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The Original Focus ST Wasn’t That Bad

I once boldly stated that your first three cars say a lot about you. My first three were a mixed bag, and you all literally posted hundreds of replies showing how you got your start in the automotive ownership world. This is a tale of one of my ownership experiences — and for some reason I feel the need to defend it.

In the world of performance Ford Focus variants, the "ST" is pretty well-known. Well, the current third-generation-based ST is pretty well-known, but did you know there was a previous version over a decade ago? It arrived in 2004, the same year Ford discontinued the vaunted SVT Focus. This one was pretty solid, though, and it had a Cosworth-tuned Duratec engine! OK, so I’ll admit that it wasn’t as good as the SVT, or even today’s ST, but the history books at least need to be annotated to show that it was a decent car. I owned one, I should know!

We all know about the SVT Focus, only produced here in the States between 2002 and 2004. It hails from what was determined at the time to be a golden age at Ford. It shared the showroom with the Terminator Mustang Cobra, the SVT Lightning and, during its final year, the mighty Ford GT. I would argue that the current Ford showroom is even better now, but that’s not the point of this article. Suffice to say, things were rockin’, and Ford would love to have you come a-knockin’.

And go a-knockin’ I did! I traipsed into a Ford showroom in 2006 looking for a daily driver. The prologue to this part of the story is that I hatched a great plan to own two cars — one a 2-door sports car, and the other, well, something not boring to get me to work and back. The 2-door sports car ended up being my very first Miata, a nice NB variant that I found in upstate New York. After a transmission failure, I swapped it for a 350Z and was off to find a suitable daily driver. I liked the look of the Focus and went shopping.

Ford Focus ST

A silver Focus caught my eye on the dealer’s lot. The bespoilored sedan looked like it had borrowed its trunk from a WRX STI, but I liked the overall look. This car — an ST, if you haven’t caught on — came with the "Street Appearance" package, which meant that, aside from the wing, you got extra body cladding, model-specific wheels and a pretty decent interior with heated leather seats, heated mirrors, a sunroof and a decent stereo. Oh, and the aforementioned 2.3-liter 4-cylinder Cosworth-tuned Duratec engine, which made 151 horsepower and 154 lb-ft of torque. So it was down 19 horsepower on the beloved SVT — but owing to a different differential, it was only slightly slower from zero to 60.

Underneath, the ST used similar dampers and stabilizer bars to those of the SVT, but unfortunately Ford fitted the ST with significantly softer springs. An easy fix via the aftermarket, of course, although I never quite got that far with mine. I was sold after the test drive. The revvy engine pulled the silver sedan more than adequately up to highway speed; the leather-wrapped shifter was a bit long in the throw but still fun to row.

Ford Focus ST

I used the ST as a daily driver for less than a year, when I traded it — along with the 350Z — in for a new 6-speed Infiniti G35S sedan. I found myself pining to drive the Z, to the point where I would drop off my son at daycare and then drive back home to grab the Z and pilot it to work. It may have sounded a bit like an angry vacuum cleaner, but the 3.5-liter felt like a rocket compared to the ST. So I found something that replaced both vehicles, and the ST has been relegated to but a blip in my car ownership history.

However, if you’re out shopping for an interesing, unique used car (Ford only sold 14,464 STs in North America), and you see the ST badge on the back of an early 2000s Focus, it’s not some idiot pretending his car is something it isn’t. Ford actually built an ST 15 years ago, and it’s pretty good. There are currently 14 ST models from 2004-2007 on Autotrader; go take a look. Keep an eye out for the 2005 model if you can find one; for model years 2006 and 2007, the ST’s suspension geometry was changed to provide a softer ride. I ended up buying another new Focus ST circa 2014; it was also silver. Thus ends this quick lesson in performance Fords. Tune in next time for my thoughts on the G35 sedan, which, aside from my current IS300, which I said was just about perfect, is one of the best all-around cars I’ve ever owned. Find a used Ford Focus for sale

Based in Northern Virginia, William is professional writer and editor and acts as the Editor-in-Chief of Right Foot Down. He misspent most of his youth on tracks in the Mid-Atlantic, as well as killing cones in parking lots, and he once taught at a teen performance driving school.
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