CarsDirect Artciles: Focus ST vs Madzaspeed3

As an aside that would otherwise go unheard, I’m putting out blogs of my work versus my own thoughts, as they are two different things.

Originally Written:
With a healthy sport compact market in America, there are two cousins who have car guys and magazines talking.  From the now broken family of Ford and Mazda comes the battle of the Ford Focus ST and the Mazdaspeed3: two high-power, front-drive, turbo-charged five-door hatches that come manual only, and with big grilles up front.

Ford has a racing history in Europe, and nto the 21st century the Focus was a rally animal, complete with road-going RS model that was forbidden fruit for America.  The second generation Euro-Focus we didn’t get at all, and that second gen saw not just an RS but a slightly toned-down ST.  Finally, it’s fig leaf time: the third generation Focus is a world car again, and this time everyone gets the same Focus ST.  To show that the Focus isn’t all hype, the performance numbers of the 2.0L EcoBoost turbo engine packs quite the wallop:  252hp, 270ftlb, while still earning 23/32 city/highway mpg.  One of the most noted traits of the ST is a nicely controlled rear-end when driving hard.  The electrically boosted power steering doesn’t get the top marks, but few have mastered this fuel-conserving system.  Another hit-or-miss feature is electronic torque vectoring that uses the front brakes to help control motions rather than a mechanical differential.  Regardless, it’s a car that lets a driver play around a little, allowing for balance in all ways and not just power.

The Mazdaspeed3 still holds the power in this power war—263hp and class-tops 280ftlb—but it also suffers with a V8-like 18/25 fuel economy rating.  The styling of the Mazdaspeed3 has aged, and is less clean than the generation before (the hood scoop makes it look “like a dinosaur” to some casual observers).  That big lump on the hood is still a welcome function over the first generation from which this engine was shared with.  On the plus side, the Mazda is less cozy than the Focus thanks to a more airy greenhouse, taller roofline, and longer over-all (more legroom).  As a driving tool, though, it’s more like a point-and-shoot vehicle rather than a balanced precision, even with a mechanical differential.

Both cars will have their die-hard fans, but in this comparison the newer Focus wins out for offering around the same speed with better economy and balance, fresher style, more cargo holding, and more subdued (if only slightly) looks, and “finally here” value.  There’s even the bonus of a growly engine note in the interior.

Real thoughts: You pretty much read them.  First off, this was my first performance vehicle review, which I appreciated.  It helps that both cars are manually shifted only (woot!), and there’s been obscene amounts of discussion between the two.  I have a number of friends who prefer the Mazda, and I can understand why and eluded to that in the article.  I still love the Ford, though.  Damned-near-same 0-60 and handling numbers, better fuel economy, and more cargo space… why not?

What will be more interesting is how the new Mazda3 takes to the hot Mazdaspeed route later into that cars cycle.  As much as I can appreciate the Focus for its newness, even the old Mazda had thrown some hard balls at with the SkyActiv 3, as it was light, powerful, and efficient while giving up little in speed.

The new model is even more promising, as it increases curb appeal and economy while decreasing weight.  If reviewing a Focus against the new 3, I’d have to pray Mazda the winner, but for an ST and MS3 (new old old), that’s a little hard to say yet.


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