2013 Ford Focus ST – First Ride

“You see how you can play with the back end going on or off the throttle?” asks Jost Capito, who is clearly having fun. Inside Ford’s European proving ground near Lommel, Belgium, the director of Global Performance Vehicles is drifting through the corners of the handling track in his latest ­project, the Focus ST, adjusting the car’s angle of attack with the right pedal. We notice that when Capito gets back on the gas, the rear of the car comes back into line. In most front-wheel-drive cars, this move would provoke understeer. But the Focus ST is unlike most front-wheel-drive cars.

The Focus ST is also a work in progress. Ford invited us to Belgium to witness the late stages of the car’s development. What’s left to do at this point is the fine tuning, the detail work that separates a great car from one that’s merely good. Under the hood lies Ford’s direct-injected, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, bookended by redesigned intake and exhaust systems. U.S.-market output figures have not been announced—it doesn’t go on sale here until late 2012—but the engine makes 247 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque in Europe.

Rest assured, our figures will be close. According to Capito, every car in every region will be the same, with the same engine, the same suspension, same tires, same brakes. This is a departure from stand­ard Ford protocol, but Capito has a knack for navigating around the bureaucracies that are typical of large companies. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because this German has as much motorsports experience as a Schumacher: He ran Red Bull Sauber’s F1 campaign from 1998 to 2001. Before that, he headed Porsche’s racing efforts. And before that, he won the truck category in the 1985 Paris–Dakar rally. A story that speaks to his racer’s ingenuity: In the previous Focus ST (an offshoot of the not-for-the-U.S. second-generation Focus), he wanted higher-quality top-grain leather for the steering wheel, but internal regulations forbade this, even for a specialty car. Learning that perforated leather requires the use of the better cowhide, Capito made a new request for perforated leather that circuitously granted him his steering wheel.

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