Throughout much of the 2014 Ford Focus lineup, you'll find performance that isn't particularly quick in terms of acceleration, but very sporty if you value crisp steering response and agile handling.
Most Focus models are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; with direct injection and variable valve timing, it makes 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, and it's paired with either a five-speed manual gearbox or six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch automatic.
Choose the manual gearbox and you'll have one of the best-driving small cars in the segment. Even though it's not the quickest, and you have to rev the engine to get to its perky side, it's an agreeable combination, with a light, easy clutch takeup. As for the PowerShift dual-clutch automatic transmission, it does a good job keeping the revs up when you need them, but it can be rough at times at lower speeds. Furthermore, there's no Sport mode--only a little +/- button on the side of the shift knob.
If you really want to get the most out of the handling and capability in the Focus, the ST might be your thing. It instead comes with a 240-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that allows the Focus to get to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds, and to a top speed of 155 mph. There's no available automatic transmission here--only a six-speed manual.
The Focus ST provides as much of a performance rush as you might guess; it doesn't disappoint. What's surprising, though, is how well the car is engineered and integrated; there's none of the twitchy tuner-car attitude that can affect the Mazdaspeed3 and Mitsubishi Evolution, and Subaru WRX STI, for instance. With steering and suspension different than in other Focus models--there's a quick, variable-ratio steering rack, a suspension lowered by 10 mm, and a rear suspension that moves its mounting points outward--this is a model that feels like a performance car, beyond what's under the hood.
Separately a handling package on the Titanium trim adds a sport suspension, summer performance tires, and painted alloy wheels.
Throughout the rest of the lineup, the Focus is one of the better-handling cars to begin with. Ford's electric power steering system provides nice weighting and it performs well, providing precise control but not transmitting much feel of the road. The suspension is quite firm, yet it doesn't crash over some of the harsher stuff.About the only disappointment here is that low-end Focus S and SE models come with sub-par rear drum brakes instead of discs.