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2013 Ford Focus ST review:

Drive by the seat of your pants in the Focus ST

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As this Focus ST came optioned with MyFord Touch and the optional SD card-based navigation system, I tapped the voice command button on the steering wheel. Once I'd gone through a series of commands -- "Destination," "POI," "Nearby," and "Gas stations" -- MyFord Touch displayed a list of gas stations, giving me confidence that the 30 miles of range shown by the trip computer would be enough for the 10 miles I would need to travel.

2013 Ford Focus ST
Ford stacks the voice command button down under the right-hand steering-wheel spoke. Josh Miller/CNET

What impressed me most was how the car let me set this destination all while keeping up my speed, dashing down each straight and getting the tires to squeal in the turns. Although it seemed a little tedious drilling down through the voice command structure, I was able to keep some very necessary focus on the road, and the system recognized what I was saying at each step.

Underpowered nav
However, I am not a huge fan of this navigation system. The maps look good and its route guidance gives street names and easily understood graphics for freeway maneuvers, but it renders too slowly, visibly rebuilding the maps when the car starts up and while it's in motion. On other Ford vehicles using this same system, I have also experienced long lags in which the GPS system took 10 minutes or more to locate the car. Until Ford can get some faster hardware built in, I would avoid the navigation option.

2013 Ford Focus ST
The navigation system's map rendered slowly on multiple occasions. Josh Miller/CNET

In another symptom of underpowered electronics in the dashboard, the Focus ST's MyFord Touch system lagged a bit at times, the touch screen failing to immediately respond to button pushes. MyFord Touch encompasses navigation, the stereo, a hands-free phone system, and climate control, color-coding each function on the LCD.

This format makes the system easy to understand, but where I find the interface fails is navigation down through menus, for example when searching for a POI using the touch screen. At each step, MyFord Touch overlays a new menu screen. To back out to the main screen, I had to touch a back arrow on each of the multiple screens I had already drilled down through. The only shortcut I found was hitting the main menu button, then hitting the navigation function area again.

The stereo and phone screens were not quite so complicated, and have the added bonus of being powered by Ford's Sync system. Sync comes standard on the Focus ST, and does not need MyFord Touch to work. It let me pair my phone through Bluetooth and make calls by saying the name of anyone in my phone's contact list. I could also play music from my phone using the system's Bluetooth audio streaming feature.

However, I preferred plugging a USB drive full of MP3 files into the car's USB port. Not only could I then see the contents organized as a music library on the MyFord Touch LCD, and select music on that interface, I could also use voice command to request music by artist, album, genre, and song name. This system offered similar integration with my iPhone's music library when I had it plugged into the car's USB port. Other automakers are implementing similar systems, but Ford had Sync first, and it works very well.

The Sony-branded audio system in the Focus ST, a very worthwhile option, delivers much better sound than I would expect from a premium system in a compact car. Its 10 speakers, which includes a meaty subwoofer in the cargo space, and 355-watt amp create very clean overall sound. Bass comes through strong enough to feel, while highs can be very delicate, when recorded that way. I never found the system delivering distorted or shrill notes. It may fall short of the extreme fidelity of audiophile systems, but represents an excellent bargain.

The latest from AppLink
With or without MyFord Touch, Sync includes AppLink, which offers some very impressive integration with popular apps. I tested the latest version of AppLink in a Ford Fiesta earlier this year, and recorded the video embedded below. The Focus will show similar functionality.

Looking at engine, transmission, and suspension, the 2013 Ford Focus ST makes for an excellently responsive car, one that anybody who really likes driving could enjoy. There are faster, more powerful cars around, but the Focus ST is a car you can bring close to its limits on public roads without undue recklessness. At the same time, its body style makes it a practical everyday driver.

The Recaro seats are a little much, not the most usable for everyday errand running or commuting. And although improved from its initial launch, MyFord Touch remains overcomplicated and a little clunky. Leaving off the navigation option, where most of the problems arise, makes it a more palatable option, but including it will also bring in the Recaro seats with Ford's option packaging.

In sum

Tech specs
Model 2013 Ford Focus
Trim ST
Power train Turbocharged direct-injection 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 23.1 mpg
Navigation Optional flash-memory-based with traffic integration
Bluetooth phone support Standard with contact list integration
Digital audio sources Smartphone apps, onboard hard drive, iPod/iPhone, USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Sony 10-speaker 355-watt system
Driver aids None
Base price $23,700
Price as tested $28,170

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