Used Vehicle Review: Ford Focus ST, 2013-2017

Vehicle Type

Focus ST owners tend to rave about performance, great ride quality that’s expertly set between sporty and comfortable

Sports hatchback

History/Description

Ford entered the Canadian hot-hatch scene in 2012 with the launch of the 2013 Ford Focus ST. With higher power output, lowered suspension, bigger wheels and exhausts, and various body add-ons, this hot-hatch Focus variant was geared up to do battle with competitors from Volkswagen, Mini, Volvo, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and others.

The ST entered the hot-hatch game in the same way as everyone else – with predictable upgrades and a power advantage over standard Focus commuter models. In concept, it was far from unique or revolutionary, and indeed, it arrived a bit late to the party despite quickly proving to be a compelling package. Slick suspension and braking systems, a punchy engine, an admirably muscular clutch, and good looks, helped create appeal.

Best of all, with a decent cargo hold, fold-down rear seats and utility to spare, Focus ST offered up thrilling performance that was family-activity-ready – possibly making it an easy sell to an apprehensive significant other.

Engines / Trim

The Ford Focus ST came just one way in the powertrain department – with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine generating 252 hp, applied to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. This made the ST one of the most powerful machines in its segment, and a solid all-around performer. Notably, a special intake system gave the ST an admirable engine tone when opened up, and your writer has noted excellent real-world fuel efficiency on past test drives, even driven spiritedly.

Feature content included a premium Sony stereo system, performance gauge cluster, race-ready Recaro seats, interior mood lighting system, push-button start, Ford Sync with navigation, and full power accessories.

What Owners Like

Focus ST owners tend to rave about performance, great ride quality that’s expertly set between sporty and comfortable, a great shifter and clutch combination, the snarly engine note, good fuel economy, and solid feature content for the money. Steering and handling are also highly rated, as is the Sony stereo system.

What Owners Dislike

Some owners wish the Focus ST had a more upscale and luxurious cabin, with less cheap plastic paneling, while larger drivers wish for less-grippy seats, which can be a snug fit for wider or heavier folks. A larger-than-expected turning circle is also noted. Finally, some owners say that the SYNC system can be fussy at times, and wish for a larger touchscreen or more straightforward interface.

The Test Drive

As many a Focus ST from the used market will be just a few years old with reasonable mileage, and likely still covered by the factory warranty, successful shopping for a worry-free unit is largely a function of opting for a model with as much remaining factory warranty as possible, and a model that’s familiar to your local Ford dealer, and preferably, one that’s been regularly serviced there.

Start with the basics. First, confirm that the unit you’re considering has had all applicable software updates applied, which, among other things, can fix issues with a potentially fussy Ford SYNC interface, as well as with other vehicle systems. Ask the seller if the vehicle is up to date on its updates; or get in touch with Ford Canada or a local dealer, with the unit’s VIN number, to confirm.

Next up, approach the used ST assuming that it is overdue for all fluid changes, maintenance work, and that it needs a new clutch, new tires, and new brakes, until you or a mechanic confirms otherwise. Now’s the time to confirm that the seller isn’t trying to stick you with the replacement costs of these potentially pricey parts.

Signs of brake wear include a squealing or squeaking sound, or a dull pulsation, when the brakes are applied with light to moderate pressure.

Coax slippage from a worn clutch by applying full throttle at low revs in third or fourth gear, ideally while climbing a hill. Keep your foot to the floor as the vehicle accelerates from low revs under high load, and be on the lookout for any signs of clutch slippage. Also, note that a shifter that either seems to bite back during gear shifts, grinds, or pops out of gear can be a sign of trouble with the clutch or transmission.

Next, if you’re the average shopper and you’re not up on the world of Focus ST customization, confirm that the model you’re considering hasn’t been modified with major non-factory parts or software. Though intake and exhaust systems are typically no cause for alarm, more involved modifications – like non-factory engine computer software, chips, tunes, suspension-lowering kits and non-factory engine parts – may cause issues. Poor quality parts and installation may adversely affect the Focus ST’s overall durability and reliability, and may void the vehicle’s warranty too. Translation? The average shopper should stick to stock.

Give this thread a read for information on a potential problem with wheel-speed sensor corrosion that can cause issues with numerous vehicle systems, including the power-steering system, ABS, traction control, cruise control, and hill-hold assist. If the vehicle exhibits problems or non-functionality relating to any or all of the systems above, during your test drive or later during ownership, a Ford dealer may need to replace this sensor.

Here’s another discussion about repairing a wiring harness to address a potential issue with engine stalling and an erratic idle. A Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) was apparently issued by Ford to address this problem, which may or may not be accompanied by a check engine light (CEL). Note that some owners report that Ford dealers will not perform this TSB unless the vehicle has a stored trouble code relating to the issue, and that a DIY fix is possible, though it is not advised for those uncomfortable working with vehicle wiring. Here’s some more reading.

On the topic of the check engine light, if the ST you’re considering shows a misfire code during a diagnostic scan, one possible culprit is the spark plugs. This is more likely if they’re nearing the end of their service life. Be sure not to prolong spark plug changes, for maximum peace of mind.

This thread outlines the ST’s use of three pressure sensors in the turbocharger system to control engine operation, as well as some potential issues if one or more of those sensors fail. If the ST you’re considering feels sluggish or performs inconsistently, and whether or not there’s a check engine light illuminated, have a diagnostic scan performed to confirm that these sensors are in proper working order. If they are, and performance still feels sub-par, have a Ford technician check the turbocharger system out in further detail before agreeing to purchase.

One final note: if the ST you’re considering is still within warranty, be sure to report any noted problems with vehicle operation early, and confirm that the dealer documents them. This may speed warranty claims, if needed, and can help shoppers out if a reported problem becomes more serious, even after the warranty period.

The Verdict

Other than a few sensor and wiring related issues that should prove easy to diagnose on a pre-purchase inspection, a non-modified Focus ST, so far, seems to be a solid sports hatch where reliability is concerned. Budget for a pre-purchase inspection at a Ford dealer, confirm that all maintenance and software updates are current, and buy confidently.

Here’s a list of recalls for the Ford Focus. Note that some of these apply to the unique Focus ST variant, and some don’t. Contact your Ford dealer for more information.

Crash Test Ratings

N/A

Solid sports hatch buy.