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2015 Ford Focus ST

Mark Hacking/The Globe and Mail

If a performance car is truly worth its salt, every single aspect of the driving experience will trigger a sense of deep satisfaction for the enthusiast. The experience will begin with, first, the feel of the seats and the steering wheel and, then, the placement of the pedals. These are the main points of contact between driver and machine – every design flaw here serves only to create an impediment to performance.

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.)

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The pedal box is slightly offset; meaning, the clutch, brake and accelerator are all angled toward the centre of the car. Other reviewers have complained about this characteristic, but these reviewers are clearly not driving enthusiasts. The pedals are not a place to rest your lower extremities lazily, they are a stage upon which magic can unfold. For many an enthusiast, that magic becomes all the more meaningful when three pedals enter the equation.

The Focus ST accommodates with a 6-speed manual transmission and a pedal set that is nicely placed for left-foot braking, heel-and-toe manoeuvring and all manner of other tricky dance moves. (The transmission is so good, you may find yourself upshifting and downshifting just for the hell of it.) The engine is remarkably versatile, developing peak torque at just 2,500 rpm. Under full power, the ST is quick but not so quick as to put your license in perpetual jeopardy.

The original Focus ST came to Canada less than two years ago, so it stands that the revised version would only be mildly revised. In terms of appearance, the exterior design reflects the new Ford corporate look and the interior has been refined. The powertrain is unchanged; really no need for improvement there. But the suspension system has been upgraded.

For all the great qualities of this compact performance car, the savvy enthusiast may appreciate its handling the most. This was an absolute strength of the previous version of the ST. For a relatively powerful, front-wheel drive car, it was incredibly adept at tracing corners accurately and dealing with imperfections in the pavement.

It's probably no coincidence that Ford has been involved in the gruelling FIA World Rally Championship since 1999, winning 44 rounds along the way. In general, road cars that incorporate rally car thinking are able to handle rough roads at speed in ways that other cars cannot.

The 2015 model features new springs, stiffer shock tuning front and back, and retuned steering. In this respect, the Focus ST could be the poster child for the incremental improvement movement. The steering, handling and road-holding capabilities of the Focus ST were very good before – now they make other competitors in the front-wheel drive hot hatch class seem incredibly unsophisticated in comparison.

The 2015 Ford Focus ST is a genuine performance car.

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You'll like this car if ... You like manual transmissions, turbocharged engines and pretending you're a rally driver.

TECH SPECS

  • Type: Sport compact hatchback
  • Base price: $30,349
  • Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder
  • Transmission / Drive: 6-speed manual / Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.2 (city); 7.3 (hwy)
  • Alternatives: Fiat 500 Abarth, Honda Civic Si, MINI Cooper S, VW Golf GTI

RATINGS

  • Looks: The original Focus ST was a menacing little hatchback; with the new Ford front grille and squinty headlights, the revised version makes an even bolder statement. A body kit including a rear hatch spoiler and twin hexagonal tailpipes completes the fierce look.
  • Interior: This is a completely driver-focused environment with supportive seats, intuitive ergonomics, and bright and large gauges. Compared with the old ST, there are fewer buttons and critical information is quicker to locate, so focusing on driving is easier.
  • Performance: The turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder generates crisp response; its 252 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque set the standard in the sport compact class. The 6-speed manual is a genuine joy and the Focus ST is quick enough to keep most drivers entertained.
  • Technology: Standard features include the new Sync system, a rear-view camera and a USB smart charging port that’s twice as quick as a standard port. Options include satellite navigation and the MyFord Touch infotainment system.
  • Cargo: This is a compact car, so keep your expectations in check. With the front seats fully extended, back seat room is limited. Still, the cargo area is similarly sized to a compact crossover and the back seats fold down to open up even more space.

THE VERDICT

9.0

The prototype for what a sport compact hatchback should look like, drive like and cost.

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