Pair that with AdvanceTract electronic stability control, MacPherson strut front suspension, and Control Blade multilink rear suspension, and you get a speedy little beast that practically glues to the ground while cornering.

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The Model That Gave Us The RS

The Ford Focus RS can drift right from the factory.
Ford

Given the wild success of the Focus and the performance ST model, it’s no surprise that Ford decided to ramp things up with the RS, taking an already fast and agile hot hatch and adding just what every enthusiast would want; more power, and all-wheel-drive. Not only did the Focus RS carry the same 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine as the Mustang, but it added Drift Mode and Launch Control as a clear message to drivers – this is a car you’ll want on a track.

The car was immediately difficult to buy with many orders and limited supply, and the MSRP was already high at just over $40,000, especially when compared to the Focus ST at the time, which started at a mere $23,700 – so purchasing a Focus RS was a tough decision for anyone who wasn’t an enthusiast.


A Very Hot Hatch That Kept Up With The Big Guns

Launching itself instantly to the top of the hot hatch class, the Focus RS squeezed 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque out of the EcoBoost engine (vs the Mustang’s 315) and managed a 0-60 half a second faster than the Mustang, putting it on par with the Porsche 911’s 4.6 seconds. The Focus RS dominated the hot hatch market until its retirement in 2018, and yet, when Car and Driver put it up against the Golf R and Subaru WRX STI, they found that, unless you really thrash it, the driving experience is not too different to the Focus ST. This shows just how strong the Focus ST was as a car in a market of small, underpowered family cars, and despite its compact size managed to keep up with models that on paper should have outperformed it.


Performance Specs

Model

2016 Ford Focus RS

2016 Porsche 911 Carrera

Engine

2.0-Liter Turbocharged Inline-4

3.4-Liter Inline-6

Horsepower

350

350

Torque

350 Pound-feet

287 Pound-feet

Transmission

Six-speed manual

Seven-speed manual

Driveline

All-wheel-drive

Rear-wheel-drive

0-60

4.6 seconds

4.8 seconds

Top Speed

165 MPH

180 MPH

Source: Edmunds, Ford, Porsche

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Soon To Be Gone But Not Forgotten

Green Ford Focus ST Track Pack driving away
Ford


The Focus ST was a car at the cutting edge, and if you look back at the features it included at its launch in 2012, you would be surprised that it has been over a decade. As the Focus immediately topped sales internationally, and the Focus ST was met with rave reviews, what was it exactly that made the Focus ST just so good? Ford’s SYNC system brought features like voice control, navigation, hands-free calling, and wi-fi hotspot, all through an eight-inch touch screen.

Active parking assist can reverse parallel park for you, automatic wipers are a nice touch in constantly changing weather, and Ford’s Active Grille Shutter System can open and close the front grille to improve fuel economy or increase performance by automatically adjusting airflow.

No Sign Of A Hybrid Or Electric Future For The Focus

While the Focus left the US in 2018, Ford has continued producing the model for the international market, but 2025 will see the end of the Focus at its assembly plant in Saarlouis, Germany. Ford is in fact seeking alternate opportunities for the factory that could include selling it. It’s a shame to see the end of the Ford hot hatches despite a push into EVs and hybrids.


Ford hasn’t given any indicator that it will offer up an electric version of the Focus ST. For the time being, enthusiasts can still pick a used one for a reasonable price with models averaging around the $19,000 mark, and for the money, you’re still looking at a great purchase if you want a car that can daily drive you in comfort and still take on bigger sports cars on a track.

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