2013 Ford Focus ST vs. 2012 Volkswagen GTI – Comparison Test – Car and Driver

Loneliness is never a concern when you’re at the top of the hyperkinetic hatchback class. every few months, some hooligan with fat tires and delusional aspirations shows up to fight. But not since 2009, when the sixth-generation VW GTI arrived, has this paragon of German engineering been caught up in such a succession of hostile pursuers. Over the course of its career, the GTI has evolved into the cynosure of a slot car, the very definition of affordable fun and functionality, worthy of four consecutive spots on our Top 10 list.

Although this is the last model year for the sixth generation gti, it’s game for another try. The $24,790 hatchback in this comparison is the lightest, most affordable example of a lovable breed. It is powered by a small direct injection turbocharged engine, a combination pioneered by Audi in 2005 that is fast becoming s.o.p. While a cast-iron cylinder block with output limited to 200 horsepower is slightly behind the curve, the GTI’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine working through six well-spaced gear ratios pleases smoothly. The standard equipment list includes tall cloth-trimmed seats, a grippy leather steering wheel, a to-die-for dead pedal, gorgeous 18-inch wheels, and stylish red interior and exterior accents.

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Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) turns 20 in 2013. To celebrate, a hot Focus, on hiatus since 2004, rejoins the group. But this one is tuned by SVT’s European allies, hence the ST (Sports Technologies) nameplate. Knowing exactly what it takes to race the GTI, engineers at Ford’s German RS team, the group that developed the car, set about a grueling training regimen. A Borgwarner turbo provides 19.5 psi of boost with an additional 20 seconds of overboost (up to 21 psi) to wring an impressive 252 horsepower from the 2.0-liter aluminum-block four-cylinder engine. Its 270 pound-feet of peak torque mercilessly pummels the GTI’s 207 pound-feet of peak twist. Meaty Goodyear Eagle’s 2 asymmetric F1 radials give the Focus the traction advantage, while the springs, shocks, anti-roll bars, and front and rear suspension struts are designed specifically for this car. And instead of limiting the inevitable slippage of the front tires by braking the powertrain, the RS team programmed the electrically assisted variable-ratio rack-and-pinion gear and front brakes to counteract steering torque and wheel slip. . Outside, a dual-slot roof extension, centered tailpipes, and underbody skirts signal the malevolent intent of the st. Inside, the leather-wrapped steering wheel is badged ST and there’s an additional row of gauges across the top of the dash to display boost, oil pressure and oil temperature. Recaro seats (either in partial or full leather) are part of two expensive option packages.

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Unlike the GTI, a large family of cars offered in either three-door or five-door body styles, with or without a dual-clutch automatic transmission, the Focus ST comes only as a five-door with a manual transmission from six speed. Our visually assertive tester, which starts at a base price of $24,495, is $28,170 with the addition of Tangerine Scream three-coat paint ($495), navigation ($795), and a $2,385 package consisting of the partial leather recaros, dual zone climate control, hd radio, sirius satellite reception, 10 speaker sony audio system and myford touch with eight inch lcd screen.

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allow us to dry a tear as our faithful friend suffers this defeat. The GTI is the Swiss watch of hatchbacks, with every well-oiled sprocket and wheel ticking in sync. The engine delivers its full 6,000 rpm rev range without overtaxing the eardrums or chassis. the handwheel is a single function tool with no switches to complicate its mission. The shifter cuts through gears like one of Ron Popeil’s triple-riveted, full-tang Showtime knives. brakes do not fade; The shock calibrations appear to have been copied from BMW. The front hubs grab your butt like they’re any red blooded American male and you’re a Kardashian sister. Literally and figuratively, this VW is an accomplished ass hauler.

The GTI goes door-to-door with a boisterous approach at 100+ mph despite a huge power discrepancy. unfortunately, he’s not without some character flaws. the clutch and brake pedals are no more familiar than the dead pedal. management feels disinterested in the center. while the effort builds up nicely from there, a slow steering ratio induces fuzzy elbow syndrome through tight turns. We’d be willing to trade some of the GTI’s whipped cream handling for another dash of body roll control. And the console switch located just forward of the shifter that supposedly disables stability control is a placebo: When the slide begins, automatic braking kicks in to stop such escaping.

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Those are venial sins next to the two main shortcomings that brought the GTI’s fall from grace: all-season tires and excessive understeer. Hindered by a major grip deficiency, the VW finished well behind the aggressively rubberized Focus Track on the skidpad, through the slalom cones, in braking and evaluation and handling road tests. (aka Speedway) at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan. We expect the seventh-generation GTI (expected in early 2014) to arrive with improved chassis dynamics. And you need a box on the order form where you can select the 19-inch summer tires available in Europe instead of this twisty all-season rubber.

The margins of victory are not thinner than a single point. but a win is a win and the st deserves the crown. It’s fast, fun, inexpensive, and capable of doing almost everything right, and that includes carrying the belongings of your average college student to school.

As noted, the ST doesn’t turn on the taillights on the GTI until speed hits 120 mph, and then the GTI tops out at 125. However, the ST feels substantially quicker, an impression I We credit the accompanying audio-visual entertainment with every full-speed pleasure: its “sound sympositor” (a device that actively controls induction noise) delivers a stirring rendition of the Ride of the Valkyries directly into the ear canals. The nose rises, the front wheels lose the feeling of being in front, and the body of the ST seemingly swells to consume an entire lane of roadway.

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This is torque-steering made up of a powerful engine ripping it all off at 2500 rpm, wide tires that struggle for grip, and suspension struts overwhelmed by what they’re being asked to do. Ford’s RS team engineers could have civilized full throttle moments by saving peak torque for third and higher gears, but we’re glad they didn’t. Instead, it’s up to the driver to apply the appropriate amounts of throttle, steering lock, and brains to handle the ST’s combination of ample thrust and stubborn grip hammered through a rudimentary front suspension. This approach never lets you shirk your driving duties, which is fine with us.

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Although the ST is the slightly larger and heavier hatchback, it increases the GTI’s agility with quicker, more precise steering and effort that increases linearly with lockup. That being said, the feedback from the road to the palms is no better here than it is on the GTI. St walk movements are tense but rarely disruptive.

but it’s at the limit of grip that the focus st reveals its most endearing characteristic: throttle oversteer. When you feel the front tires slipping a lot, a quick reduction in pedal pressure fixes the situation. the tail comes out elegantly but never excessively, your bow tenses, you kiss the vertex and you leave the corner along the most expeditious line. Right-handed operators are sure to be intimidated by the two-axle steering, but any driver with a little skill can make the ST dance. While both of these sportsmen are right at home on a race track, the Focus is nearly two seconds faster on the 1.6-mile, 10-turn Chrysler Speedway where we raced the cars. A stability control switch on the center stack lets you select a sport mode or an off position. And when you choose “off”, this stability control stays pleasantly disabled.

Front seat headrests tilted too far forward to accommodate helmets top our list of complaints. (fortunately the headrests can be removed and/or installed upside down). A few other small gripes: While the ST’s interior accommodations are generally satisfactory, the RS team could learn from the GTI’s dead pedal and seatback adjuster details. Because the massive wheels and tires were added without a complete front suspension overhaul, the ST’s turning radius is a harrowing 40 feet, about the same clearance a Chevy Silverado pickup requires. And, while Ford didn’t bother with a premium fuel recommended label, filling the tank with 87 octane results in a 9-hp sacrifice but no change in peak torque.

The most significant takeaway from this showdown is the fun driveline in our final results tabulation: See how the ST edged out the GTI by two points. Considering how long and how well VW has been racing slot cars, that’s a colossal achievement. Something finally caught the GTI.

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