Ask Bark: To Focus ST or Not (Plus An Update!)

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
ask bark to focus st or not plus an update

Tommy writes:

I love reading your columns, and have a question that I think you’ll enjoy. I’ve been living in Washington, D.C. for seven years, about half of that time without a car. I’m planning on getting a raise soon, and with that, I’d like to buy a car. And not just any car, but an adult car that I can rely on to start when I need it, and not constantly have to wrench on the little things that break.

For so long now, I have wanted nothing more than a Focus ST. Everything I’ve read about them just screams to my inner child, and at 29, I think I can still listen to him because I’m not expecting a family any time soon.

However, when I think subjectively about my past preferences in cars, I realize that I’ve often found a whole lot of joy in big lazy road trip cars. For example, I inherited my late grandfather’s 1988 Crown Vic, drove it for 5 years, and absolutely loved every mile. I also just rented a 2016 Taurus Limited that was very comfortable for an eight-hour drive, and I loved the power.

I also owned a 1997 BMW 328is manual that was an absolute blast, and I loved the manual transmission, but at times found it a bit jarring and uncomfortable on city roads. The drive was worth it though, but it was a two door, and totally unusable for any more than one passenger.

So, if you were me, wanting a fairly responsible and reliable car in the $20,000-25,000 range, new or used, that can occasionally be used to comfortably drive four people some distance, do you have any interesting thoughts other than a FoST? Because man oh man, that FoST is calling my name, but I would probably do well to consider other options first.

Hey, Tommy, thanks for writing. I have a sneaking suspicion that you haven’t driven a Focus ST yet, because — I hate to break it to you — the Focus ST isn’t a comfortable car. Like, not at all. While it’s not as rough as its little brother, the Fiesta ST, it’s still a stiffly sprung car with uncomfortable seats. I’m 5’8 and 175 lbs, and I don’t fit into Focus ST Recaros. The Focus RS has the seats from the Boss 302 instead, because people pretty much hate riding in the FoST. Finally, if you thought your E36 was jarring, you’re going to find the Focus ST downright teeth-rattling.

You also mentioned liking the power of the Taurus (which is odd to me, because I feel like the Taurus is gutless), and while the FoST has decent power, it’s really a bit more of a momentum car. If you want grunt along with your comfort, I just don’t think the Focus is for you.

So what would be for you? Well, why not a Mustang? Oddly, the Mustang is a actually a little more comfortable to ride in than a Focus is, and the back seat really doesn’t have any less room. You can get a lot of pony for $25K, too — new V6s and EcoBoosts can be had all day long, and 2011-14 GTs can be had, too.

But the real answer is a Chrysler 300. No, you can’t have a stick, but in the DC area, that might be a positive. All the comfort you want, all the power, plenty of room for four adults, and the Pentastar engine is dead reliable. If you liked the Taurus, you’ll love the 300. It’s much, much better.

Here’s an update from Michael, who wrote to us about his Edge quandary. I think you’ll enjoy hearing from him!

Bark, thanks muchly for taking the time to answer my questions and make me a little smarter on modern engine tech. And thanks to all your readers who took the time to read my rambling analysis of the choices, make sense of it all, then provide honest feedback. Far from being an inane consideration, there’s nothing so expensive as buying the wrong vehicle for your wants/needs and trading earlier than you otherwise would.

The Sport is on order. As some noted, I definitely try to be the most practical person possible. So I definitely avoided the optional larger wheels, though most on the lot have them. Your readers really did come up with great suggestions. One of the first vehicles I considered was a Ridgeline or Colorado/Canyon. People seem to especially like the Ridgeline for its ability to do truck tasks without feeling “truck-like.” Those are always possibilities for the next purchase, should the Edge pass my wife to replace her ’07 Saturn Vue.

I expected the MKX as a recommendation and really like it. The only reason it became a second choice for us was between the two of us we wanted all the bells and whistles. The MKX is a great value as a base model, but becomes more expensive than the equivalent Edge when adding in all the options. At some point the budget kicked in to say we’ll be happy enough with the Ford.

In the end, the choice became easier once I realized that while the 2.0T is a fine base engine if we were looking at an SEL, we wanted enough options that the cost of stepping up the engine wasn’t much. I realized I drive the above-mentioned Vue (four-cylinder, front-wheel drive) with my foot to the floor all the time, so figured I’d be into the turbo all the time if I went that way, negating any fuel economy benefit. The 3.5-liter would’ve been more than adequate. At the end of the day, if this vehicle is a decade-long purchase like the last couple I’ve had, I’m not going to notice the cost difference in either purchase price or fuel over that time frame.

Thanks again to you and all the commenters!

Mike E

See? We really are changing lives here with Ask Bark, so keep sending those questions to me at and we’ll keep answering them, together.

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3 of 74 comments
  • BallisticQuill BallisticQuill on Dec 06, 2016

    Just bought a used 2014 Focus ST3 about 3 weeks ago. Car had about 19,000 miles when I bought it and I've put about 1000 miles on it with some short city commuting and long highway trips. A few thoughts that might help you: 1. The seats are very subjective but if you were fine with them on the test drive, I think you'll be fine in general. I'm 6'2" and about 210 lbs. Most of my fat is around the front, the beer gut I'm constantly working on. The seats were a huge concern for me when I went to test drive. Turns out I fit pretty well. However, they can get a bit tiring after about two hours on the highway. They squeeze your thighs very tightly. However, they also slowly will wear into your body shape, eventually fitting you like a glove. My much smaller girlfriend (about a foot shorter and half the weight, at most) absolutely loves them. 2. For me, the ride is fine. Yes, its stiff, but the heavily bolstered Recaros soak up a lot of the rougher ride. Its never crashy or harsh and generally its a good highway companion. The extra sophistication (and head room) is what sold me on the FoST rather than a FiST. However, its certainly not a purebred highway cruiser. Surface changes and expansion joints can really jostle you around. 3. Its quiet on the highway. It really settles down well. Its certainly quieter than my 2006 Mercury Milan I owned previously. 4. Its a riot to drive. I doubt you need me to tell you this. Go read any of the countless reviews of the car online. I'm still a novice at performance driving but the turbo is great fun, the brakes are solid and confidence-inspiring, and the transmission is a great companion. 5. In a more subdued color (mine is black), no one notices you. Its a great sleeper car. Only car people understand or care what it is. To most people, its just a boring focus with a weird exhaust and funny face. For me, this is a good thing. However, YMMV.

    • Tommy Tommy on Dec 07, 2016

      Thanks for all the detailed feedback! I'm still really stuck on the idea of a Focus ST. I think I need to go test drive one on public roads with an ST2 level seat to see if I can deal with the sharp ride and heavy bolstering of seats. However, I've heard more good about the ride and seats than bad, so I may be OK.

  • Jonnyguitar Jonnyguitar on Dec 06, 2016

    You need a Golf R or GTI.

  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)
  • MKizzy I can't round a corner without seeing at least one new Sportage so good for Kia even with its insectoid face. Perhaps Kia's music/HVAC swap system would work better if each set of controls had its own easily discernible color scheme.