For Christmas 2017, I bought my father a performance driving course to give him the opportunity to take his beast out (SS Commodore). Part of the deal was I would go along and borrow a car to take, as at the time I only had access to a company car (Hyundai i30) and the boss would probably not be too impressed.
Being hugely passionate about cars, I had a fantastic day. Even though I have done a day like this before in my old 2011 Fiesta, it brought back the passion for cars that I had lost when I sold my Fiesta. The relationship and connection that can be built between human and car is something special. This day and my passion, combined with the news of a new local track opening up for accessible and affordable track days, immediately got me thinking.
Moving forward three weeks and $20K later enters a 2013 Ford Focus ST with 60,000km on the clock. This comes from someone who vowed to never own a Ford again, mainly to go something different, but to also get away from Ford’s awful reputation (PowerShift) and crappy customer service. However, these factors played in my favour when purchasing the Focus.
The depreciation of most European Fords now (especially the Focus) meant I could get a very clean, lowish-kilometre hatchback, with a ton of power, great handling, practicality and comfort – which also provided the owner with a smile every time he drove it – for what I think is a bargain.
I also could not find a similar car with these performance credentials, technology, kilometres and condition for the money. I did look at Golf GTIs (not sure about reliability), Golf R32s (nice but also reliability), Toyota FT86 (good car, it just didn’t grab me on the test drive, and its interior rattled on a relatively new example), Fiesta ST (felt like I had already done the Fiesta thing and no thanks to three doors) and a Focus XR5T (was very tempted, but the ST was cheaper with more tech and power). Nothing matched the Focus ST as an overall package.
Moving forward again six months and 9000km, an evening at the drags and a track day later, I am still in love. It just feels so right to me to get in and drive away. Something that is generally limited to the weekends due to work.
Behind the wheel, it is very comfortable and extremely supportive with its excellent Recaro seats. Not necessarily suited to the larger build, but for me it's perfect. The seats hold you in brilliantly when putting lap after lap on it at the track, but it is also perfectly comfortable on a long-distance highway stint.
The ride is harsh, yes, but this only really becomes a bit tiresome on bumpy country roads, otherwise it’s not a problem and something the seats also help to soak up. Its freeway stability is excellent, and easily able to chew up hundreds of kilometres in sixth gear for hours. Road noise is also very muted.
Speaking of sixth gear, the engine is excellent. Anywhere from 60km/h upwards it is more than happy in sixth gear. It will pull up hills easily at that speed with the RPM sitting around 1300–1400. Stir the smooth gearbox up (which has a slightly longer throw than expected but is very livable) and you can really get the animal out of the car. The speed limit, no matter what it is, approaches fast.
It does torque steer, but I have never found this scary or a worry. You just need to be aware it's coming. Ford intentionally (as reported by the company anyway) did not tune all the torque steer out of the car to leave some character. Whether that is true or not, I actually agree. It makes the car seem like a bit of a wild animal that needs to be tamed. I like this.
Handling is great. The steering is very fast; the grip is excellent (even on the unknown brand of tyres the dealer put on it prior to purchase). Applying too much power early on in the corner very quickly gets the inside wheel spinning. A good set of tyres will probably fix this or improve it, but I will look at that when the current ones wear out.
The brakes are excellent. Upon purchase it looked like it recently had the discs machined and new pads put in. On the track they were excellent performance-wise with great bite, for a while, until the soft pads started to get too hot. The car would still stop brilliantly, but the front pads needed to be changed and the front discs machined after the day. However, this may not have been the car's fault, more likely mine from a lack of experience and not giving them a chance to cool down.
Technology-wise, it is obviously not up to today's standards, but it still comes with sat-nav (which is terrible), reverse camera, Bluetooth, an excellent nine-speaker Sony stereo, excellent (after I adjusted the height) auto xenon headlights, cornering lamps, climate control, cruise control with speed limiter, and the list goes on. For the money, very happy with it in this department.
Negatives. All cars have them, this is no different. The wheels look brilliant but are a massive pain to clean. The ride on country roads can be tiresome (as mentioned earlier). Ford’s capless refuelling system is great at the station, but horrible filling up with a fuel can (track days). The turning circle is massive and makes it quite difficult to manoeuvre in car parks. Also, the headlights are excellent, but I had to adjust them to match another car’s headlight height to make them excellent.
Overall, I'm absolutely stoked that I could get a car as good and as versatile as this for $20,000. Especially one in such great condition with full service history. The car doesn’t rattle inside or out, nor has it given me any reason to doubt its reliability in the last 9000km.
I did do plenty of research on the car, and there aren’t any horror stories or any question marks raised over it. Like any other car it has its reported niggles, but nothing worth mentioning really.
Fuel consumption has been rather good, getting anywhere from 6.8–7L/100km on the highway and 8–9L/100km around town. This car does not do a work commute, so my economy isn’t all that consistent. For a laugh, though, it did do 22L/100km on the track day. Totally worth it.
One happy Ford owner.